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How Trump Has Changed The Republican Party

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Republicans at their convention this week are not writing and passing a new party platform. Instead, they are using the one from 2016 and expressing unity in the form of support for President Trump. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports how Trump has remade the GOP in his image.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Ask a Republican strategist about the state of their party in 2020, and the answer will likely start with something like this.

ANTONIA FERRIER: I would say this is Donald Trump's party, and I don't think that should be much of a surprise.

GONYEA: That's Antonia Ferrier, a GOP strategist who worked for Senator Mitch McConnell and former Speaker John Boehner. She says parties evolve. They always have. And a president dominating his party is not unusual. What is different, says Ramesh Ponnuru of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, is that Donald Trump doesn't have a deeply held ideology.

RAMESH PONNURU: It's not like Goldwater with Goldwaterism (ph) or Reagan with Reaganism (ph). There just really isn't a Trumpism (ph) that transcends his whims of the moment, let's say.

GONYEA: A lot of long-held GOP beliefs have been jettisoned under Trump. The party of free trade has stood by Trump as he criticizes trade deals and imposes tariffs. On national defense, he accuses NATO allies of not carrying their weight. Then there's the longtime GOP hard line regarding the Soviet Union and Russia. Think back to President Ronald Reagan and this defining moment at the Berlin Wall.

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PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

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GONYEA: In dealing with the Soviets, Reagan often said, trust but verify. Compare that to President Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin after U.S. intelligence concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. election.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

GONYEA: Another topic - immigration. President George W. Bush pressed for immigration reforms by highlighting the humanity of those crossing the border illegally.

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PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH: When I was the governor of Texas, I used to say, family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River.

GONYEA: Now Trump.

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TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.

GONYEA: Trump tapped into existing anti-immigrant sentiment in the Republican Party - same with his attacks on global trade deals. Tom Zawistowski is a Tea Party leader in northeast Ohio.

TOM ZAWISTOWSKI: You know, this whole idea of - what about our jobs? Who cares about us? He talked about the forgotten man in 2016. He talked about manufacturing jobs when the elites in both parties were basically saying, hey, if you like to do manufacturing, tough luck.

GONYEA: Polls show sky-high approval for Trump among Republicans, even though some may not like his Twitter habit. Social conservatives celebrate Trump's judicial appointments. Others point to the tax cuts, and many cheer his attacks on the media. Then there are those Republicans who have abandoned the party completely, the so-called "Never Trumpers."

Stuart Stevens has worked on GOP presidential campaigns. Now he's working to defeat Trump. He calls the president racist and says this campaign reflects that. Stevens was interviewed on Fresh Air.

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STUART STEVENS: It's going to be a racial grievance campaign unlike we have ever seen on the national stage.

GONYEA: Stevens says as the country grows ever more diverse, the GOP needs to appeal to more African American and Latino voters. But he says Trump drives those voters away. As for how lasting Trump's transformation of the GOP will be, that depends on the election. If he wins, it continues. Even if he loses, Trump is unlikely to go away, maintaining a high profile on social media or cable TV. Here's consultant Antonia Ferrier.

FERRIER: If there are those who believe that the Republican Party - it's just going to snap back to some status quo ante of, say, the Bush administration, I think that is misguided.

GONYEA: Meantime, this week's GOP convention promises to give America a view of the current Republican Party - under complete command of President Trump.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.