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Young Republican Roundtable: Shifting Views After Election Of Donald Trump

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For months, Republican Party leaders have been talking about the need to unify the GOP, in part because of Donald Trump and his criticism of the establishment, which created such big divides. Now that the GOP has won this election decisively, is that soul-searching over? To talk about this, we reached out again to a group of young Republicans who we've been talking to throughout this past year. We've watched their views change as candidates came and went and Donald Trump became their party's nominee.

Margaret Hoover is a political strategist from New York City. Will Estrada is a home-schooling expert from Northern Virginia. And Eugene Spektor is a software engineer. Eugene was a Trump supporter from the very beginning.

EUGENE SPEKTOR: I feel different kinds of emotions - vindicated, excited, eager to start making the country go in a better direction. And I feel kind of sad for people who are frightened by Trump because they don't understand him - because they've been sold a narrative or a caricature of him that is the worst possible. And there wasn't much platform for people who believed in him to express why they believe in him. I think they'll come around.

MARTIN: I remember in one of our previous conversations, Eugene, you told me you didn't really believe that Donald Trump was going to do all the things that he said - that he didn't really espouse the kinds of ideas that he was putting out there. He didn't think that all Mexicans were rapists. You didn't really believe he was going to build a wall. Is that true still?

SPEKTOR: I don't know if I'd ever said I don't think he's going to build the wall. But I definitely don't think that the policies that he was presenting were necessarily going to happen. I think that a lot of them came from a negotiating perspective. So for example, you say you're going to build a wall. You say you're going to deport people. But the real goal is to just have people stop coming in illegally and to get the legal immigration system working. So even without doing that - just by saying that, you can have your desired effect.

MARTIN: Will, when we first spoke back in January, you said. And this is a quote, I think, here, "Donald Trump talks a good talk. But when you look at where he stands, there's nothing to base it on."

Do you know who Donald Trump is going to be as president?

WILL ESTRADA: You know, when we first talked, I was a Ted Cruz supporter. I think, like many of the Republican voters at the time, we had found a candidate who we'd known for a long time. We backed that candidate, whether it was Rubio or Jeb Bush. And it took a little bit of time, you know. We watched Donald Trump as the race progressed. And by the time he defeated the final candidates standing, you know, Kasich and Ted Cruz in May, we were, for many of us, ready to come and support him, like I was.

So I think I do know where he is now. It's taken some people more time to figure out, but we see him as someone who's going to fight for America. He loves America. He loves this nation. He's going to really make America great again through the policies that he and Mike Pence and the people on their team are preparing to advance in our country.

MARTIN: Margaret, you were Never Trump. You thought this guy was going to be the end of your party. Your party ended up with a - almost a clean sweep, retaining control of the Senate, the House and winning the White House. How are you feeling?

MARGARET HOOVER: I'm shocked, like all of us, including Donald Trump, 'cause let's not pretend that even Donald Trump thought he was going to win this election. I mean, I had folks in the RNC spinning me the night of the election because they were sure that their guy was going to lose. But they were trying to make the case the RNC had at least done its job. So I will tell you my position now, as somebody who is ardently against him, as the sort of standard-bearer of the Republican Party and as sort of an impostor in the conservative movement, is, frankly, cautiously optimistic. The real action in Washington now is actually going to be on the - from the center to the center-right to the right.

So the really - part that's going to be interesting is going to be how Trump and the Republicans, frankly, navigate this new climate. And for sure, certain policies and positions that the party has had for 30 years are going to have to be rethought because Trump does have a bit of a mandate when it comes to sort of thinking through trade and rebalancing our trade and how Republicans are going to sort of have a posture towards trade.

You know, you have a sense that Trump will probably reimagine where the Republican Party is on that issue and some others. But then I think conservatives may win in some areas, too - tax reform. So it's just - it's an enormously exciting time in terms of the possibilities. And as an optimist, I choose to be glass-half-full about this while still very cautiously appreciating and understanding the fear that a lot of our fellow citizens have.

MARTIN: Yeah. So I'll put that to all three of you, and Eugene addressed it at the top. But just to the group, there are many in minority communities, people who are LGBT, refugees, immigrants, who have some real fear based on things that Donald Trump actually said and are feeling like this is not an America that they can see a future in - that they feel afraid. Do you think that he has a responsibility to reassure them? Are those fears misplaced?

SPEKTOR: I think that the media has a responsibility to shape Trump for really who he is. You said there's things that he's said. But there's a lot of things that he said that have been ignored. So for example, at the RNC speech, he said that the LGBT community is a part of the Republican Party and that we're going to protect them. And the entire audience applauded. And Trump stopped and said - you know what? - I'm happy to see that the Republican Party finally would applaud that. So anyone feeling that this is someone who is going to be somehow not inclusive or less inclusive than anybody that the Republican Party would have offered is just not being truthful.

So I think that the media tried to paint the caricature of Trump. And there were things that he said that were awful, and that's fair. But you guys didn't paint the whole story. So a lot of people just got the negative side of him, and that's why they're so fearful. So I think that if you focus on the unifying ideas that Trump has that cross party lines, that'll be - it will be so much easier to paint him as a person that represents all Americans and is not actually isolating anyone.

ESTRADA: You know, Rachel, I think Eugene is absolutely correct there.

So for our fellow Americans who are looking at this and crying or rioting, I think it's in part because the media has tried to spin this so much. And some people are believing it. But the vast majority of people, the voters who went and chose him as our next president - they said enough is enough. We've gone to the rallies. We've seen what he actually believes. It's what I believe. We're not deplorable. We're not racist. We're not sexist. We're not bigots. We're Americans who love our country, who are concerned about some issues, like illegal immigration and our laws not being followed. But, you know, we're inclusive people who want to give Donald Trump a chance to make America great again.

HOOVER: 'Kay, I just want to make one point. I really appreciate, Eugene, where you're coming from on the LGBTQ piece because, as somebody who didn't support Trump but works in the LGBTQ space, it was unprecedented that Donald Trump stood on that stage and accepted the Republican nomination and then said he would fight for LGBTQ people.

And I think this is not just a story of the media spinning people up, but it's a story of special interests on the left, who also feel like their candidate lost, and stoking the flames on the fire because it helps spin up their supporters and help their donations and help their organizations. And it helps, frankly, polarize the country to their short-term benefit and at the expense, frankly, of progress for LGBTQ Americans. And that's something that really concerns me because I have good reason to believe and be hopeful, rather, this was the best posture of any Republican in history towards LGBTQ issues.

His instincts are way more favorable to the LGBTQ community than any other Republican that was on the stage. So the flip side of that though, Rachel, is we've only been talking about LGBTQ. But this is a man who ran on building a wall. And I know it was about legal immigration, but he did say incredibly vociferous things about Mexican-Americans and the Latino community that, frankly, regardless of if you take him literally or not, which most of his supporters don't - while they took him seriously, they didn't take him literally.

It has created a climate that has - I was talking to a friend of mine last night who's a teacher in Iowa and, you know, she teaches kids - English is their second language, and they're scared that they're going to get sent home, their family's going to get broken up. Regardless of whether he does it or not, whether it's true or not, the rhetoric creates a climate of fear and tension, and that's not good for the country. And so what I hope we will see from Trump very quickly is inclusive rhetoric and rhetoric that brings the temperature down and comforts people so that children feel safe going to school.

MARTIN: Nobody has ever accused Donald Trump of lowering the temperature on anything - I don't think. It's just not the way he is, and it's not...

SPEKTOR: Since president-elect, he has been.

MARTIN: It - well...

SPEKTOR: He was gracious to Obama.

MARTIN: Yeah.

SPEKTOR: He was gracious to Hillary.

MARTIN: And I think people have pointed that out - that he seems to have made a stylistic change. So, Eugene, what does he need to do in the first hundred days to make you feel good about having voted for him? Are there things you need to see him do immediately?

SPEKTOR: His hundred-day plan was one of the best plans I've ever seen. I think that if he continues with the policies that take the special interests out of the government, preventing lobbyists from influencing our politicians; if he can somehow get the Congress to have term limits, that'd be awesome. I think that reassures people that he's actually working for them.

I think he could do a lot of cross-party policies, such as infrastructure bill, such as restructuring health care where he's going to keep parts of the Affordable Care Act, which doesn't mean that he's not - no longer going to repeal it. He's still going to repeal it. But he's not going to let people die in the street without health care, and that was never part of his plan. He's going to replace it with something better, and I think people forgot that better meant better for them.

MARTIN: Margaret Hoover, Will Estrada, Eugene Spektor - I'm hearing cautious optimism from all of you. Thanks to you three for talking with us over this past year. We really appreciate it.

SPEKTOR: Thank you.

ESTRADA: Thank you, Rachel.

HOOVER: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SEA AND CAKE'S "EXACT TO ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 14, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this post misspelled Eugene Spektor's name as Spector.