LOS ANGELES — On April 10, supporters of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) clashed in a televised town hall while examining the future of the Republican Party in the midst of one of the most closely contested primary races in recent U.S. history.
“The Republican Party is divided today unlike ever before,” said Jesse Lee Peterson, the president and founder of the religious nonprofit group BOND. Peterson, a staunch Trump supporter, faced off against his good friend, renowned American author Andrew Klavan, who is supporting Cruz.
“Ted Cruz is a constitutionalist and a brilliant scholar,” Klavan argued. He allowed that while Cruz tends to speak in evangelical terms and is likely much further to the right of most Americans, he has earned support because of his principles and strong commitment to upholding the law and the Constitution.
“I think there are two candidates in this race that are unfit for office. One of them is Donald Trump, and the other is Hillary Clinton,” Klavan said.
“Cruz has been Senator for a long time and he hasn’t accomplished anything,” Peterson countered. “Yes, he stood up and screamed and yelled but nothing got done. Yes, he pointed out the weakness of the Republican representatives, but nothing got done. Donald Trump comes along and he says ‘I’m going to stop the illegal aliens from coming in by putting a wall around the borders, by building a wall.'”
Peterson furthered his argument by suggesting that Cruz copied Trump by saying he would also build a wall. Peterson then said that in the past eight years, no Republican representative has taken tangible action to achieve this.
Klavan criticized Trump over his character, principles and knowledge — the lack of which, he argued, makes Cruz a better fit for president. “When a man stands up in front of a crowd and tells them to do violence to protesters,” that indicates a flaw in character, Klavan said.
However, Peterson stated that Trump is not a violent man himself, pointing out that his speech challenges political correctness — a point on which Klavan agreed. Klavan said that political correctness is an egregious error in politics, but added that he feels Trump plays to the anger of many of his supporters. He told Breitbart News in a separate interview, “I blame Trump for using the anger to advance his cause.”
Peterson said America is being highly critical of Trump because he is a “real man,” and voters are not used to that, following years of weak leadership under President Barack Obama.”We have not seen a real man in so long, in a big way in America,” Peterson said. “So when you see someone being a man, you don’t know what to do with it.”
Klavan criticized some of Trump’s comments and criticisms as being “unmanly,” but noted “I don’t think Donald Trump is a bigot and I don’t think he’s an antisemite.” However, he said, he does believe “a lot of the people who follow him are. And he doesn’t have the strength of character to reject them. What Trump has done is he has gotten us to answer anger with anger, he’s gotten us to answer rage with rage, and he’s gotten us to answer political correctness with unkindness,” Klavan added.
Peterson replied by arguing that “you can’t blame Trump for the anger of someone else. It was already there.” Klavan said he does not blame Trump for that anger but that he blames him for “using the anger to advance his cause.” He also said, “I don’t think Trump is a fascist, because I don’t think that he has a philosophy. But I do think that he has a fascist heart, that he’s got a fascist instinct.”
The debate heated up significantly over the issue of abortion, and whether a woman should hypothetically be punished under the law for having an illegal abortion. Klavan criticized Trump for changing his stance on whether punishment should occur, suggesting he did so “according to the flow of politics.”
Peterson shot back and pointed out that Cruz had also reversed course, noting that at one point Cruz had stated that he was for increasing the H-1B visas allowed in America by 500% “and now he’s saying he’s not. Which one do you trust? The Ted that was for it or the Ted that’s against it now?”
Breitbart News asked the men what the future of the Republican Party will look like, considering all the internal divisiveness it is currently experiencing.
“I think you’re right,” Klavan said. “The Democratic machine still works, the Republican machine is broken” He said he believes the Republican Party will survive better if Cruz wins the Republican nomination even if he loses in the general: “I don’t think it will survive if Donald Trump is the nominee.”
Peterson pointed out that the Democratic Party is also divided this time around, and disagreed with Klavan, suggesting a Trump nomination would ultimately strengthen the Republican Party:
I think Donald Trump is the most honest, open, conservative Republican out there because of what he stands for. And if he should divide the party, and if people should leave the Republican Party, then I think that’s good … I know that there are Republicans who don’t understand that now, but I believe that when he gets in, our party will become a better party as a result of that.
Ultimately, Klavan told Breitbart News, while he is not in the “Never Trump” category, he could easily say “Never Hillary.” He added: “The one thing that I will say in favor of Hillary Clinton is that she’s bad in a way that I understand. She’s good, old-fashioned corrupt Democrat machine politician bad. Whereas Trump, I think, breaks stuff. And he breaks stuff that’s really important, like the rules of the Constitution.”
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.