Former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman joined leaders from across the political spectrum to form a moderate consensus on issues in this polarized political climate. Nearly 240 years ago, in 1787, patriots who’d won a brutal war held a constitutional convention to win the peace. This year’s patriots did too. NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz spoke with Whitman.
Cruz: Governor thanks for taking the time.
Whitman: Well it’s a pleasure, good to be with you.
Cruz: So you’re in D.C. today, taking part in a conference called 1787: Constructing the Peace After the War. That sounds a little dramatic, but I guess given the current political climate maybe not so much.
Whitman: I think it’s pretty accurate the way this campaign went down. It was pretty much of a war. It wasn’t very pretty to watch or be part of.
Cruz: We are probably today as divided as we’ve ever been, no? Politically speaking.
Whitman: No I think that’s right and that’s what No Labels is all about. No Labels is about trying to bring people together, to fix not fight. To get over this. To understand that what the American people were saying. I believe very firmly that the Trump supporters and the Bernie Sanders supporters were two sides of the same coin. People that are frustrated, angry and scared about the future. They don’t feel that Congress or Washington has been acting on their behalf, they feel as if they’re falling behind and they wanted people who just said they were going to tear up the system. Just tear it up, but what they were really saying is that they wanted it to work right. The way it’s supposed to work for them. So, No Labels is providing that kind of a space for a group that we call problem solvers. They’re Republicans, they’re Democrats, they’re Independents, they’re from both sides of the aisle. But they are people who want to solve problems and want to make government work and if that means going against their party chairman or their leader in the House or the Senate or if that means talking — heaven forbid — to someone of the other party to get things done the way our founding fathers did then that’s what they’re going to do. We are going to be there to support them and we want to help them focus on those issues that are the most important to the American people.
Cruz: You said that the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump supporters were two sides of a coin. I think aside from the fact that they all want to kind of drain the swamp they’re all kind of coming from different directions, are they not?
Whitman: They are, but they are motivated by the same thing. They’re motivated by a frustration that Congress hasn’t been working. That Washington hasn’t been working for them. Whether they’re coming at it from the far left or the far right, they are mad and they’re not going to take it anymore to paraphrase a movie phrase. The other thing that tells you that they’re really most people are in the middle is if you look at where party registrations have been going. Republicans and Democrats have been losing registrations and its been the Independents and the non-aligned who’ve been gaining because people are saying a pox on both your houses. I don’t like this extremism because it’s leading to gridlock and what we elect people to do is to represent us to solve our nation’s problems. Not to just represent their party.
Cruz: So, how does No Labels, which is a group here that says “we’re not a centrist or a moderate group and we’re not pushing for bipartisanship for its own sake.” So how do you bring the sides together if you’re not talking about bipartisanship?
Whitman: Well actually we are. We’re very much talking about bipartisanship. The membership is every time we bring in a member from one party, we try to make sure we bring in a member from the other party. We’re trying not to be partisan. I think that’s what’s really meant by that. Not to be partisan on either side but to let people put those labels aside. That’s why we say “No Labels” and just come together and say “OK, we want to do something about tax structure. How do we start that process? What can we agree on? Where can we begin to break down the barriers?” Setting aside the “R” or the “D” after our name or the “I” if you’re an Independent. So that’s really what it means. It means putting those labels aside and becoming the caucus, as we call them, problem solvers. And No Labels has developed a series of issues that have come out of a whole number of meetings that were held across the country with people to say what is it you care about? What’s the most important to you? Where would you like to see Congress start to work? This afternoon I am going to be sharing a panel with a governor and two mayors to talk about what can Washington do for the states? Because you know it’s those executive people who have to get things done. They can’t just think about what might be nice to do. They have to make it work. So, it’s important to hear their voices and send that message to Congress as well.
Cruz: Governor there was a lot of consternation specifically on the left, but also from some folks from the Republican Party from the new president-elect, but also some voices who are suggesting that — because he’s not such an ideologue — this may present an opportunity for a group like yours to maybe find compromise with a president whose not so ideologically tied down to anybody.
Whitman: I think that’s absolutely true. I do not believe that President-elect Trump is an ideologue. He’s a deal maker and he’s going to know that he is going to need people from both sides in order to get some of the things he wants to get done, done. Frankly, you can’t always depend on your own party. They’re not all in alignment, not all Republicans are in alignment, not all Democrats are in alignment and he is doing things already now that are a little bit contrary or different than what some people took from what he said during the campaign and that’s going to make some of his supporters unhappy. So, he needs to bring some of these people together, but that’s what he does. That’s the art of the deal making. It’s finding those areas of consensus where you can work together. So, I think there’s a real hope that, that is something that we can see a lot more of in the coming months and in the coming years. I certainly hope so. As you well know, he wasn’t my candidate but he’s going to be my president and so I want to see him succeed.
Cruz: All right, Gov. Christine Whitman thanks for taking the time.
Whitman: My pleasure. Good to be with you.