The University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans held a Zoom Q&A with U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., to hear his perspectives on a variety of policy issues Wednesday night. The event was intended to be a discussion of Cassidy’s work on mental health care legislation, though the meeting expanded into talking about several topics, including the 2020 election and the future of the Republican Party.
Cassidy began by talking about his understanding of the dynamics in the last two general elections and what he believes voters are looking for in their candidate.
“I would argue that both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are going after the same voters,” Cassidy said. “Those who have been left behind by an economy increasingly service-oriented and knowledge-based. Indeed, someone described Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as ‘America’s middle finger to Washington D.C.’”
In supporting this kind of voter, Cassidy said he believes the Trump administration’s trade deals will benefit the American working class, particularly with regard to international trade.
“If you have environmental standards here, in a foreign country, and higher standards in the United States, and if you have workers’ rights in the United States and no workers’ rights in a foreign country, then a company is going to arbitrage that and migrate to the cheaper place to do business, no environmental regulations or poorly enforced, and no workers’ rights,” Cassidy said. “Well, that’s unfair to our people.”
Asked about his expectations for the future of the Republican Party, Cassidy said he thinks there will be an increasingly populist platform.
“I can’t tell you exactly how the party’s going to go, I can tell you that two things have to happen,” Cassidy said. “It has to continue to address that populist message — by populist there’s different definitions, I mean. Speak to those who are disaffected by the modern economy, number one. And number two, it has to become more diverse. When 20 percent of the kids in public schools speak Spanish at home, clearly that is a demographic that must be addressed.”
Lindsay Keiser, event coordinator of the University’s College Republicans and LSA, said she enjoyed hearing Cassidy’s political perspectives.
“It was just refreshing to hear from an established conservative,” Keiser said. “I guess I wouldn’t say ‘establishment conservative,’ just someone who still holds the morals of being respectful and speaking intelligently, and just principled, if you will.”
Keiser, a self-identified “John McCain-style conservative,” indicated that her beliefs are not representative of the entire College Republicans organization. She said she appreciated Cassidy’s understanding of the Republican Party’s need to become more inclusive.
“I disagree with (College Republicans) on things like birth control and gay rights, I really think that we need to be a much more inclusive party, and so in that sense, I’m happy with the way the world and the United States is turning, because there’s a lot more conversations about things like gender and sexuality that need to happen,” Keiser said.
Several of the College Republican members in attendance asked Cassidy’s advice for students interested in entering politics.
Cassidy, who had a career as a doctor before running for public office, explained that experience in a field outside of government offers perspective about the way the world works, which he said is important for those aspiring to be politicians. According to Cassidy, his work as a doctor made him a more qualified and appealing candidate.
“I had street cred,” Cassidy said. “Nobody could doubt the fact that I spent 25 years caring for the uninsured. No one could doubt that. If you have that street cred, that counts for a lot.”
Allison Solley, deputy chief of staff to Cassidy and University alum, echoed this sentiment, explaining that there are several ways to get a sense of the work of a U.S. senator.
“If you’re looking to kind of determine what this road might look like for you, an internship is a fantastic way to get that exposure,” Solley said. “You’ll see what a day in the life of a member of Congress is like firsthand, and that might be a clarifying moment for you where you say, ‘This is it, this is what I want to do,’ and then you have that clarity when you go on, like Senator Cassidy was saying, to pursue whatever might come before that.”
Mary Moody, a health policy adviser for Cassidy’s office, said her own path to working on Capitol Hill was not direct.
“Initially I wanted to work in the State Department maybe as a foreign service officer, but I landed a Hill internship and realized this work is really interesting,” Moody said.
Keiser said she found Cassidy’s points about the future of the Republican platform particularly interesting.
“He sort of delicately said that, you know, the populism on the right is here to stay, is how I took it,” Keiser said. “And while that doesn’t necessarily excite me, I think it’s an astute observation, and I think there’s a lot of distress at the ‘establishment’ and concern from middle-class white Americans about the trajectory of this country. So it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.”
Daily News Editor Ben Rosenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.