WHEN

Sunday, October 10, 2021, 3:OOPM to 4:30PM EDT

WHERE

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Jane Whitney

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Leni & Peter May
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Anne Sutherland Fuchs

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The Republican Party’s official position is . . . ?

Who knows! For the first time in recent history, there isn’t a GOP platform: no overarching exploration of ideals, goals, principles, or positions on any of the country’s critical issues. 

In a shift that predates the election of Donald Trump but has accelerated precipitously since his defeat, the GOP has sworn fealty to the former president and forsworn iconic positions, even distancing itself from democratic ideals and norms. The party no longer adheres to such basic principles as the commitment to one-man-one-vote, free and fair elections, the respectful treatment of political opponents or the avoidance of violent rhetoric.

In an existential crisis for democracy, that’s created the defining political question of the moment: whither the GOP? 

As the country moves into another election cycle, Common Ground with Jane Whitney will devote the eleventh and penultimate show of its season to a discussion of the future of American democracy by focusing on the GOP, the party’s history, culture and politics. The panel of renowned political savants will discuss the party’s radicalization, the impending impact of demographic trends, the upcoming Congressional and presidential election cycles and the survival of the two-party system, one of the defining characteristics of American democracy. 

Our first luminary is Matt Dowd, an author, pundit, consultant and campaign strategist who has worked both sides of the political aisle.

He first rose to prominence in the 1980s as a top Democratic strategist in Texas. A staffer for Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D), Dowd served as an operative for the senator’s campaign as Gov. Michael Dukakis’s running mate in the 1988 Presidential election. 

Inspired by George W. Bush's message of being "a uniter, not a divider,"  Dowd became a Republican in 1988 and six years later was appointed chief political strategist for the 2004 Bush-Cheney Presidential Campaign. 

But he broke from the Bush administration in opposition to the Iraq War. In an interview with the New York Times in 2007, he called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and criticized President Bush for failing to unite the nation., "I really like him, which is probably why I'm so disappointed in things,” he said. “I think he's become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in."

After leaving the Bush Administration, Dowd became a political commentator for ABC's “Good Morning America” and “This Week” with George Stephanopoulus. He ended his thirteen-year career at ABC in January 2021.

Dowd is the founding partner of ViaNovo, a successful international advisory firm for high-stakes brands, policy, and crisis issues; has taught at the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and is a visiting Fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. He is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Applebee's America: How Successful Political, Business and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community. His book, A New Way: Embracing the Paradox as We Lead and Serve, was released in 2017. 

Robert Gibbs, our second panelist, earned his bona fides in political communications as press secretary to 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry and subsequently served as communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the first Illinois Senate campaign of Barack Obama. He went on to become the communications director of Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign and White House press secretary in 2008.

Gibbs’s acerbic wit and confidence proved invaluable to Obama throughout the 2008 presidential campaign and from behind the White House Press room podium, when he became renowned as "the Barack Whisperer," because of his closeness to the president. Their codependence was documented by The New York Times when it was reported, "he has advised Mr. Obama on politics, strategy and messaging, and is often the last person to speak to him before he takes the stage.”

Gibbs had a candid, if sometimes combative, relationship with the White House press corps. He notably rankled the progressive wing of the Democratic party when, in an interview with The Hill in 2010, he vented his frustration over Democratic officials’ criticism of the president, "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon." 

Gibbs resigned from the administration in February of 2011, but remained an outside advisor to the president. In 2013, he became a political contributor at MSNBC and co-founded The Incite Agency which was acquired three years later by Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications agency that specializes in building support for brands, causes and candidates. He remains a Senior Counsel for BPI. Gibbs also worked as an executive vice president and global chief communications officer of McDonald's from 2015 to 2019 .

In August 2020, Gibbs became a third co-host of the U.S. political podcast "Hacks On Tap", joining former Obama White House senior advisor David Axelrod and Republican media consultant Mike Murphy.

Our next panelist is a rock star of the GOP’s rejuvenation efforts, a polling guru who has spent her career working to understand the youth vote and advising Republican candidates how to win it. 

One of the most visible Republican researchers and strategists, the pollster, Kristen Soltis Anderson, frequently appears on Fox News, CNN, “The O’Reilly Factor,” ABC News, and HBO “Real Time with Bill Maher”, hosts Sirius XM’s “The Trendline with Kristen Soltis Anderson,” and has been a columnist at The Washington Examiner and The Daily Beast.

A Florida native, she dreamed of becoming a real-life member of the West Wing but pursued a career as a political strategist after discovering she had an affinity for statistics. Feeling isolated as a conservative sparked by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign among her millennial peers, she wrote her thesis for the Johns Hopkins School of Government on the loneliness of the young Republican.

When she published its main points, she became a media superstar. In 2014 she cofounded Echelon Insights, a research and polling company that tracks voter statistics by using social media and other technology, and in 2015 she published her book The SelfieVote, detailing her findings on what young voters care about — and how Republicans can recruit them.

She was named in 2013 one of TIME magazine’s “30 under 30 Changing the World,” National Journal magazine’s “25 Most Influential Women in Washington Under 35” and one of Marie Claire magazine’s “New Guard” of the 50 most connected rising female leaders.

She has a golden retriever named Wallace.

The former GOP Communications Director on Capitol Hill, Tara Setmayer, is our fourth panelist. 

A specialist on urban issues and social policies’ effects on inner cities, Setmayer became a household name during the 2016 presidential election as a go-to conservative media personality whose commentary focused on political issues that impact the country’s future. 

Setmayer last year was named a resident scholar at the Harvard Institute of Politics and at University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, where she narrated the 3-part documentary “Dismantling Democracy.” It aired on PBS stations in September 2020 and currently is streaming on Amazon Prime. She also is a senior advisor at the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group, and hosts the live show “The Breakdown” with co-founder Rick Wilson.

The former communications director for Dana Rohrabacher, the conservative Orange County Republican who was defeated in the 2018 Democratic wave, Setmayer announced her departure from the GOP after 25 years of being a Republican. “As a principled conservative & more importantly, American, I can no longer associate w/a GOP that fully embraced the malignancy of Trumpism,” she tweeted. “The fight continues b/c here, right still matters #CountryOverParty.”

 

Moderated by
JANE WHITNEY 
Former NBC Correspondent and National Talk Show Host

This interactive conversation, which begins at 3PM EDT on October 10th and runs 90 minutes, will be live streamed, allowing anyone with an internet-connected device to participate and ask questions. 

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ALL PROCEEDS FROM THIS EVENT BENEFIT: 

  • American Nurses Foundation Coronavirus Response Fund: addressing emerging needs of nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.
  • Greenwoods Counseling & Referrals, Inc.helping members of the Litchfield County Community and beyond find access to compassionate and high-quality mental health and related care.
  • New Milford Hospital: helping to secure the latest technology, attract the best medical staff and provide the compassionate, patient-centered care for which they are nationally recognized.
  • Susan B. Anthony Project: promoting safety, healing, and growth for all survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and advocates for the autonomy of women and the end of interpersonal violence.

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