President Trump responds to a question during a news conference in the White House on Nov. 7. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/REX)
Opinion writer

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“Trump goes in and he picks at those scabs and those wounds and we have to deal with the bleeding.”

For Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, the midterm elections were a process of the American people beginning to answer two questions. What kind of country do they want? What kind of leaders do they want to run it?

“We are a country that right now is grappling with some truths that we have buried for a long time on race, on class and culture, on ethnicity, on those kinds of issues dealing with the diversity of the country,” Steele told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up” recorded during the “Inside American Politics” conference in Italy hosted by NYU Florence. “So you have that sort of roiling tension at a certain level. And coming to grips with that is what we’ve seen over the last … two years.” The scabs and wounds Steele said Trump picks are plentiful. “Whether it’s a policy that locks kids up, even though it’s not our kids, still, as a nation, we have to respond to that. We have found ourselves having to respond to children in cages. Or situations like Charlottesville.”

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Steele told me he has been watching Texas for more than 10 years and said the 2.6 percentage point reelection of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke was a warning sign for the GOP. “Wendy Davis was no Beto O’Rourke,” Steele said, referring to the former Texas state senator whose 13-hour filibuster against an antiabortion bill in 2013 rocketed her to national political fame and a failed run for governor in 2014. “But Wendy Davis was the precursor that allowed a Beto O’Rourke to arise. … The seeds that fell from her campaign and the momentum that was born out of that, while it dissipated, there’s still those seeds planted and Beto was a beneficiary.”

Meanwhile, there is no doubt in Steele’s mind that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will return as speaker of the House when Democrats take over the majority next year. For those Democrats hoping to stop that from happening and for those Republicans who think she’s no match for President Trump, Steele has a blunt message: “You underestimate Nancy’s abilities at your peril.” As for the president, Pelosi is going to be a headache for him, Steele noted. “Trump has a problem with strong women with opinions,” he said, stating what has been plainly apparent.


Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, talks with The Post’s Jonathan Capehart before a recording of the “Cape Up” podcast at Villa La Pietra, on the campus of NYU Florence, Italy, on Monday. (Jonathan Capehart/The Washington Post)

Listen to the podcast to hear Steele talk more about Pelosi and the pull of impeachment in the Democratic caucus, what Pelosi’s ascension means for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the future of the Republican Party under a president whose closing message in the midterm elections was openly racist and xenophobic. Of course, given the state of the GOP, I had to ask Steele once again, why he remains in the Republican Party when so many others have left in disgust.

“You invite me over to a nice dinner and I come to your home. And during the course of that evening, I start breaking your china. I start slicing your drapes, tearing up your carpet, putting holes in your walls. So at that point, do you leave or do you kick my ass out? You’re going to kick me out. That’s where I am. I’m not leaving. This is my house,” Steele said after noting that Trump is neither a Republican nor a conservative. “I know I gotta repair the drapes and patch up the holes in the walls and replace the carpet. But your ass will be gone and that’s the goal.”

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