Students from the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and local high schools gathered to hear Joe Scarborough and Newt Gingrich speak about the Republican Party as part of The Richmond Forum’s "Perspectives on the Party in Power” event on Saturday night.

Scarborough, a former U.S. representative, currently hosts the political talk show “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. A longtime Republican, Scarborough left the party in 2017 and registered as an independent.

Gingrich is a Republican who served as the 50th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Today, Gingrich is an expert on conservative policy and politics and serves as a contributor to the Fox News Channel.

According to its website, The Richmond Forum is America’s largest non-profit speaker series. It brings influential leaders in a variety of fields to the Richmond community five times throughout the year.

Each event takes place in the Altria Theater, which is named after the lead patron of the event, the Altria Group. The series also features the Student Room, where students can view the programs from a television screen set up at the front of the room. Before the regular program begins, the speakers visit the Student Room to address the crowd and answer a question.

“The Student Room sponsors wanted to make sure that students had a chance to meet the speakers because the actual program that takes place in the main theater sold out quickly and was standing room only,” Jim Bynum, Student Room manager, said.

In their session with the students, Scarborough and Gingrich addressed the current state of the Republican and Democratic parties. Gingrich was critical of the Democratic Party, saying it needed to have a concrete answer regarding how it would make America great.

Scarborough, on the other hand, was critical of President Donald Trump.

“Trump has destroyed both the Democratic and Republican establishment,” he said.

The speakers answered one question from the student audience before leaving for the regular program. The student asked whether Scarborough and Gingrich believed that increased partisanship was problematic.

Scarborough answered yes, but added that the system itself still worked. He acknowledged that it needed more consistency and that the U.S. needed a leader who was not afraid to reach across party lines and make compromises.

The program was moderated by Mara Liasson, who serves as a correspondent for both the Fox News Channel and National Public Radio.

“I can’t think of any place better to discuss the Republican Party than the capital of the old Confederacy,” Liasson said in her opening remarks.

Covering the Republican Party was interesting to Liasson as a journalist because it was the ideal party, she said.

“It was a party of ideas, not just a collection of interest roots,” Liasson said, “and it believed in legal immigration.”

In Liasson’s first question to the speakers, she asked them to describe what the Republican Party stood for today.

Scarborough responded first, joking that he was not the best person to ask because he had left the party last year when Trump had first issued the Muslim-majority travel ban, he said.

Scarborough said what the party had stood for when Gingrich had served as Speaker was not the same as what it stood for today.

“It stands for what Donald Trump tells them to stand for, which is really depressing,” Scarborough said.

He continued his critique of the president, saying the United States is dealing with a spiritual deficit right now, referencing when Trump called out Hispanics for being “breeders” in a recent tweet.

“That is the language of a white supremacist,” Scarborough said, to applause from the theater audience. “The Republican Party has no future if we don’t open our arms to all Americans. Donald Trump is the death rattle of 1950s America. He is not the future.”

In response to Scarborough’s critique of Trump, Gingrich defended the president, saying Trump never suggested the banning of 1.8 billion people. This is the kind of stuff that is fabricated by the left, Gingrich said, to which the audience in the Student Room burst into laughter.

Junior Esteban Angeles attended the event. Angeles enjoyed hearing perspectives that were different from his own, he said.

“I liked hearing Joe’s justifications for why he left the Republican Party because I feel as if he’s not alone in wanting to stand up to some of the bigotry and hatred that the party has turned a blind eye to, but that often politicians are too scared to stand up to because of the potential political consequences they might face,” Angeles said.

Throughout the evening, both Gingrich and Scarborough referenced the uncertain future of the Republican Party, particularly with the Trump administration.

“We are a party in transition because we are a country in transition,” Gingrich said. 

Contact international editor Jocelyn Grzeszczak at jocelyn.grzeszczak@richmond.edu.