Robin Weaver is president of the Women’s National Republican Club (WNRC), a private club based in New York for Republican women.
Verdict spoke to Weaver about what it’s like to be at the helm of the organisation in an interview touching on the state of American politics and the threat to freedom of speech across the country.
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Verdict: So tell me a bit about the history of the WRNC?
RW: Well, we were founded in 1921 by suffragettes, and we have been in this building [in Midtown Manhattan] since 1934. We are, to my knowledge, the only women’s Republican club with its own clubhouse, so that makes us quite unique.
Verdict: What does the WRNC’s history mean to you on a more personal level?
RW: It means a lot to me because when you look at the history of this country and the fact that women didn’t have a right to vote until the 20th century — that says a lot. It was Republican suffragettes who were at the forefront of trying to obtain the right for women to vote, which I think is pretty special.
Verdict: Aside from its impressive history, what else attracted you to the WRNC?
RW: I am president of the club, which is a big responsibility. We have a really interesting program here at the club — we bring in authors, historians, academics, and politicians to talk. It is very engaging from both a personal perspective and for our club members. I also think it’s important that since Republicans are such a minority in New York, that there is a place Republicans can come and share views, share ideas and I should note that a lot of our programs are attended by as many Democrats as Republicans. We certainly welcome other points of view.
Verdict: How does the club embrace different viewpoints?
Well we actually have a talk coming up on June 20 called “Left, Right, Centre” where we are going to have a Republican, a Democrat and a moderater talking about the Obama presidency and legacy.
Verdict: What drew you to the Republican party?
I didn’t grow up in New York, I grew up in the Pittsburgh area and i loved watching The Firing Line [a 1970s American public affairs show] as a kid. I became more involved in the Republican party as a teenager because I liked what the party stood for. Republicans favor less government intervention, and I think for small businesses and job creation that’s important, so those are the fundamental things that attracted me to the Republican party.
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Verdict: What are your current membership numbers and has the election of Donald Trump as president affected them at all?
The first thing to mention is that we have some male members — about 7 percent of our members are men so we aren’t all women. Membership numbers have been somewhat static over the past several years, but we’ve seen a small bump in our membership recently, probably because we have a Republican in the White House and that’s helpful in terms of attracting new members.
Verdict: I’d like to talk a little about Trump’s presidency so far. In what ways has Trump shown himself to be a competent president?
RW: I think when you look at his cabinet, particularly the guys in the Treasury department like Steve Mnuchin [secretary of the treasury] and Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council (NEC), they are impressive. Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and Jim Mattis as secretary of defense were also strong choices and I’ve heard good things about McMaster. So I think the strong cabinet picks are telling. More broadly, he has shown good leadership in terms of his mandate to reform tax and to provide an alternative to Obamacare on the healthcare front.
Verdict: What do you make of the current healthcare bill?
RW: I think there will be a lot of tweaks so I think it’s premature to opine on it. The bill is in its infancy from a legislative standpoint still.
Verdict: Has Trump been good for US business and the economy?
RW: Overall, yes. Just looking at the stock market’s performance, it has done incredibly well. The dollar is strong. There is a strong belief that Trump will help job creation.
Verdict: Where could Trump improve?
RW: I think he could improve in terms of his communication. Having a consistent message requires a certain amount of discipline, which is hard for someone who is not a career politician and has been the boss of his own business. It’s probably a real challenge for him at times.
Verdict: During the campaign video footage surfaced of Trump making derogatory comments about women. As president of the Women’s Republican Club were you shocked to hear about his attitude towards women?
RW: I don’t think anyone felt like defending him over that and in fairness to him, he apologised. He said he wasn’t proud of what he said and described it as locker room talk. So I think he regretted saying it.
Verdict: What do you feel about the state of American politics at the moment?
RW: The thing that bothers me most is that we have become so polarised. It’s a trend that started under president George W Bush in a big way and continued under Obama’s administrations.
Verdict: What can these deep political divisions be attributed to?
RW: I think what’s happened is that each of the major political parties have become polarised because of their movement to the right in the case of Republicans and movement to the left in the case of the Democrats. I think there’s a big group out there who feel as though they don’t have a home in either party. That extremism if you will has aggravated the polarisation.
Verdict: Are there some moderates on both sides trying to bridge the gap?
RW: It is challenging. I don’t see it in big numbers from either of the main parties. It would certainly be good if the Democratic and Republican leadership could work together more often.
Verdict: What do you make of some of the more outspoken Democrats like Elizabeth Warren? Has she added to the polarisation you describe?
RW: I’m a big proponent of free speech and hearing all sorts of views so in terms of Elizabeth Warren, she has a right to say what she wants as much as anyone else. One thing I am concerned about with freedom of speech though is what you see on American campuses. I give a big shout out to the president of Wesleyan university who is a self-described leftie and he’s on the record as saying we need to hire more academics with conservative, libertarian or even religious viewpoints.He feels that now there is just one point of view on many US campuses and it’s just not healthy for intellectual debate. I give him a lot of credit for coming from a liberal school like Wesleyan and saying that. He understands the importance of upholding free speech.
Verdict: How do you embrace freedom of speech in your role as president of the WNRC?
RW: I take great pride in inviting people here with different views. We’ve had a number of individuals speak here who are not card-carrying Republicans. It says something about us as a club that we welcome that debate.
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