On Stuart Stevens’ Republican Party and the ‘loud voices’ drowning it out

First, I saw Andy Taggart, stalwart Republican and former chief of staff for Gov. Kirk Fordice, calling on leaders of his party to spearhead changing the Mississippi flag.

Bravo, Andy. Of course, he’s a fellow Moss Pointer, so I expect a certain amount of good sense.

But then I started seeing Stuart Stevens making all kinds of comments that I found myself agreeing with, too.

Perhaps you know of Stevens, another Mississippian, albeit from Jackson. Among many wide-ranging accomplishments (writing seven books, for one thing), he’s a big-time political consultant and strategist, having worked on more than 30 winning Senate or governor’s races and two winning presidential campaigns, all for Republicans.

Which is to say, he’s never worked with anybody I ever voted for, or would have voted for, given the chance.

And yet I read his postings on Twitter and find myself frequently thinking, Well, yeah.

For instance, just within the past week or so:

He poked fun at Fox News. Eviscerated Bill O’Reilly and Steve Bannon. Defended Hillary, and Obama’s economic record. Pointed out the impact of gun violence in the U.S.  Advocated equal pay for female soccer players. Acknowledged climate change science.

You can perhaps understand my confusion. What manner of Republican is this? I posed a few questions to Stevens via email, to get a better sense, and asked how he’d describe himself.

“I’d call myself a Reagan/Bush/Romney Republican,” he said. “What’s that mean to me? It means believing in a center-right party that governs from a compassionate center, aspires to bring people together, not divide, and is capable of a governing coalition that bridges ideological divides. I’d like to think that party still exists.”

I asked if any of his beliefs overlap with those of Democrats. (Gun control? NFL protests? Government-funded health care? Abortion rights? Immigration? Colonel Rebel vs. Landshark?)

“I’d take a pass on a deep issue-by-issue breakdown, in part because most of these difficult issues are complicated and nuanced. But in a nutshell, we do have abortion rights, gun control, government-funded health care and high levels of immigration. The questions revolve around degree and consensus. On NFL protests, I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist and support the players who choose to protest.”

Inspired by a tweet of his, I asked, Why has the right lost its mind?

“I was drawn to a Republican Party that would stand up to Russia, be the aspirational party that immigrants would want to join, where character counted and decency was more important than any one issue,” he said. “Some loud voices are drowning out those values now and I hope this moment passes.”

I noted that he dodged the Colonel Rebel vs. Landshark question (Correct answer: Neither), but let it slide. I also avoided the issue of the current White House occupant, for whom Stevens has no love but whom I have pledged not to write about.

Oh, and the Mississippi flag?

“I’m embarrassed to say that growing up and until recently, I never really thought about the flag one way or the other,” he said. “But clearly, and for understandable reasons, for many Mississippians it is a painful reminder of a past that included slavery. I’d change it tomorrow were it up to me.”

As with Andy: Bravo.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com or on Twitter @jrogink.

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