Atlanta’s Jackie Gingrich Cushman, daughter of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, has a message for Republicans: Get to know some Democrats. Cushman, who has a new book out, “Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening,” spoke to the Cobb GOP during its monthly Saturday breakfast in a talk filmed by C-SPAN.
A nationally syndicated columnist, Cushman said at the political level, we’re engaged in “a civil war, but with words” on a daily basis.
Take some advice from the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, who advised: “‘First you win the argument and then you win the vote.’ I think too many times we try to rush through getting the vote without actually winning the argument,” Cushman said.
The Peach State is an exceptional place, one where she grew up and has raised her two children. There are those on the right, those on the left and those in the middle, residents who don’t have the time to pay close attention to politics because they’re busy with their jobs and families.
“There’s a middle in Georgia that may be new to Georgia or maybe hasn’t been around Georgia very long that quite frankly believes all the horrible things they hear about Republicans from the news media. Quite frankly that makes me sad … I know we’re loving people, but I’m saddened by the fact that we constantly get maligned nationally. I want us to think about collectively how to combat that.”
Watching the 2016 election returns with the sound muted at Trump headquarters in New York, Cushman said she could tell by the body language and expressions of the anchors’ faces that Donald Trump was going to win. When he did, there was a collective meltdown from the left, she said.
“I have to admit I made a little fun of that, and in retrospect I shouldn’t have,” she said, believing an opportunity was missed in learning why they were so upset and surprised and what Republicans hadn’t communicated properly.
“Because I think there’s this vast middle that has been led to believe that Republicans are terrible, which I know we’re not, that they’re so preconditioned to not like us, that we have to be the first one to reach out our hand. We have to be the ones to say: ‘You’re welcome here. We’d love to have you involved. Please come and join us. We need you. We need your input. We need you to be with us and I want you to be there.’”
A dangerous rise in tribalism, where “my tribe’s better than your tribe” must be combated, she said.
“I think the problem with that is we begin to see ourselves not as individuals — that we’re individuals that work together — but as members of a tribe even before members of a country. And that’s where it gets really dangerous,” she said.
According to Cushman, 64% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans report having few or no friends in the opposite party.
“Just think about that. That is frightening. Because what that means is if you have no contact with anyone else in the other party, you don’t understand how they think or what they care about or quite more importantly they think you don’t care about them and that’s where I think we are as a country.”
While Cushman said Republicans do care, “I also know we’re not communicating that in a way in which people understand. And while we can scare people to vote for us for a year or two, I’m concerned quite frankly about my children who are 20 and 19, and we can’t do this for decades. We’ve got to fix this. We must learn how to communicate effectively so people understand that we care about them and we care about America and that I think is our next challenge.”
A little intellectual curiosity is in order, she said.
“Even if you don’t learn anything about their position and don’t agree with them, you will learn about them as a person and then you can communicate with them, because if you don’t know what they care about, or if they think you don’t care about them, it doesn’t matter, the facts don’t matter if you are not going to be able to communicate. It is so important that we make sure that people understand that we care about them. That we want to listen to their problems. That quite frankly if we don’t listen to their problems we can’t help them solve them which I think is the only way to move forward as a nation.”
In pursuit of this intellectual curiosity, it’s important to be optimistic, she said, challenging the breakfast crowd to choose gratitude over grievance.
“Because the left has a lot of work on grievance. Let them have it. Let them grieve about who belongs to what group and who’s a current victim and how terrible things are,” she said.
Republicans must be grateful for living in the best nation on Earth, a nation with free speech, which they should use not to yell at the other side, but to articulate why the GOP is the better party.
“The left has a full-on terrible narrative about how terrible the country is and how terrible we all have been. I am not saying we are a perfect nation … We are not a perfect nation, but I do believe we are the best nation. I also believe if we constantly tear ourselves down we’ll never be able to move forward. Try it at home. Try to go home and tell your spouse how terrible they are. Does that work? No. Try to tell your child how horrible they are. You know what? They’ll believe it. And it’s terrible. I think we have an entire generation of people who we have told they can’t be successful, and unfortunately they have begun to believe it, and I think it’s a travesty, and I think we have to change it.”
A cheerful persistence is the way to go, she said.
“If you’re not persistent, you’re not going to get anywhere. But you also have to be cheerful, because if you’re not cheerful, no one wants to play with you.”
The final challenge she gave to the party faithful was one that may be the biggest. Find an issue you care about. For Cushman it’s homelessness, the environment, early education and financial literacy, but it could be anything from the symphony to the art museum.
“You find whatever you care about and you spend time with whoever cares about that same thing and you work together and you make progress and you don’t know if they’re a Democrat or a Republican, I’ll tell you what, they’ll be Democrats on that team and you will change their mind about Republicans,” she said. “Because they will see you working next to them, they will see you caring about people. They will see you caring about them and you will leave their life changed. We can’t sit back and pretend like the 55% of us that don’t have friends in the other party are OK. That’s not OK. We have to be in community with people, even people we don’t like. Because quite frankly if we didn’t, we’d sit alone by ourselves at home, which really isn’t a very good choice. So I think a little intellectual humility to know that we may have a lot of the things right, but not everything right, to know that we need to be part of this big system that doesn’t always work well, but works better than anywhere else in the world, and to understand that every time we’re out in public that we reflect not only ourselves and our country, but also our Republican values and our brand. Reach out to people.”
If you’d like to watch Cushman’s talk on C-SPAN, check that network’s schedule for an announcement on when they will air it.