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GOP Strategists Stewart, Jennings Weigh In On Republican Convention

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two political pros, who've been watching the convention, are Alice Stewart and Scott Jennings. And both are on the line. Good morning to you.

ALICE STEWART: Good morning, Steve.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And, Alice, let's start with you. Let's pick up on that thought, that interesting thought by that undecided voter there. Would you like the president to get up and admit that he lies a lot?

STEWART: I think it's a little bit more than that. But I think, Alex - the voter that you talked to really hit the nail on the head. There are swing voters and people on the fence and undecided that can truly be swayed if they see a different tone in this president and in this administration. And I think that the reelection campaign really made some great inroads with that last night, and I expect more tonight because as we see with voters - Steve, you've been on the campaign trail. Republicans will - that support this president will stay onboard. Democrats who support Biden will stay onboard. But it's those swing voters that make a difference.

And what we saw last night was a portrayal of the president, not just as a strong commander in chief but also a man of compassion. We had the vice president talking about the president's leadership with regard to COVID, keeping an eye on the current hurricane situation and addressing the lawlessness we see in this country...

INSKEEP: So much to...

STEWART: ...But also many stories of compassion.

INSKEEP: So much to follow up on there. And I want to get Scott Jennings into the discussion and ask about that question of truthfulness. Scott, is it too late for the president to persuade people that he can be truthful when he hasn't been so often?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, I think it's never the wrong day to express a little humility. And I think people like to see that out of their politicians. I mean, I don't think any politician is going to take a big stage and give you a list of all the times that the fact-checkers said that they were wrong. But I do think humility is a quality that people would like out of any politician. And if he did that tonight, that would be fine. But it's not been the president's style to navel gaze about past statements. And I don't expect a lot of that tonight, frankly.

INSKEEP: This convention, like every convention, is a reflection of the party. How does this convention show a different Republican Party than in the past?

JENNINGS: Well, I've been very heartened to see all the diversity on the stage. I think this convention's done a good job of showing that people from all walks of life and of different races and different, you know, it's not just been a stage full of professional politicians. You've had a lot of real people up there, telling their personal stories. And they've done it eloquently.

It's not easy to make these big speeches. I've been very impressed by that and think the Republicans did a good job of finding people who, I think, really speak to everyday Americans and, therefore, have resonated in some of the messages they've used.

INSKEEP: Alice Stewart...

STEWART: And...

INSKEEP: ...There has been some diversity onstage. Why do you think that's not a reflection of the Republican coalition, the voters?

STEWART: The diversity that we've seen on the stage is truly a reflection of what we're seeing within the Republican Party. It's not the members-only club anymore. It is a welcome mat and rolling out the red carpet for voters of all races, of all backgrounds. And that's what we're seeing, especially hearing from, let's say, the lobster fishermen and hearing from the dairy farmer and the forgotten men and women of this country that feel now - that they have a voice and they have someone fighting for them in Washington.

And I do think the Republican establishment has learned. We can't just take insight from the Beltway. It has to come from middle America. And I think the president has done a good job of waking up the Republican Party and understanding that's the only way that we're going to continue as the Grand Old Party.

INSKEEP: Vice President Pence, we mentioned, spoke last night. We've already heard some. Let's hear a bit more, although, there's kind of a conflation here. He conflates Joe Biden with a belief that Biden opposes. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America. And under President Trump, we will always stand with those who stand on the thin blue line. And we're not going to defund the police not now, not ever.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: OK. Just to be clear, here is a quote from Joe Biden. Quote, "I do not support defunding police." It is true that other people on the left do. And so let me give you each about 30 seconds here. We'll start with Alice. Can Republicans persuade voters that Biden will support things that he doesn't support?

STEWART: Republicans can persuade voters that Joe Biden is the face and voice of the Democratic Party. And when you have an overwhelming majority of leaders in the Democratic Party, rather, calling for defunding the police and not standing with law enforcement, that will speak for itself. And Joe Biden will have to answer for that. But the president has made it clear, Republican Party is about law and order and supporting blue.

INSKEEP: Scott Jennings, you get the last word.

JENNINGS: Yeah, I think the Republicans are going to argue that Biden is too weak or too transitional to stand up to the radicals that they would argue are running the Democratic Party. So whether it's defund the police or, you know, any of Bernie Sanders' agenda, I think the Republican fall campaign is going to be, if you vote Democrat, they will win the White House. They will win the Senate. They may eliminate the filibuster. And that'll be the ballgame.

INSKEEP: In a sentence, do you think that there is a real danger Republicans could lose the Senate?

JENNINGS: Oh, sure. It's a close election out there. And a lot of these Senate races are real toss-up races. And so I think that's going to be part of the Republican argument is Republicans are in danger of falling away in all of their institutions. And that would open the door to radical change in the country.

INSKEEP: Scott Jennings is a former strategic adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Alice Stewart worked as a communications director on several presidential campaigns, including Ted Cruz. Thanks to you both.

STEWART: Thank you, Steve.

JENNINGS: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORIAN HOEFNER GROUP'S "THE LONG RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.