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Ron Gidwitz raps Trump, but not his policies

Though his continuing appeal may be a distinctly mixed blessing, the Republican Party will survive Donald Trump, in large part because Democrats just aren’t providing a viable alternative to right-of-center voters.

That’s the argument from Ron Gidwitz, the businessman and top national GOP fundraiser who was the highest-ranking Chicagoan to serve in the Trump administration.

Back in town after a stint as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, and acting U.S. envoy to the European Union, Gidwitz had some fairly negative things to say about the former president in a lengthy phone interview.

For instance, Trump’s performance in the period between the election and inauguration of Joe Biden “did not go well,” and his remarks leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot were “grossly inappropriate,” Gidwitz told me.

Private citizen Trump “can do whatever he wants” in terms of running again, he said. But the fact is, the former president’s control of the big national megaphone has declined and will continue to decline. Will Trump get the GOP nomination again? “It’s far too early to say,” said Gidwitz. “It’s fair to say he wouldn’t be my first choice.”

That having been said, the media is “overplaying” drama about a Republican civil war, Gidwitz asserted. 

“The Republican Party will try to find a place of comfort that will be satisfactory to the active Trump people and those who are more moderate,” he said. That may seem difficult, but party turnarounds can and do happen quickly, he argued.

Gidwitz compared today’s situation to 1964, when conservative Barry Goldwater was utterly blown out by Democrat Lyndon Johnson, only to have Richard Nixon claim the White House four years later. “It’s way too early to begin to theorize and philosophize about ‘the end’ of the Republican Party.”

Gidwitz said much of the media also underplays the decency and patriotism of municipal officials, many of them Republicans, who insisted that democratic rules be followed in the election and its aftermath.

“How good (did Trump pressure tactics) work out for him in Georgia?” said Gidwitz. “People showed up and did their jobs.”

Politically, Gidwitz, who parleyed the sale of the family-founded Helene Curtis cosmetics company into a career as a venture capitalist, is considered much closer to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky than Trump. He’s raised “in the significant tens of millions” of dollars for GOP Senate hopefuls through the years, and he hinted that he may pick up that task again now that he’s back in the states.

Such efforts are successful because of anti-business Democratic fumbles, Gidwitz said. “All you have to do is sit back and watch what’s happening in Washington and Springfield. . . .What you see is what you don’t like.” To get business people to permanently switch parties, “The alternative has to be better.”

Gidwitz said he strongly approved of many of Trump’s policies, especially foreign policy, despite criticism of the former president’s style.

“He was results-oriented,” and if that meant offending some people, it often worked, he said, pointing to increased defense expenditures by American NATO allies that Trump strongly pushed. Now, the new president, Joe Biden, “is trying to mend every fence he can. I’m not sure they need mending.”

Gidwitz declined to comment on the subject of Trump’s first impeachment, specifically on whether the former president sought to coerce Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden and his family. Ukraine is not an EU member, Gidwitz said. “That was not in my portfolio.”

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