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The Drew Forum Presents Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson

The duo discussed democracy in a post Trump era

March 2022 – Drew University welcomed The Lincoln Project advisor Stuart Stevens and co-founder Rick Wilson. The Lincoln Project is a leading pro-democracy organization in the U.S. dedicated to the preservation, protection, and defense of democracy.

Stevens and Wilson, both former members of the Republican Party, dove deep into today’s political landscape.

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, facilitated the conversation with thought-provoking questions on democracy, Trump, and more.

What was the moment that solidified your decision to leave the Republican Party?
Stevens revealed that his telling moment was when Trump called for a Muslim ban, “and the party was quiet.”

“Trump didn’t change the party, he revealed the party.”

Stevens mentioned only three Republican Party outliers, Lynne Cheney, Mitt Romney, and Adam Kinzinger. “It’s hard to put a baseball team together with them, much less a party—I think the party is lost.”

How would you characterize republican voters?
Stevens noted the Republican Party became a white dominant party in 1964. “A racial element is there,” he said. “It’s not that you had to be a racist to vote for Donald Trump, you had to be willing to accept the racism. He gave permission for people to be their worst person.”

“The culture war is inextricably bound with racial animus—there is a fear of the ‘other,’” said Wilson.

“Democrats should not be complacent because the opposite of racism is not pure identity politics,” he cautioned.

If a third party emerged, ideally what would it look like?
“It would be a party about individual liberty and the rule of law with legitimately free markets,” said Wilson. “It would be about trying to build a coalition of people who believed in the propositional nature of the country—that anyone can become an American—all we ask is that you love it even though it’s imperfect.”

“Republicans and Democrats will reflexively fight against any third party that means something,” he said, stating that a third party would likely not appear in his lifetime.

Where can we find real news?
“We consume news to confirm our opinions, not to inform our opinions,” said Stevens. “The death of local news is a corrupting factor.”

Wilson agreed that it is difficult to receive unbiased news, and advised against trusting news found on Facebook and other algorithmic social media platforms. He suggested locating news from overseas sources, and looking to podcasts and streaming television subscriptions.

Will Trump suffer legal consequences for the riots on Capital Hill?
“I hope so,” said Wilson, who is concerned with timing. The Department of Justice will typically avoid a politically charged case six months prior to an election, and “we are rapidly coming up on that moment.”

“When you do not punish people for attempting a coup, then it was a training exercise,” said Wilson. “If they get away with it, they will seek to do it again.”

“All the elements of the party were involved in 1/6,” said Stevens.

Any optimism?
Wilson pointed to Ukraine President Zelenskyy. “Zelenskyy has inspired people around the world because he is facing overwhelming odds that are unimaginable, yet every day he gets up and swings for the fences for his country.”

“A lot of Americans have seen the value of principal leadership in Ukraine. Seeing that there is real leadership in the world can lift people up and give an example you can cling to.”

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