FIX: Donald Trump is now formally the Republican presidential nominee. What does this tell us about the state of your party?
Stevens: I'm of the school that the post-2012 analysis -- the so called "autopsy" -- pointed the party in the direction necessary to win national elections and be a dominant governing party. Donald Trump's nomination is a complete repudiation of that analysis. The most hopeful interpretation, in my view, is that this is final testing of the alternative view that the party doesn't need to broaden its appeal to nonwhite voters and will learn from the looming defeat. The less hopeful is that it's just nuts.
Before 1964, Republicans were getting 30 t0 35 percent of the African American vote. Not great, but if you are at 35 percent you can at least see 40 percent, and if you get to 45 percent, you might have a peek at 50 percent. After 1964, the Republican African American support just fell off a cliff. If the same thing happens in 2016 for Latino voters and the Republican Party, we won't elect a Republican president for at least a generation. Probably longer. Every indication is that Trump will get under 15 percent of the Latino vote. That's an utter disaster.
FIX: There is lots of chatter of late that Trump’s campaign – and maybe even Trump himself – is coming unraveled. Where do you come down on that question? Are Trump and his campaign more problematic for you today than they were two months ago?
Stevens: It's like a car. Most cars do fine at 40 or 50 miles an hour. But the test comes when you take it up to 100 mph and run it all day and night. That's when problems emerge and things start to fall off. Conventions and post conventions is when campaigns must start to hit the high speeds necessary to compete in a general election. I don't think Trump or the campaign is any worse or better than a couple of months ago. They were just driving slower. As the speed increases, they can't keep it out of the ditch.
FIX: What recourse – if any – does the party have in regard to Trump now that he is the nominee? And, even if a bunch of GOP elected officials came out against him, would it make any difference?
Stevens: It's my view that Trump will force something close to a total separation of his campaign and the party by November, and it would be better to make that break now. He's saying crazy stuff, and it won't get better. There is a natural but ill-founded tendency to believe Trump will improve. Normal people tend to ascribe normalcy to others. But Trump isn't normal and isn't going to change. The whole Trump campaign reminds me of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Every day it was hard to imagine it getting worse, but of course it did. And so will Trump. I'd sell now.
FIX: Why did Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell – and almost everyone else in the GOP establishment – endorse Trump? Didn’t they know what they were getting?
Stevens: I can't imagine the pressures and responsibilities of being speaker or majority leader and wouldn't begin to speak to their situation.
FIX: You are Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. Or Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Do you want to get away from Trump? Can you?
Stevens: Yes and yes. The message is clear: One of two people will be president. I'm the better choice for senator regardless of which one wins. Most of these battleground states value independence or they wouldn't be battlegrounds. You want to be the independent voice for your state. Both are excellent senators who can make that argument better than their opponents.
FIX: Finish this sentence: “In one year, the conventional wisdom about Donald Trump’s rise within the Republican Party will be ___________.” Now, explain.
Stevens: I don't think there will be a conventional wisdom, nor do I know if the party, or any party, is a learning organism. There is only one path forward to becoming a governing party, and it is in appealing to a larger, nonwhite electorate. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 57 percent of the white vote and won a sweeping landslide. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 59 percent and lost, with a higher percentage of white voters turning out than in 1980.
I often hear conversations in the Republican Party that are like being in a car needing to drive 100 miles with only 20 miles of gas left while debating the merits of stopping for gas. The car doesn't care. It will go 20 miles and stop. You can argue if there is a moral imperative for the Republican Party to reach more nonwhite voters to be a governing party. (I'd say there is.) But you can't argue if there is a political imperative. It's just math.