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Republicans Consider How Trump Has Changed Their Party


President-elect Donald Trump is busy trying to staff his government and decide which of his many campaign promises he wants to keep and which he wants to discard. We will hear from a member of his transition team in a moment.

First, many Republicans are wondering exactly what Trump has done to their party. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Now that Donald Trump has won, he has a chance to remake the Republican Party in his own populist, protectionist, nationalist image. And no one could be happier than Virginia Congressman David Brat. Brat was kind of a proto-Trump, a leading indicator of the grassroots rebellion that Trump tapped into.

Back in 2014, Brat beat Eric Cantor, the first time in history that a House majority leader had been defeated in a primary. Brat's issue was immigration, and he said Trump understood that Republicans could win without capitulating to multiculturalism. Brat remembers that after Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan lost, the party produced the so-called autopsy report.

DAVID BRAT: The autopsy report said we ought to be scared of our shadow. We ought to be scared of Hispanics and African-American women, et cetera. The Republican message was just wimpy from four years ago. So what Trump has done is, he's reinvigorated us again and shown us a path forward, that if you get the middle class and the blue-collar and the people that take pride in our country, there's a - there's plenty of, you know - a huge demographic win sitting there.

LIASSON: Even at their moment of great victory, there are still signs of an identity crisis in the GOP. Look no further than the emerging Trump White House. The chief of staff will be RNC Chair Reince Priebus who commissioned that autopsy report.

Down the hall will be Steve Bannon, Trump's campaign chairman and former head of Breitbart News, a prominent platform for white nationalism, anti-Semitism and misogyny. Kristen Andersen is a Republican strategist.

KRISTEN ANDERSEN: I think that Donald Trump showed that there is a way to bring in voters who are working-class voters who have felt like neither party has been paying attention to them. And I think the question is, can he keep those folks in the fold without as President indulging the kind of rhetoric and the kind of really unfortunate bedfellows that were a part of this presidential campaign?

LIASSON: Republicans who heaved a sigh of relief at the prospect of Reince Priebus working with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are nervous about Bannon, who's thrown as many bombs at the Republican establishment as he has at liberals. Amanda Carpenter was a former top aide for Senator Ted Cruz.

AMANDA CARPENTER: Donald Trump has brought forth the question of white identity politics plainly and clearly, especially with the elevation of Steve Bannon as a White House adviser. You cannot ignore it.

And so where does it go from here? It's very hard to tell. I am a little bit scared. I hope. I pray, and I encourage all the Republicans in Congress to distance themselves from that and try to put him on the right course.

LIASSON: But for now, Republicans in Congress say they are on the same page as Donald Trump. And even President Obama has refused to comment on Steve Bannon's appointment, saying Trump deserves a chance to succeed.

But a fresh start is not exactly the same thing as a blank slate. The campaign has left a big mark. There are anti-Trump protests in the streets and reports of racial incidents committed in Trump's name. Trump has both lashed out at the protesters, blaming them on the media, and told his supporters to stop attacking minorities.

Mike Murphy is a GOP strategist who had been a prominent anti-Trumper. Like many other Republicans, Murphy is happy with Trump's results - complete control of government for the GOP. But he's still uncomfortable with Trump's methods.

MIKE MURPHY: What Donald Trump means now is an open question. That could be good for the GOP if Trump evolves into something a little different than what we saw on the campaign trail, kind of a moral question of what we believe in. He would have to change for me to think it's a good thing.

LIASSON: Since Election Day, Trump hasn't offered much consistency on his tone or his top priorities. Build a wall. Maybe it will be a fence. Deport 11 million people here illegally. Maybe more like 3 million. And Obamacare - Trump says it might be amended instead.

As for his promise to drain the swamp, his transition team is chock full of big donors and lobbyists. Republicans are still waiting to see exactly where Trump wants to take his party. The only guide so far are a divisive campaign, a chaotic transition and conflicting signals on policy from the president-elect. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.