Charles Copeland is the former chairman of Delaware Republican Party and minority leader in the Delaware State Senate. He currently heads the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
, an organization dedicated to bringing conservative thought to college campuses. The Resurgent caught up with Mr. Copeland this week to talk about Amy Klobuchar’s candidacy and whether a moderate Democrat could win against Donald Trump in 2020.
“From an intellectual perspective,” Copeland says, “I don’t think that the president really spent a lot of time during his life worried about conservative or even libertarian philosophy. I think he worried about what price the union cement contractor was giving him for whatever his next project was. He was somewhat of an unwritten page and I know a lot of people that were very, very worried, but I would submit that, from a policy perspective, what he’s implemented since being in office has been very conservative policy.”
Copeland doesn’t consider himself a Trump critic, saying, “I would not consider myself a Never Trumper nor would I consider myself an Always Trumper. On my board at ISI, I have both.”
“As a friend of mine once described it, it’s a bit like having a dull limo driver,” he adds. “He’s getting you where you want to go, but you just want to put the glass up.”
Despite the fact that Copeland seems pleased with much of the Trump Administration, he acknowledges that the president is in trouble with moderate voters. The Republican defeats in the House in the 2018 midterms were largely due to a loss of moderate voters in the suburbs.
“Where I live, it’s a suburb of Philadelphia, even though we’re in Delaware and that was one of the areas where Republicans got crushed in the 2018 elections,” he says. “Maybe it wasn’t a wave election in other places, but, in my area, it was a wave election and I consider this to be a fairly moderate area.”
“I think that a lot of moderates said, ‘We want somebody to put a brake on what is going on or, perhaps, on the president directly,” Copeland continues, adding, “I’m not expressing my own opinion, I’m just trying to call balls and strikes.”
“If you think back to the 2016 election,” he adds, “there were about 60,000 people in three states that called the election. If 11,000 people in a Pittsburgh suburb and 11,000 people in a Milwaukee suburb and 11,000 people in a Detroit suburb changed their votes, you change the outcome. Add to that the fact that the president’s approval rating has never in his entire administration broken 50 percent and normally sits around 40 percent. Meanwhile, there are some Never Trampers out there, 43 percent or so, who say they want to impeach the guy. He starts a little behind in a generic situation.”
“I think that if a moderate Democrat made it through their primary system, it would be a much more difficult race” for President Trump, he continues but adds that the Democrat primary system is stacked against moderates.
Copeland says that the large number of Democratic candidates will make it very difficult for any one of them to win a majority of delegates. If five or six prominent candidates such as Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, Beta O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar each win about 15-20 percent of the delegates, it would conceivably be possible for a moderate like Klobuchar to emerge as a consensus candidate.
“From a structural perspective,” he adds, “they’ve got a real hard time getting a candidate who actually has crossover appeal, but, if they did, I think that would be a very, very challenging environment for the current administration.”
Copeland adds that he believes that President Trump will shift gears over the next two years to make himself more amenable to moderates, especially when compared with the radical left-wing Democratic candidates, and notes that the State of the Union may have been the beginning of such a shift in tone.
“I didn’t think the speech was huge as the speech goes,” he says, “but compared to how he’s framed by the media, he came across as a guy that likes people” such as immigrants, war heroes, childhood cancer victims, and Jews, contrary to allegations of anti-Semitism. “It’s kind of hard to frame the guy as a xenophobic hater if he stands in front of people and says, ‘Look at all the people I like.’’’
“I think he’s starting to change tacks,” Copeland says, but adds, “How long that stays, who knows?”
Indeed, a few days later, the kinder, gentler Trump fell by the wayside as the president proclaimed a national emergency in an attempt to bypass the congressional refusal to appropriate money for his signature border barrier.
When asked about the possibility that Joe Biden might enter the race, Copeland jokes, “Joe Biden lives about a mile from where I’m standing right now. Of course, the state is small.”
“I’ve known Joe for a long, long time and Joe loves the sharp elbows of politics,” he says. “If you could go and sit with God and make the perfect human for politics, it would look something like Joe Biden from a skill set. From a policy perspective, I disagree with him on almost everything, but he loves politics and is skilled at it.”
“The problem that he’s got on the Democrat side is he’s an old white guy,” he continues. “How do the Democrats that are dominated by identity politics today” nominate “an old white guy?”
“He’s hugely skilled, but I think that, at the end of the day, it’s going to be very tough to pull that off,” Copeland muses. “But, as I said, if you got to the convention and everybody had 15 percent, could he be somebody that they rallied around because he would be a holding cell for the future? Could be. That’s something that I think, that if I’m Amy Klobuchar, I would be thinking about.”
Copeland takes a swipe at Corey Booker and the identity politics of the Democratic Party, saying, “Corey Booker is now aiming to be the first vegan guy who shaves his head and it’s just an absurdity. I don’t understand the allure to somebody saying that I’m going to be the first vegan president. We’ve got serious issues to face in this country and whether you like McDonald’s hamburgers is not one of them.”
There are deep divisions between even moderate Democrats and conservative Republican voters. Two issues where the differences are most apparent are abortion and immigration. Of the two, Copeland believes that immigration would be the easier gap to bridge.
“The majority of Americans, and I think it’s a good-sized majority, maybe 60-65 percent, want some sort of immigration reform that takes people that are in the United States and gives them legal status or a pathway to legal citizenship,” he says. “They don’t want to uproot families and nobody wants to see the ICE agents coming into a house, pulling out mom and dad and leaving a crying kid standing there as their parents are taken away.”
“I think the majority of Americans want to see that, but they also want to see border security,” he says, adding that “the mainstream media has vilified border security in such a way that” many people don’t want to admit supporting a wall but see the value in adding security to “control the border and bring those people who we believe will be valuable citizens into the country and keep out the criminal element and MS-13.”
Copeland sees the possibility that a split government after the 2020 elections might act on immigration reform. Even if President Trump is re-elected, the two parties might find a middle ground on the issue. Copeland notes that several pieces of landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed with strong Republican support and signed by President Johnson, “a racist cad,” and welfare reform under Bill Clinton, were passed with government control split between the two parties rather than when one party controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency.
“Abortion is a little different, “he says, “because the Supreme Court with Roe v. Wade jumped into the middle of it and put it on ice. Until that’s dealt with, I don’t believe that either side has any interest in doing anything except using it as a club.”
Even though Copeland is a fan of President Trump’s policy, he does acknowledge that the president’s behavior has made him somewhat unpopular among the college students that ISI works with. “I think that President Trump’s problems with aggressiveness in his tweets and in name-calling, some of those things are manifest. In kindergarten, we all learned how to be polite and hold doors for other people and speak in our inside voices and I do think that rubs a lot of people the wrong way,” he admits.
But that does not mean all is lost. He goes on, “I think that there is a large portion of the student body who like what the president has done because they have job opportunities when they graduate. They like what the president has done because they look around the world and it is a safer place.”
Copeland points out that 18 percent of college humanities professors are Marxists
compared to only five percent who are conservative. “And Marxism is a political theory that has never worked. It’s 0-for-40…. Conservative policies that have worked almost every time and every place they’ve been tried, maybe they’re 37-and-three, and yet it is the minority opinion on campus.”
Many conservatives and moderates on campus are afraid to speak up because of the leftist practices of public shaming and doxing their opponents, posting personal contact information, including phone numbers and home addresses publicly. Conservatives and Trump supporters “are afraid to say anything because they don’t know if the student next to them is a rabid left-winger who is going to start shrieking at them like that woman did to Jeff Flake in the elevator. People don’t want that kind of stuff, they just want to go about their life and live their life the way they want and to go to their classes and believe in free markets and opportunity and limited government and property rights.”
ISI’s mission is help educate students in these conservative, small government principles. Copeland says that ISI is different from some organizations that preach the simplistic message that, “socialism is terrible and capitalism is great.”
“We talk about the fundamentals and let students make their own decision. We’ve had debates in which we’ve had open borders and closed borders people debate one another” with debaters from the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation, Copeland says. “Even in debates like that, we’ll have protesters because they don’t want to have an opinion other than their own talked about. I think that’s largely because they’re afraid that their own opinion lacks any deep intellectual underpinnings. They’ve just got an emotion.”
“I think that there is a vocal minority on campus that is led by an increasingly strident faculty that is driving this social justice, identity politics debate,” Copeland says, “Many students look at it and go, ‘Well, I’m just going to keep my head down and drive forward and get out.’ And that’s what they do. And it’s a shame.”