The New Republican Party – a Reagan-era Republican reflects on Trump

A conversation with Greg Brower

Image compiled by the Ally. Photos are licensed under Creative Commons license CC PDM 1.0. Photos left to right by Gage Skidmore, Michael Evans, World Economic Forum, and the East-West Center

Greg Brower became a Republican while a student at the University of California Berkeley, during the Reagan era. Brower has served in both the Nevada State Assembly and Senate, an active county-level Republican Party functionary and organizer. He was an attorney in the George W. Bush Administration. President Bush nominated him to be the United States Attorney for the District of Nevada in 2007, and Brower easily won Senate confirmation. But for this 40-year veteran of the Republican Party, the party in 2020 bears little resemblance to the party during the time of Reagan or the Bushes.  

Brower says traditional Republicans are largely disenfranchised in a Republican Party under Trump. On this edition of the Wild Hare, we chat with Greg Brower about why he’ll vote for Joe Biden. 

(See music credits below podcast transcript)

“I think unfortunately, many of the folks who used to be involved, maybe call them the Romney Republicans or the McCain Republicans or the Bush Republicans or even the Reagan Republicans. For the most part, they’ve just given up because they just can’t stomach where the party has gone in the last couple of years,” Brower said in a phone interview. 

In Nevada, the 2008 Republican State Convention ended in disarray when a battle between establishment Republicans for John McCain and insurgent Republicans for Ron Paul failed to resolve their differences.  

The candidacy of John McCain and Sarah Palin was a symbol of the schism in the party. Sarah Palin campaign stops featured 100-foot tall inflatable eagles. Vendors sold courses in the US Constitution, The Constitution Made Simple 

The NRA and gun owner rights became a central issue. Don’t Tread on Me flags became more popular, a popularity that continues today in service to the Trump campaign. Confederate flags were part of the mix, as they are today. 

Brower says there was a schism in the Republican Party back then, but now it’s gone, along with traditional Republicans disgusted with the direction of the party. Brower recalls the first inklings of the Tea Party and Trump-style Republicanism when Kenny Guinn faced a headwind from insurrectionist Republicans when running for governor. 

“I remember one year was probably maybe his first year running in ‘98. There was this kind of rogue effort to deprive him of the nomination. So there was definitely a schism. Then through the Tea Party years there was definitely a schism. I think again unfortunately I don’t think there’s much of one now, and that’s not good for the party and it’s not good for winning general elections, but they seem to all be on the same page now.” 

Winning at politics is about who shows up at the polls. Trump won an electoral college victory but lost the popular election, a narrow victory. Brower says traditional Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 have now had time to realize what a Trump presidency means.   

“If you count the former Republicans or you count the Republicans who don’t bother going to the party meetings anymore because they’re disgusted by what they’re seeing, that you count those folks, there’s definitely a schism, but it’s not much of a schism if those people aren’t showing up to the meetings. And I think that’s where we’re at now, where only the likeminded Trump followers show up, and so there’s relatively unanimity on everything.” 

Brower says the party under Trump is painting itself into a corner. 

“They’re increasingly a smaller and smaller group that increasingly, in my view, is going to have an awfully hard time winning general elections because they’re nominating folks who just aren’t worthy of people’s votes. And it’s obvious now, there are exceptions in some districts and in some states, you know, a warm body with an R after his or her name will win in the general election. But if the goal is to actually attain majorities in legislatures around the country and in Congress and in the White House this is an awfully peculiar way to go about it in terms of what the party has become.” 

What does it take for a life-long Republican to abandon his party’s candidate? Greg Brower will vote for Joe Biden in 2020. Brower says he has a laundry list of issues with Donald Trump.  

“The fundamental one that the party seems to have lost focus on, because the president has no focus on it, and that’s just truth. I mean, just the fact that truth matters. And that doesn’t seem to matter to the President or to the party right now. And I don’t know how that happened, but truth is truth.  

“I jokingly refer to the current reality as a post-facts reality that we live in because increasingly, people, they don’t seem to want to be bothered by the facts. They decide that something is true, and no matter how much evidence they might be confronted with, and it’s not true, they just, they call it fake news. They call it a conspiracy, whatever. So I mean, just the basic fundamental emphasis on the truth seems to have gone away. 

“A respect for the rule of law, just the basic dignity in terms of how a politician including the President of the United States should conduct themselves … separation of church and state, integrity in foreign policy, the basic humility and compassion. Those things just don’t seem to be priorities or don’t seem to be emphasized now the way they were not too long ago. And that I think it is turning people away. Not only Republicans, but certainly independents, who will make or break this presidential election.” 

So how did Donald Trump and his followers smother the Republican Party? Following the 2016 Republican primary, traditional Republicans walked away from the party as their candidates lost to Trump. Brower says he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the party’s change of direction and cannot explain it. 

“I always assumed that there were some subset of Republicans, some subset of people who could gravitate toward someone like Trump, but I thought it was in the range of 20 percent of people, not the number that we’re obviously seeing.  

“He didn’t win the popular vote as you know in ‘16, but got enough votes to win the Electoral College, and that’s a lot of people. And that continues … you can’t say, well, people didn’t like Hillary Clinton. Trump seemed like something new and different, so they would give him a shot. I think that was a big part of it. I think a lot of the people who were willing to do that have now decided they’re not going to do it again. But let’s face it, there are a lot of people, a lot of people we see it every night on TV at the rallies and things he does, a lot of people who are still drinking the Kool Aid, and despite everything he’s done and said, all the lies and everything else, they are still absolutely devoted. And I did not, I did not see that coming. That’s a larger group of Americans than I ever could have guessed, and I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it.” 

As the chief federal prosecutor in the state of Nevada, Brower has had a working relationship with all the federal law enforcement agencies. For Brower, Trump has repeatedly snubbed federal law enforcement and national security agencies.  

During the Cold War, Ronald Reagan never missed an opportunity to put his foot on the neck of a Soviet leader. For Brower, President Trump is too close to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.  

“The incredible undermining of our intelligence and national security institutions by this President in a way that that would be unthinkable with any past president, Democratic or certainly Republican. His obvious affinity for Russia and Putin and reluctance to ever say anything negative about Putin is, it’s just really unbelievable.  

“I mean, you can only imagine what Ronald Reagan must be thinking wherever he is, right? And we still don’t know exactly why, but clearly, Trump clearly will not criticize Russia, will not criticize Putin. He will go out of his way to make excuses and justify everything from the most recent example, I guess, is the poisoning of the opposition leader.  

“The President was asked by a reporter yesterday, you may have seen about that. He refused to address it. I can’t imagine any past president of either party, refusing to take a position, a tough position on Russia with respect to some incident like that. But this President just refuses. So that’s one thing that is particularly hard to understand.” 

Donald Trump makes ostentatious homages to the military. Brower served in the sea-going US Navy as a line officer and is particularly rankled with Trump’s relationship with the armed services. 

“The kind of fake lip service he pays to veterans and to the military, when in fact, I think the reality is he couldn’t care less. It’s all about trying to score political points with his base. And as a veteran, Brian, I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’m constantly just amazed at how veterans get sucked into thinking that he’s actually pro-veteran, pro-military, pro-service, when in fact, if you look at what he’s actually done and said. 

“Who cares about the budget … appropriating more money for more ships and airplanes does not make you a patriot. But what he said about people like John McCain, about Ambassador Taylor, about Colonel Vindman and about others, it’s just a kind of thing that I don’t know why more veteran Republican members, Republican members of Congress who are veterans, don’t stand up and speak out.” 

The Republican Party of Steve Bannon 

A growing militancy marks contemporary conservatism. Nevadan Cliven Bundy and other like-minded people forcibly captured a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon as an anti-government statement. When a handful of Black Lives Matter protesters rallied in Minden Nevada a month ago, hundreds of counter protesters showed up, many of them armed with numerous firearms and extra ammunition, knives, restraining devices, and two-way radios.  

As Nevada’s former federal prosecutor, Brower scoffs at the notion of a “Deep State” working behind the scenes to take away Second Amendment rights or otherwise conspire to control the US Government. 

“There seems to be a greatly exaggerated fear of the federal government and the government generally that manifests itself in people stockpiling weapons and arming themselves. And I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is other than it’s like, it’s a fear, it’s a paranoia.  

“I always try to offer the caveat that I represent people, as a lawyer, I represent people and companies all the time that find themselves on the wrong end of government investigations. And once in a while, I will see examples of what I think are overly aggressive actions by the government and by government agents. And whether it’s uses of force, whether it’s leaping to conclusions about a citizen’s guilt before the evidence is there, whatever it is, and so I am no stranger to the potential for overreach by the government in a very serious way.  

“I get that. I’ve been the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Nevada. I understand the power that particularly the federal government and the Department of Justice and the FBI has. But when you’ve been on the inside, you also realize that the vast majority of individuals who are charged with exercising that power, do so in a way, that is exactly the way they should. They do it with a sense of humility, and they do it with a sense of restraint. And there’s certainly no ‘Deep State’ conspiracy afoot to oppress the rights of innocent people, to take their lawfully possessed firearms away, etc.  

“I do understand that there are examples from time to time of overreach and of mistakes and even you know, once in a while, intentional misconduct, but when those things are uncovered, people are punished and the institutions deal with it.  

“So this paranoia about a government generally, and the resulting stockpiling of weapons and all the things we see particularly out west, I don’t understand. It doesn’t seem to be rationally linked to anything that’s real with respect to what the government is doing or are trying to do … so I don’t understand it.” 

The Hazy Future 

If Trump defeats Biden it’s four more years of Trump at the top of the party. If Trump loses and still remains engaged in party politics, Brower says the typical mid-term bounce for Republican candidates will not happen in 2022, which in Nevada would make a bad situation worse for state-level Republicans. Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office. Brower says Trump hobbles the party up and down the ticket. 

“Some of my best friends are Republican politicians. They do their best for the constituents. They, in private, don’t have much use for President Trump. I wish they would publicly speak out more, but we don’t see a lot of that. So I don’t know, at the state level, one scenario that people talk about is if there’s a President Biden in with this next election, then in 2022, which will be the first midterm  election in a Biden administration, there’s a very good chance that it will be a big Republican year because historically, as I’m sure you know, that’s the way this works. The party that doesn’t have the White House does pretty well in the in the non-presidential election years in the midterms.  

So it may not take more than a couple of years to 2022 to see kind of a swing back. But I guess I would suggest that the current state of the Republican Party is not likely to be able to pull off that kind of swing back … if Trump remains the titular head of the party, despite having lost his reelection … it’s hard to imagine the party having a big midterm election, if somehow he can be replaced by some new leader of the party, who can really kind of get the party back to where it was, in some sense. Then you could see a big Republican year in 2022.” 

Brower is hopeful for a Trump failure this November and prompt estrangement from the Republican Party. 

“What happens to Trump and the Trump movement if he loses, if it completely, if it fades away and creates a void that can be filled by a positive force, by a kind of a reinvigorated party that has significant policy differences from the Democratic Party, but is essentially based in the traditional rule of law, truth, separation of church and state, all the things we talked about before that … the Republican Party has never had a monopoly. I’m not suggesting that the Democrats, to some extent don’t also emphasize those basic fundamental principles. But right now, it’s just like night and day. I mean, Trump versus the Democrats, that the gulf is so big, that if he were to lose and the Republicans, Republican Party can’t fill the void with something that’s more mainstream, more grounded in reality, more like the old Republican Party, then it could be a long time before Democrats have any serious competition.”  

Music credits as reported to the Public Radio Exchange, in order of appearance: 

Song: Sunday Monday 
Artist: 9 Lazy 9
Album: Sweet Jones
Label: Ninja Tune
Date: 2003
Duration: 1:19  

Song: The Leopard
Artist: 9Lazy 9
Album: Bedsofland
Label: Self release
Date: 2009
Duration: 1:41  

Song: Sunnyside
Artist: 9Lazy 9
Album: Bedsofland
Label: Self release
Date: 2009
Duration: 1:56   

Song: Which One Are You
Artist: 9 In Common
Album: Abstract Reality
Label: Meerkat Music Limited
Date: 2012
Duration: 3:12  

Song: Bedsofaland
Artist: 9Lazy 9
Album: Bedsofland
Label: Self release
Date: 2009
Duration: 3:47  

Song: Cosa
Artist: 9 Lazy 9
Album: Sweet Jones
Label: Ninja Tune
Date: 2003
Duration: 4:41  

Song: Electric Lazyland
Artist: 9 Lazy 9
Album: Electric Lazyland
Label: Ninja Tune
Date: 1994
Duration: 2:13 


Brian Bahouth is editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally and a career public media journalist. Support his work.