Interviews Politics

We Ask Charlie Dent: Where are the GOP and America Going?

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Written by James Piltch

Earlier this week, we had the good fortune of speaking with Charlie Dent, the retiring Republican congressman from Pennsylvania’s 15th congressional district. An outspoken critic of the president, Charlie said in an interview on air recently that he’s leaving politics because he believes he can make a bigger difference on the outside. But before he does that, we wanted to ask him about politics, Pennsylvania, and the GOP.

A few weeks ago, in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional, Conor Lamb, a Democrat, won a district that went +20 for Donald Trump. What does that say about where the Republican Party is right now? and the Democrat Party?

The election further reinforces that the Republican Party is running into a potential hurricane force wind. It should cause candidates to realize that, if there are Trump coattails, they’re extremely short.

Democrats need to pay attention to the fact that their candidate put distance between himself and Minority Leader Pelosi and an activist, progressive agenda. Both parties should take note of this political reality.

Lamb likely won’t be running in that district, with PA’s maps being redrawn because of intense gerrymandering. Do you think the redrawing of the map in PA was good for politics? Why or why not?

The PA Supreme Court overstepped its authority in handling the situation. Our Pennsylvanian constitution clearly delegates the map-drawing of Congressional districts to the Legislature. By giving the Legislature only a few weeks to redraw the map, the Supreme Court effectively usurped the General Assembly’s authority on redistricting as provided for in the state Constitution. It remains to be seen if the Court’s alterations will lead to more centrist members being elected.

It seems that even after Republicans rode an extreme wave to office, elected officials haven’t moderated. Why do you think that is, and what do you think a successful but moderate platform would look like for the GOP moving forward?

The political Center in Congress is collapsing. Centrists across the country feel under-represented in Congress. The Republican Party has largely become a party based on fealty to an individual, Donald Trump, not to specific ideas or principles. Simultaneously, the Democratic Party has taken a sharp left turn.

A useful, successful Center-Right platform for the GOP would be based on principles of stability, constancy and commonsense. It would stress incremental change, engagement with the rest of the world as opposed to insularity while also embracing a strong national defense. The Party should be rooted in the best of Lincoln, of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Protectionism, isolationism and nativism are not values that will lead to either economic growth or electoral success.

You’re talking to a Clinton voter and a Trump voter from your district, and you’re trying to get them to see that they agree on more than they perceive. What’s your approach?

Let’s start with some alcohol and a therapist and go from there. Seriously, I believe you must remind people that we’re all Americans. Ultimately, we believe in fairness. We believe in American exceptionalism. We believe that Dr. King had it right when he said a person should be  judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Frankly, I wish there more people sitting down and having conversations like that.

Finally, a lot of people are disenchanted with politics right now. What advice would you offer them?

Rightly so. I’d tell them we’ve experienced worse times than these. No one has been caned into a coma on the floor of the Senate for over 160 years. I tell people, if you really want to change the type of politicians who are letting you down – find like-minded people and take over the local county committee of your party, nominate sensible candidates and then help them get elected.

About the author

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James Piltch

James Piltch is the editor of Smerconish.com. His writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Forward, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.