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Local GOP leaders discuss the future of the party

The University of Miami’s Department of Political Science hosted South Florida politicians during a virtual dialogue Tuesday evening that explored where the Republican Party is headed after the 2020 election.

It is conventional that after a presidential election, the losing political party engages in a discussion both public and private about how it lost and why it should approach the next election differently. In an effort to spark that conversation in the South Florida community, the University of Miami’s Department of Political Science hosted a virtual dialogue about the future of the Republican Party.                                                                                                                                        

Gregory Koger, department chair and professor of political science, explained, “American politics depends on having two political parties that share a commitment to the basic rules and norms of the political process, so the future of the political party is not just of interest to Republicans, it is important to all of us. And for that reason the Department of Political Science decided to host this webinar.”

The event featured panelists associated with the GOP from the South Florida area, including Al Cardenas, former chair of the Florida Republican Party; Mercedes Schlapp, former White House director of strategic communications for former President Donald J. Trump; Carlos Curbelo, former member of Congress; and Nelson Diaz, immediate past chair of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County. 

One of the first topics discussed was how the party needs to do a better job at appealing to the greater majority, without focusing on specific groups of voters.

“It is obvious to me that the Republican Party is trying to win with just enough votes by appealing only to a very specific base, and that’s not typically a winning strategy in a country where there are two political parties,” Curbelo said. “Both parties should be capable of winning the favor and the majority of Americans.”

Diaz believes there is room for growth. “Looking forward, I think we need to focus more on suburban women. This is an area where our success in 2016 was diminished in 2020. We’ve also had small gains with Jewish Americans and African Americans, but in the long run we need bigger gains in these areas,” he said. 

Another challenge the party faces is the fact that there are more people, than ever before, who are not registered as a member of either party.

“There’s about 30 percent of people who have decided not to join either party and we now have a circumstance that even more people under 25 have no party affiliation,” explained Cardenas. “This leaves the moderate side of either party pretty much nonexistent.”

During the discussion, there were many varying opinions as to who would be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee. Nelson thinks Donald Trump should be the front-runner.

“He is clearly the leader of the party at the moment. I don’t think the Republican Party can move forward without Donald Trump in the party,’’ said Nelson. “I don’t agree with everything he has said or done in the past, but I agree with almost everything that was done in the last four years when it comes to taxes and foreign policy.”

Schlapp shared her thoughts on who may become a possible nominee.

“I think we have to let this play out a bit and see what happens in the next four years. We’re seeing rising stars in the party including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem,” she said. “I also envision Ted Cruz running again. Only time will tell.”

Curbelo suggested that the party should try to move on from Trump.

“What happens to political parties in democracies when they become obsessed with one figure, is it becomes much harder for them to have a coherent policy agenda and set of proposals for the country,” explained Curbelo. “Something our founding fathers really wanted was for us not to be obsessed with any politician. Once the party gets over its obsession with Trump, it will be much easier for the party to put the spotlight on policy, agenda, and opportunities.’’

“I think it will be a huge mistake for the Republicans to abandon support for Donald Trump,” said Nelson, showing disagreement with Curbelo’s statement. “I believe the millions who voted for Trump in 2020 will be very upset and decide not to vote or vote Democrat if we choose another leader,” he added. “It would be a huge mistake to walk away from him because I think he will help us win back the House of Representatives in 2022 and hopefully pick up Senate seats as well.”

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