Exit interview: Kevin Yoder says criticizing Trump wouldn’t have been a winning strategy

Kevin Yoder with The Kansas City Star editorial board in October

Rep. Kevin Yoder met with The Kansas City Star editorial board on Oct. 31 ahead of the Nov. 6 election. He discusses his priorities in representing Kansas' 3rd District for the past eight years.
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Rep. Kevin Yoder met with The Kansas City Star editorial board on Oct. 31 ahead of the Nov. 6 election. He discusses his priorities in representing Kansas' 3rd District for the past eight years.

Rep. Kevin Yoder is preparing to leave Congress after serving four terms representing Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District. In an interview with The Star Editorial Board, he discussed the future of the Republican Party and the perils of criticizing President Donald Trump. These are excerpts from the conversation. They’ve been edited slightly for length.

The Star: How are you doing?

Rep. Kevin Yoder: You go from running 100 miles an hour up until Election Day. We’ve had the opportunity now to catch our breath.

Q: There are stories that some members of Congress aren’t showing up for votes.

A: I don’t understand that, honestly. I love this job. ... In fact, I’m a little frustrated that our leaders aren’t moving legislation in a more significant way this month.

Q: Do you spend any time replaying the race?

A: I feel really good about the race we ran. I don’t feel like there were critical moments of decision-making that, had we chosen a different route, it would have made a different result.

Q: Surely at some point you thought, ‘I need to be more independent of the president.’

A: We are independent of the president. In fact, I get criticism for being too independent from the president.

I always want to be me. If being me isn’t what this district wanted, then I accept that verdict. I choose to be grateful for having served for eight years, (rather) than disappointed.

... For some people, being more independent from Trump means that I needed to turn against my own positions. I never looked at it that way. I independently evaluated these positions.

Q: Do you think the Republican Party needs to examine why it’s losing suburban districts?

A: There are several factors involved. I think the president’s message and style fall flat with suburban voters, particularly suburban women.

Q: That’s where you might have criticized the president.

A: Impossible. Never would be good enough. As long as you voted for something that the president supported, then you’re a Trump guy. You can’t get out of that.

Most of the criticisms I’ve received throughout my career are decisions made by other Republican leaders. In 2016, the goal was to hang Sam Brownback around my neck. In 2018, it’s hang Donald Trump around my neck.

Q: But Republicans do that with Nancy Pelosi.

A: This is the game. I think Tip O’Neill’s book needs a new cover. And the cover should say ‘All Politics Are National.’ ... It is red team, blue team.

I stylize myself as a peacemaker. I wasn’t a bomb thrower. I was a problem solver because that’s who I am. Now, people say we don’t really want a peacemaker; we want someone to throw bombs back the other way.

Q: What’s the path forward for your party?

A: I think the Republican Party not only has to promote policies that work better for everyone, but they need to engage communities that don’t think they care about them.

Q: What about Congress?

A: Leaders do matter. I think there are some systemic challenges that have changed Congress over the years — social media, the 24-hour news cycle, even the live cameras on the floor — that cause members to speak to the camera rather than each other.

Q: But at some point members should say, why am I here? To respond to the public, or do the right thing as I see it?

A: The most successful guys are the ones who go on the talk shows and say incendiary things. That’s where the rewards are.

We need to be called to a higher purpose. We need leaders (who) call us to a higher duty. I’ve tried to lead by example.

If voters are electing people who show the most anger and are on cable news the most, then that’s where politicians are going to go. If voters elect people who are centrist, and get things done, then that’s where the politicians are going to go.

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