Print Friendly and PDF

Robert C. O’Brien and Michael Steele Examine Today’s Republican Party

By Crain’s Content Studio

Key Takeaways

  • President Donald Trump’s legacy looks much like that of Ronald Reagan: no new wars on his watch, he attracted working-class Democrats, and lowered taxes, O’Brien argued.   
  • Steele countered that the GOP “has become a party that talks less about what we believe in – on taxes, infrastructure, and health care” – and resorts to “lay blame on Democrats for his or that. That’s not leadership; it’s a bar fight.” 
  • What do the demographics of future Republican voters look like? No one seems to know, because the pool of so-called moderate centrist candidates seems to be shrinking in both parties.  

Detroit Regional Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah moderated an animated discussion during the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference on Wednesday, Sept. 22, about the Republican Party’s present and future with Robert C. O’Brien, former U.S. National Security Advisor during the Trump Administration; and Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee Chairman, former Lieutenant Governor of the State of Maryland, and current MSNBC political analyst. 

O’Brien argued that wokeness and cancel culture have become weaknesses for Democrats and rallying cries for Republicans; Steele said that GOP suffers from wokeness itself, disparaging U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming ) for “standing on principle for what they believe.”

After a mostly congenial back-and-forth exchange between O’Brien and Steele about the future of the Republican Party in the wake of Donald Trump’s one-term presidency, both men indicated that they expect to stay actively engaged in the nation’s fractious political future. Baruah asked each about their future plans.

Steele acknowledged that he’s exploring a possible run for governor in Maryland, where Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will leave office after winning two terms as a moderate Republican in a mostly Democratic state.

Steele said he has not yet decided about running in 2022 and conceded that he might have difficulty prevailing in a Republican primary. “What does it mean,” he asked, “to be a Republican in the 21st century?” Then he added with a wry smile, “Remember the Whigs? Nobody does.”

O’Brien, whose name has been floated as a possible 2024 candidate for president, didn’t directly answer Baruah’s question about a presidential run, stating only that his political focus for the next year and a half will be helping House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) become Speaker of the House after the mid-term elections.

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio for the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference.