INTERVIEW: McCollister says Omahans are ready to renew Republican Party

Photo courtesy Nebraska Unicameral Information Office

(Omaha, NE) -- A west Omaha state senator known for criticizing his own party is speaking out once again.

John McCollister represents Nebraska's 20th legislative district. He joined hundreds of current and former Republican politicians Friday in saying they'll start a new party if they don't cut ties with former President Donald Trump. The letter is available to view here.

The Nebraska Republican Party, for their part, has said repeatedly that McCollister is pretending to be a conservative and that he should change his voter registration.

In a phone interview Friday evening, McCollister discussed what direction he wants the party to take, what it would take for him to leave, and his plans after terming out in 2022.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. A portion of this conversation has been redacted.

Arjav Rawal: You've been very critical of former President Trump, and this letter is another step in that direction. What was the breaking point for you -- why is now the moment to explore a third-party alternative?

John McCollister: My initial dissatisfaction with Donald Trump was [his response to a 2017 neo-Nazi rally in] Charlottesville, but lately, it's the January 6th insurrection on the Capitol building -- the part he played in that insurrection. And of course...the fact that so many Republicans are saying Joe Biden isn't the legitimate president bothers me a lot.

AR: We're a few months past the insurrection now. Has your perception changed based on the way Republicans are responding to that attack?

JM: Well, the recent vote to remove [Wyoming representative and former House Republican Conference chair] Liz Cheney was evidence that things haven't changed that much. So that's why I think this "Call for an American Renewal" has started up. It's a national movement, but I may be the only person from Nebraska that's signed on.

AR: There are a lot of Republicans that have signed onto this letter -- a very big group of former and current elected officials, and some big names, like [former Bush 43 DHS secretary] Tom Ridge and [former RNC chair] Michael Steele. What does the Republican Party need to change in terms of policy or identity that can make it a more tolerable home for elected officials like you?

JM: I think the party needs to embrace truth and the rule of law. You know, a good number of Republicans still say that Joe Biden isn't the legitimate president of the United States, really -- that's a bad deal. Although I'm hopeful that the Republican Party will regain its soul and start to embrace the traditional values they once held before Donald Trump.

AR: What do you mean by "traditional values"? Do you mean policies they espoused under George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan? What kind of ideology are we looking at here?

JM: I'd say that Ronald Reagan wouldn't be welcome in the Republican Party today. But George Bush, some of the Republicans we saw in the 80s and 90s would be a welcome thing.

AR: Do you think a third party can succeed? There are a lot of concerns that a split between Republicans would hand the election over to a Democrat.

JM: Probably not, but I think the idea of a third party can move the Republican Party to a better place, and that's what I hope to do at this moment.

AR: What do you see as the point of no return -- the red line, so to speak?

JM: I'm not prepared to say at this point -- we'll see when it comes. But I think we'll see some evidence of what the Republican Party is likely to be in 2022 and 2024. Let's take that timeframe as a good point to decide.

AR: Do you think Nebraskans, people in Omaha and in your district, that they'd support something like this?

JM: I sure think so. Certainly, in Omaha, the election of Joe Biden in the 2nd [congressional] district is evidence that people are starting to look past the Republican Party. And you can see that in the registrations -- Republicans have dropped a good number, Democrats are up 12-to-15-thousand over Republicans, and even the nonpartisan number seems to indicate some dissatisfaction with the current situation.

AR: That might be true, but at the same time, we just saw Democrats turn in their worst performance in modern history for the mayoral race. RJ Neary lost by over 30 points and Republicans have now won the last three mayoral elections -- the first time anyone has won a third term in city history. Do you think that means anything for the Republican Party, that voters are still on board with what the party looks like in this day and age?

JM: I'd say the mayoral race was an aberration. I don't think it's fair to judge the race on an electoral basis.

AR: Fair enough. And the last question -- you are now in your second term as a lawmaker, meaning that you'll be termed out in 2022. Do you have any plans for your political future and the Republican Party's future?

JM: Not that I'll announce right now, but perhaps so.

AR: And that announcement will come through KFAB, I'm hoping?

JM: For sure -- and with you!

AR: Well, we appreciate that. For now, what sort of role do you envision between now and 2022?

JM: I've still got a bill to pass through the legislature this year -- my SNAP bill [to expand its eligibility]. Then I'll be introducing more bills next year, I'm gonna finish out my term, and I'll keep doing my best for the 20th legislative district.

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