Chris Vance, the former chairman of the state Republican Party and current GOP opponent to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, has a problem.
In the time since he entered the race against a well-funded incumbent in a state that has been loath to elect Republicans to statewide office, Vance has seen the GOP go from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Trump. This is particularly troublesome for a candidate like Vance, who has tried to toe a moderate line on issues like immigration while advocating for more fiscal conservatism in Washington, D.C.
On the eve of The Donald’s weekend swing through the Evergreen State—during which he reiterated his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border—Vance held a press conference to state his unequivocal opposition to a Trump presidency, vowing to not vote in the presidential election if a conservative third-party candidate does not emerge in the field.
Following Trump’s visit, we caught up with Vance to hear a little more about what it’s like to be a Republican in the age of Trumpism.
You came out against Trump just before he arrived in our state. Did his comments here change or deepen your views on his candidacy? My views are not going to evolve or change or deepen or lessen. I think by now everybody has heard what Mr. Trump has to say and has made up their minds. I certainly have. I didn’t listen or watch what he had to say in Washington state.
How do you think he’s going to effect the Republican brand on the ballot you’re going to appear on in November? Politics is part art and part science. Everybody has their opinions, but polls are the scoreboard we go by, If you look at the polling data, he is catastrophically unpopular with independents, with women, with nonwhite voters, and he doesn’t get a majority, or maybe just a bare majority, of Republican voters. So when you look at the numbers, it is clear he does great damage to the Republican brand and to Republican candidates.
So how do you deal with that? I think I just did.
You think just denouncing him is the most you can do? What else can you do? And I didn’t do this as a political maneuver or a political stunt. I did this as a matter of conscience and following my principles. But I just think that every Republican running for office has to answer the Trump question. It’s the only thing the press is going to ask us. It’s going to come up in debates. He, right now, defines American politics. He’s taken over completely the political discussion in the country. Some people are trying to avoid it or wish it would go away. But you can’t. And every Republican has to answer the question. And I answered it the only way I could.
On the campaign trail, are you going to emphasize aspects of your platform you may not have had to had Kasich been the nominee? Are you going to emphasize your stance on immigration? In other words, are you going to be running against Trump? No. My campaign is not going to be an extension of the Never Trump movement. I’m running for U.S. Senate. I’m running against Patty Murray. If it comes up I’ll answer it honestly. But the tone from the beginning is that Washington, D.C., is broken, Patty Murray is a big part of the problem, and I’m going to continue to talk about growing the economy, bringing down the national debt, finding a better solution than Obamacare, improving national security. I felt I had to say what I had to say [about Trump] and now we move on. If people let me.
I’m not going to let you go just yet. Columnist Leonard Pitts published a piece this weekend that basically argued the Republican Party is getting what it deserves, by playing into xenophobia, playing into racial politics. As a former GOP official, do you think there’s any validity to that? I think that’s an overreach. That’s the narrative that the left would like to use to say the Republican Party has always been rotten, and always been wrong, and now you get what you deserve with Donald Trump. I don’t believe that. The reason we’re here is that, one, Donald Trump represents a minority view of the Republican Party but one that is there; two, he’s really good at what he does and has assets; and three, there was no leadership at the top to stop him.
You say that you’re not going to vote for Trump, but that you won’t vote for Hillary Clinton either. If you truly find Trump so repugnant, it seems that by not voting for Clinton, you are still helping him get to the White House. They are equally repugnant to me. Hillary Clinton would represent the third term of Barack Obama. She has no plan to reduce the national debt. She has no plan to replace and improve Obamacare. She supports the Iran nuclear deal. She’s turned against trade, which is one of the biggest flip-flops ever. Most polls reflect this: The American people reject both options.
Moving on to your own candidacy, you mentioned your top priorities are national defense and reducing the debt. It seems as if defense spending is where fiscal responsibility goes to die. How do you reconcile those two goals? The next president, the next Congress, need to do a thoughtful review of where we need to go with our military now. We must have the military we need to accomplish our mission, and that probably means an increase in spending. If it does, so be it. We have to spend what we have to spend to avoid World War III.
So how do you reconcile that with your stance on the debt? Defense spending makes up 16 percent of the budget. Social Security and Medicare make up 50 percent. That’s where we need to look to make the structural changes to bring down our debt. We need to raise the wage cap on the Social Security payroll tax. We need to raise the retirement age. Too many politicians lie to the American people; Bernie Sanders says we can tax our way out of the national debt. Republicans like to say we can grow our way out. Or point to waste, fraud, or abuse. No, I’m sorry, but we’re not going to get rid of $19 trillion in debt by counting paperclips at the Treasury Department. ■
Interview has been edited for length.