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Aspen Ideas Festival: Heidi Heitkamp and Bob Corker on centrist politics

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Bob Corker, Heidi Heitkamp and Jeffrey Goldberg.
An Aspen Ideas panel called "Can the Center Hold?" featuring (from left to right) Bob Corker, Heidi Heitkamp and Jeffrey Goldberg.
Leigh Vogel | The Aspen Institute

An Aspen Ideas Festival panel, "Can the Center Hold?" featuring former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Bob Corker.

Tennessee Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker did not seek reelection in 2018. North Dakota Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was defeated for reelection in 2018. 

Corker was one of the few Republicans in Congress to take on President Trump. Commenting on the first Democratic presidential debates, Corker said "if the Democratic Party wants to win this election, they have to elect someone who has moderate views."

Heitkamp said Donald Trump was the winner of the debate. She said "Amy [Klobuchar] has an opportunity to take the moderate lane, because I think Joe [Biden] drifted out of the moderate lane."

She added that voters are "tired of people going to their corners and shooting across the bow, and they want compromise." 

Corker served in the Senate during three presidencies — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. He said Bush and Obama did not want to be divisive presidents, but ended up being so. "But Trump," he said, "purposely is divisive."

On the subject of moderates in politics, Corker said "it takes zero courage to reside in the right ditch or the left ditch, but they end up being the people that everybody rallied behind because 'man, they've got principles.' It's the people in the middle, it's the people that are willing to cross the aisle and to burn capital, to make things happen for the good of our country that are the ones that have courage." 

Corker and Heitkamp agree that the polarization is in the populace, not just the Congress. Heitkamp went on to say "the lack of civics education in this country is a crisis in our democracy."

"There are good people in the Democratic Party, there are good ideas in the Republican Party," Heitkamp said, "and if we're going to govern this country we need to start creating the elements of a governable population — and that's an educated population." 

Corker said he is worried more about the impact of social media than he is about cable news, "because of the misinformation that people take in." He expressed concern, too, about the way elected officials respond to social media.

When asked if they think President Trump should be impeached, Heitkamp and Corker agreed that impeachment "would accrue to Donald Trump's benefit." Heitkamp, a former North Dakota Attorney General, said what's contained in the Mueller report is very important and contains serious charges.

In conclusion, Bob Corker said "we need a president whose goal is to unite the country, and solve our biggest problems, which — by the way — we don't even talk about most of the time." 

Heidi Heitkamp concluded with this: "The 30 percent of the country that wants to move forward civilly, who wants a person of character in the White House and people of character representing them — they need to be engaged. Because when you leave it to the activists — on both sides — this is the government you get."

The event was moderated by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, on June 28, 2019, at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.