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Drew University Welcomes Stuart Stevens, Rick Wilson at Drew Forum

Leaders of The Lincoln Project talk politics, 2024 election

March 2023 – Drew University welcomed The Lincoln Project’s Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson back to the Drew Forum for a look at the country’s political landscape and the 2024 election.

The free virtual event was made possible by the Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation.

Phil Mundo, director of Drew’s Environmental Studies and Sustainability Program and professor of political science and environmental studies and sustainability, moderated the discussion and audience Q&A that touched on both parties, the reality of a third party, the partisan divide, and the overall state of democracy.

What is going on in the Republican party?

“I think what has happened is an acceleration of the trends that we saw in 2015,” said Stevens, referencing the Republican party’s embrace of Trump after his Muslim ban. “They should have censored Trump. They should have said, ‘We can’t stop anybody from voting for Trump and we can’t stop Trump from running, but we’re not going to stand for this, this is not who the Republican party is.’ And they didn’t…Trump has taken what the Republican party once stood for and now it’s largely against these things…It’s the character-doesn’t-count party.”

What is going on in the Democratic party?

“The Republicans know a secret about the Democrats that the Democrats don’t know about themselves: the country is pretty much moderate,” said Wilson. “The country is not extreme on either side, really, but it’s definitely not woke, it’s definitely not AOC-progressive. It is that way in a few places. It is that way among a lot of influential people. But a Democrat in North Carolina is a liberal Republican in New York City…Biden did not scare voters in 2020. They knew him. They thought of Joe Biden as a working class, union-centric, old-school Democrat, and they liked it a lot. They wanted that…The Democratic party’s terrible, self-destructive instinct is to say, ‘He’s not good enough, he’s not progressive enough, he’s not doing everything we want right now,’ and to ignore the giant election looming before them. They’ve got to let Biden do what he’s got to do: stick it out in the center/left-center column for awhile, because if they don’t get behind their own president, if they don’t help their president win, there’s not going to be any legislation on climate change or abortion or health care or guns or any other subject except legislation that terrifies the living hell out of Americans and is profoundly destructive on a whole different bunch of levels.”

Authoritarian political leaders like Trump and Ron DeSantis

“I cannot emphasize enough how determined these people are to abuse that power given to them by voters so they don’t have to answer to voters in the future,” said Wilson, referencing limiting policies and censoring in Florida schools.

The realities of a third party 

“At least in 2024, if you have a third party candidate, Donald Trump wins,” said Wilson. “Our model and almost every other polling model that looks at potential voters that would be drawn to a third party, they model much more as conservative or moderate Democrats than as Republicans…They’re going to pull Democratic voters away from Joe Biden.”

“I think you have to live in reality and it’s a frivolous fantasy that is damaging,” added Stevens. “You might have a soft spot in your heart but that doesn’t mean you have one in your head…One of these two parties is going to control the country, it’s that simple.”

The future of the great partisan divide

“What’s going to moderate it?” asked Stevens. “It’s an easy trap to fall into to say that both parties have become more extreme. The Republican party has become more extreme and those forces are increasing. I think it will increase until there’s an intervening force, which has to be pain. It will only change when it’s forced to change. And if it’s not forced, it won’t change, it’ll only increase. Compromise we were taught was a virtue. That’s not a virtue to these people. To admit you were wrong is an essential part of any grown-up, civic society. The essence of a democracy is somebody has to be willing to lose. That’s it. And now Republicans aren’t really willing to lose. So what do you do with that? It’s just going to get worse until it becomes untenable.”

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