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Former White House Director Of Legislative Affairs Discusses New Job At U.Va.


The last time I spoke with our next guest, it was from the West Wing of the White House. Marc Short spent a year and seven months as the man whose job it is to steer the president's priorities through Congress - a tricky job - the official title, White House director of legislative affairs. Short left the White House last month and waded straight into controversy at his new gig at the University of Virginia, where some faculty are not greeting him with open arms. When Marc Short stopped by our studio today, I asked him about the reception he's gotten as a new senior fellow at U.Va.'s Miller Center.

When you were hired there, two professors resigned in protest. And their resignation letter reads, in part, the appointment of Mr. Short runs counter to the center's fundamental values of nonpartisanship, transparency, openness, a passion for truth and objectivity and civility. How do you answer that?

MARC SHORT: Well, Mary Louise, I'm really excited to be a part of the Miller Center. It's a great institution. It's a bipartisan study of the presidency. And I think it's unfortunate that some chose to condemn the lack of civility yet were unwilling to have one conversation with me before they decided they wanted to resign.

KELLY: But what's your understanding of what their issue is?

SHORT: My understanding, frankly, is that I think that they have an objection to the Trump presidency in general. And I think if you're going to have a bipartisan study of the presidency, it's kind of hard to study the Trump presidency if it's only going to be academics who can determine right or wrong or what should be determined from the Trump presidency.

KELLY: I'll let you react to one other voice at the Miller Center - Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor there who describes herself as a conservative. She wrote you have used - you, Marc Short - have used your professional skills to abet attacks on liberal democracy. I mean, I guess what I'm asking is it doesn't sound like they're saying, we don't like Trump. We don't like Trump's policies. They're arguing that the administration you served poses a threat to democracy.

SHORT: I think that this presidency was clearly elected by the American people. It won a majority of the electoral votes. And I don't believe it's a threat to American democracy. And I look forward to sharing my viewpoints with Ms. Hemmer whenever she wishes to talk to me about it.

KELLY: Is the press the enemy of the American people?

SHORT: No, the press is not the enemy of the American people.

KELLY: So you disagree with the president on that?

SHORT: The press is an open and free - press is foundational to American democracy. It is absolutely essential to protect our democracy. And they have a responsibility to keep elected officials accountable. At the same time, I do think the press also has a responsibility to get things fair...

KELLY: Of course.

SHORT: ...And get it reported accurately.

KELLY: Again, President Trump has repeatedly launched attacks on the press - calling it fake news, calling American news media the enemy of the American people. So I'm asking, do you disagree with him on that point?

SHORT: I think I just said that I think that a free and fair press is essential to American democracy. I do not believe they're an enemy of people. So I think I've answered that question. But I also do believe the president is frustrated by what he views is an extreme bias against his administration and feels that - some studies have said more than 90 percent the coverage is negative. And I think that is a source of enormous frustration for him.

KELLY: I'm curious - taking the long view because you've served behind the scenes in Republican politics for something like two decades now. Is the Republican Party of today, of August 2018, is it still the party of Abraham Lincoln, of Ronald Reagan?

SHORT: I sure think it is. But I also think that parties adapt and change policies. I think the biggest change that frankly - with the Trump administration is bringing in new voters from the Midwest that surely appealed more to a populist message, particularly on trade. And that is, I think, counter to some of the positions the Republican Party has had in the past. But as opposed to looking that as a challenge or something that is breaking us, we should look at it as a chance to embrace new people into the party.

KELLY: So you think the Republican Party is in a better place today than, say, five, 10 years ago?

SHORT: I think that the Republican party has control of the House, the Senate and the White House. And so I think objectively you look at it and say it's in a pretty strong place.

KELLY: Not all Republicans agree. Steve Schmidt, a prominent Republican - served as John McCain's campaign manager - he quit the party in June. George Will, conservative columnist, quit the party during the 2016 campaign. Max Boot, conservative thinker, quit the party. I could go on. A lot of your fellow Republicans don't seem to believe that President Trump is changing the party for the better.

SHORT: We could go through each of those individually. I think there are individual reasons for them. I think, candidly, Steve Schmidt had been leaving the Republican Party for quite some time and had been - his commentary on MSNBC - I think you'd go back several years dating before the Trump presidency - was pretty uncomfortable with the Republican Party. But, sure, there's people that are never-Trumpers that are still inside the party. But, hopefully, we will learn to win them over with looking at the president's accomplishments.

KELLY: That's Marc Short. He was legislative director for the Trump administration, now a visiting fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia and also a political consultant. Thanks so much for stopping by.

SHORT: Thanks for having me.

[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this broadcast interview, Nicole Hemmer is incorrectly referred to as an assistant professor who describes herself as a conservative. In fact, she is a scholar of conservatism but describes herself as liberal.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 18, 2018 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this broadcast interview, Nicole Hemmer is incorrectly referred to as an assistant professor who describes herself as a conservative. In fact, she is a scholar of conservatism but describes herself as liberal.