STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump has done this before. A news story emerges that does not directly involve him, and then the president offers an incendiary comment that refocuses the story entirely on him. So it went when four women, newly elected Democrats in the House, publicly questioned their party leaders over how to confront the president. The president then took a side by embracing old racist language. He wrote that progressive women in the House should go back where they came from.
For the record, most came from America. Democrats have criticized the president. Republicans have been largely silent. But we've now called Republican analyst Mark McKinnon, who was a media adviser to President George W. Bush, among others. Mark, welcome back to the program.
MARK MCKINNON: Thanks for having me on, Steve. Great morning to be an American, unless you're a person of color or come from another country.
INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness. Maybe you're hinting at the way your remarks are going to go here. Is this a good moment for Republicans to keep their heads down?
MCKINNON: It's a humiliating moment for the Republican Party. And once again, we are seeing Republicans keeping their heads down, with the exception of Lindsey Graham and Chip Roy from Texas, which is two out of, (laughter), hundreds of Republicans. We've seen this script before. Nobody's going to buck the president. And the president is, as you said, tacking into the issue that he wants to run this election on, which is immigration. And it's ironic to me because, you know, I was attracted to George Bush and became a Republican in the '90s because of his message of compassionate conservatism and his warm embrace of immigrants. And so this is really tough for, you know, people who were trying to be Republicans out there. But this is the script.
And the irony, again, too is, you know, I know that Trump thinks this is a smart strategy. It's what he's going to do. He's like a shark when he sees a - you know, smells blood in the water, he's going to pounce on it. That's just his instinct. The irony, though, is that there was a split in the Democratic Party over what was going on in this debate with the squad and Nancy Pelosi. So there was kind of an internal debate, and what Trump has done now is galvanize the Democratic Party to come back together when they were kind of being split apart.
INSKEEP: So the - so you would like to see Republicans speak up a little bit more. Let me just ask the fundamental question here, though. The president is criticizing these Americans for criticizing - he says, criticizing America, criticizing things about the United States or criticizing the president. The president, of course, has been very critical of things in America. Is it un-American to be critical of things in America?
MCKINNON: That's what being American's all about. You're supposed to be critical of it. That's what our Constitution was about. That's what the First Amendment is all about. So it's a sad point that we're at. It's not a surprise to anybody. It's just taken it to another level when we thought there wasn't another level. And this is going to be the ugliest election in American history as we just see more and more of this. And, you know, it's sad as a Republican. It's sad as an American. And it's just unfortunate, this nature of the beast.
INSKEEP: Can we just mention, though, Mark, in the moments we have left, the few seconds we have left - there are four progressive women here - House freshmen, people of color. They've cut a broad swath. One of them describes herself as a democratic socialist. Are they pulling the Democratic Party a little farther to the left than maybe they'd like to be?
MCKINNON: No question about that. No question. But that's their right. That's what - you know, that's what politics is all about. And the Democratic Party's trying to be a broad party. But they have created an opening in the debates, and that's what Trump is really jumping on, is that Democrats have said, we want to decriminalize immigration, we want to give health care rights to all immigrants. So that does create an opening, and that's another reason why Donald Trump is taking advantage of this moment.
INSKEEP: Mark McKinnon, who was a media consultant to President George W. Bush, among others. Thanks very much for your time.
MCKINNON: Kick it hard, Steve. Thanks.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.