Barrasso Struggles To Unify GOP Ahead Of Convention

Jul 1, 2016

Credit Alex Fiszbein

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso has one of the more difficult jobs in Washington this summer: he’s chairing the Republican platform committee for the party’s convention. As chair, he’s charged with helping usher through a cohesive party platform at a time when the party is arguably its most divided in decades.

The party’s presumptive nominee Donald Trump is more isolationist than most in the GOP, he has called for a ban on Muslim immigration and wants to build a massive wall to keep Mexicans out. Despite this, Barrasso denied that Trump has made his job harder.

“No, not at all because this is really a delegate-driven platform. Many of these people have been on platform committees in the past. A number of them have served, currently served or have served in their state legislatures so I've talked to a number of them. We're going to have a conservative platform.”

Barrasso said his party’s inclusive platform rules – with lots of delegates – make his job easier.

“It's interesting the Democrats have 15, we have 112. Two from each state, as well as two from each of the territories. So, we're meeting with some of the chairmen of the subcommittees and you know, we meet a full week ahead of time in Cleveland to go through all of it.”

Barrasso’s colleagues have several thoughts on what should be included in the platform.

"Economic growth and economic plan that gets people back to work, that's the most important thing to me, said Senator Lindsey Graham.

"Something on the environment, we don't have an environmental platform. I mean, I'd like to have a clean energy platform in the Republican Party. When you ask about what our environmental policies are, we kind of look at each other. So, I'd like to see a conserved clean energy plank in the platform, talk about lowering emissions in a business-friendly way,” suggested West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions would like to keep things simple.

"I would be open to considering a much shorter platform that voluntary sets out clear visions and everybody can understand and you know, a couple pages maybe.”

While all that debate is happening in the Senate, House Republicans have spent the summer laying out their agenda. Trump recently taunted GOP leaders in Congress, saying they need to get tougher and that if they didn’t he would “just do it by myself.” It appears that House members have let him go it alone.  House Speaker Paul Ryan has spent the summer unveiling a series of new policy proposals called A Better Way.  

“Let’s face it, people know what Republicans are against. Now, we’re going to give you a plan that shows you what we are for.”

The six-part plan spans everything from addressing poverty through incentivizing work to shoring up security on the nation’s borders without merely focusing on building a wall.

To many in Washington, the series of House Republican proposals draws a stark contrast with what Trump has been promising voters on the stump. Pennsylvania Republican Pat Meehan said he doesn’t think the Speaker’s effort will galvanize Republicans, though he says it will be a useful tool for the party.

"I don't know that anyone will be running on these things, but I think that it is clearly a good undertaking to begin to identify issues and solutions that are able to be used as a basis for conversation with the American people.”

So what will Republicans be running on? Even with all the competing GOP proposals floating around, Barrasso still hopes to include a stout western package in the party’s platform.

“A lot of issues that affect us in the Rocky Mountain west in terms of energy, being good environmental -- of the land, public land is going to be a part of it. As a doctor, healthcare is certainly going to be an important component too."

As for Trump, Barrasso said he’s urged his party’s candidate to embrace the platform he’s helping craft this summer. 

"I met with him when he was here a couple weeks ago, I’ve encouraged him to embrace the platform, talked about the things that were important to getting the country growing again in terms of the economy and jobs, the economy and national security."

Throughout the summer Trump has been a headache for Republican Party leaders, and analysts don’t expect him to stay on script once Barrasso and the other delegates agree on a platform. But some are hoping it will give the vulnerable Republicans running down ticket something to unify around, even as many continue to distance themselves from their party’s presumptive nominee.