Media CenterFuture of the GOP

Future of the GOP

As part of an SNF Paideia Red and Blue Exchange on campus two former staffers in Donald Trump’s White House shared their experiences working for the ex-president and their views on how the GOP can bring back bipartisanship and appeal to younger voters. The chat with Alyssa Farrah Griffin (center) and Sarah Matthews (right) was moderated by political scientist Brian Rosenwald of the School of Arts & Sciences.

Two former staffers in Donald Trump’s White House outlined their views on how the GOP can move away from MAGA, bring back bipartisanship, and appeal to younger voters, and they detailed why they no longer support the former president.

Alyssa Farrah Griffin and Sarah Matthews both worked in White House communications during the Trump administration.

Griffin served as a press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence until 2019, when she moved into a director of communications position at the White House. She left that post in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police and the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. She now appears on “The View” and is a commentator on CNN.

Matthews served as special assistant to the president and White House deputy press secretary in the Trump administration for seven months before resigning after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters. She provided testimony to the House Jan. 6 committee.

The event was moderated by historian Brian Rosenwald, and co-organized by the Red and Blue Exchange, an initiative of the SNF Paideia Program, and the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. The Red and Blue Exchange promotes viewpoint diversity and civil dialogue in the Penn community and beyond by holding speaker events. It’s part of the SNF Paideia program’s efforts to provide a forum for the civil discourse crucial to a healthy democratic society.

Griffin and Matthews grew up in Republican households. Griffin said she was attracted by three core conservative principles: strong on national defense, promoting family values, and fiscal conservatism. She said that, while her views have evolved, she was “always national security minded, wanting, believing in the U.S. leadership abroad and a fundamentally free market economy—giving the most people the most opportunity and letting the market work.”

Matthews said both of her parents were active in politics, and in college she joined the College Republicans and volunteered on campaigns. This, she said, was when she grew to love the conservative philosophy, noting individual liberties, smaller government, and strong national defense. She said, “the first politician that I got really excited about was John McCain.”

Rosenwald asked the pair about their undergraduate experiences as College Republicans and if when they had been around people who disagreed with their views they were able to “disagree agreeably, or whether you felt like you had to muzzle your views?”

Griffin said she had attended a quite-conservative university and thus had not experienced people challenging her views there. She then noted that, early in her career on Capitol Hill a decade ago, she had worked collaboratively with political opposites. During that time, she said they would challenge Democrats in the Obama administration on policy during the day and socialize with many of the same colleagues in the evening. She said there was a level of “dignity and a certain respect for each other and for people being in the game and wanting to be part of the process and part of the policy making that I worry doesn’t exist in the same way. I think it’s really fractured over the last decade.”

Matthews relayed a different college experience. She attended a liberal college in the Midwest and was there during the 2016 presidential campaign and Trump’s win. She said at times she felt awkward and felt fellow students and professors judged her for being a Republican. “I remember it being this really, really contentious time being on campus and having my viewpoints challenged.”

Rosenwald asked about how the Republican Party can create a vision of conservatism that might appeal to young voters, noting that since 2004 the 18- to 29-year-old demographic has overwhelmingly voted Democratic.

“I think that if we got back to a place where there was an aspirational economic message, I do think that the idea of compassionate conservatism, which feels so dated now, is a very real message that resonates,” Griffin said. The party of limited government and individual liberty should be able to embrace LGBTQ rights, she said. And for young people who are war-weary, the GOP’s turn toward more isolationist policies could be appealing. Both said they saw Nikki Haley as a candidate who understood the way to approach reproductive rights in a smart way, finding consensus in those topics.

Matthews said that Republicans need to come up with pro-market solutions to try to combat the climate crisis. “Those could put that up against progressive policies, some of which are aspirational and completely unworkable and then have that battle of ideas,” she said. “But denying the existence of climate change, you will lose an entire generation of voters who have to live with the consequences.”

On the issue of guns, Griffin said that the vast majority of the country, including Republicans, would support more action to prevent gun violence, like red flag laws, but battling the gun lobby makes any movement next to impossible. Matthews agreed, “There are meaningful actions that Republicans could take and work with Democrats on to try to stop gun violence,” she said. She pointed to views outlined in an op-ed The Atlantic last year written by former Republican U.S. Rep.  Will Hurd of Texas as an example.

On the topic of Trump, both Griffin and Matthews noted that they had not voted for Trump in 2016, had been swayed to support him and work in the administration and now firmly oppose his candidacy.

Griffin, who described herself as a moderate Republican, said for a time she supported and admired him. “You have to give him credit,” she said. “He has a personality that draws people in. He has an aura about him.” Griffin said the chaos in the administration surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and refusal to bring sides together in the wake of the Floyd killing were for her the last straw. For Matthews the turning point was Trump’s behavior surrounding the Jan. 6 attack. Both said they now feel Trump is not fit to serve.

When asked if they thought the GOP might chart a path forward without the MAGA faction, the pair said they were hopeful. Griffin spoke about how important down-ballot races can be. She urged young Republican voters to turn their sights on state and local elections as places to focus their energy. And while Matthews and Griffin say they will not vote for Trump in the next election, if he wins, Griffin said she hopes good people will continue to play a role in his administration noting, “you would be surprised how much behind-the-scenes influence you can have in small ways.”

Read full article here.
Photo by Scott Spitzer.

Read More

In the News

Penn Finds Ancient Inspiration for the Education of Modern Citizens

In a city whose name is drawn from the Greek for “brotherly love,” perhaps it’s only natural to turn to ancient Greece for inspiration.Learn More
In the News

Angela Duckworth Will Teach a New Penn Course Next Spring Focused on ‘Grit’

New Paideia designated course will focus on passion and perseverance.Learn More
In the News

SNF Paideia Program at UPenn Sponsors First Event, Focusing on Environmental Citizenship

In collaboration with a range of other organizations at the University of Pennsylvania, the SNF Paideia program co-sponsored its first-ever event on Tuesday, October 15, Climate Justice and Environmental Citizenship.Learn More