Republicans Overseas CR leader: Nobody gave Trump a chance in 2016 either
Roger Johnson, who has been living for many years in Brno, is head of the Czech branch of Republicans Overseas, the international organisation of the US political party. With the very closely watched 2020 elections almost upon us, I asked Johnson about the work of Republicans Overseas and how he views President Trump’s chances of upsetting the polls. Our conversation followed an interview I did a week previously with Julia Bryan, the Prague-based international chair of Democrats Abroad. But before we got onto party political matters, I was curious about how Johnson had met his Czech wife.
“I spent eight years stationed as a US Army officer in Germany.
“I did a couple of different tours and I was also very fortunate – I got terrific schooling from the US Army.
“One of the great schools I went to was, I spent a year at the Defence Languages Institute in Monterey, California learning German: eight hours a day, five days a week for an entire year.
“So I’m completely fluent in German.
“After 12 years on active duty in the army I had about all the fun I could stand and decided to resign my commission and go into civilian business.
“I was offered a position with a big German grocery company, a retailer.
“I worked there for a couple of years and then the Berlin Wall fall.
“I was sent to East Berlin, as an American, to set up a joint venture with three East German companies.
“In the midst of all that was one of the toughest things I ever did.
“The day the money changed over in Germany from the East Mark to the West Mark, on a Monday morning we opened 330 grocery stores as West German stores, all in East Berlin.
“Up until the Saturday they had been East German with East German products and I had to change everything out over a period from Saturday until Monday morning and then sell with Deutschmarks.
“In the middle of all that somebody invited me to a garden party. I didn’t have a lot of time – I had to leave early and meet some Soviet officers who were going to buy some of the old products from us.
“And I was introduced to this Czech lawyer, a beautiful blonde, and the rest is history.
“That summer, in 1990, my wife and I were watching German TV and the first news article was that Iraq had invited Kuwait.
“And I said, That’s not good. She said, Why? I said, Well, I’m in the Army Reserves still, my specialty is logistics and they’re going to call me up.
“A month later, sure enough, I was called back to active duty.
“So I went through the entire first Iraq war with a tank division – and got back a week before my daughter was born.”
Wow. What’s your business in Brno today, Roger?
“I’m retired. I support the family. My wife has her own business, outdoor advertising, and she’s working on a property development project.
“I’m helping where I can, but I’m happily retired.”
How did you become involved in Republicans Overseas?
“One of the jobs I had when I was still active in the business world was I was company director for DHL.
“One of my colleagues, a country director in Poland, said, You’re a conservative – why don’t you get involved in conservative politics?
“I said, How do I do that over here?
“He said, There’s a Republicans Abroad organisation.
“So I got into that and became active. That organisation was transformed in 2013 into Republicans Overseas.
“I was country director of Republicans Overseas and then a year and a half ago I was appointed as the vice-president for Europe.”
What are the main activities of Republicans Overseas?
“By the way, Julia Bryan, who I consider a friend – we’ve known each other for quite a long time…”
Who I interviewed last week – she’s the head of Democrats Abroad internationally.
“Yes, she’s the worldwide chair.
“She said Republicans Overseas is a Super-PAC and our job is just to raise money.
“Well, I disagree with her.
“Getting out the vote and informing Americans abroad they can vote and how they do that is a major part of what we do.
“Another thing I’ve been very involved in, and Republicans Overseas has been involved in, is there was a Congressional Act passed in 2010 called the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act: FATCA.
“The US government set up a procedure with the IRS under which they have forced financial institutions abroad to search their database to see if any Americans are customers, if there are any accounts from Americans.
“It’s quite an evolved process. Anyone of our big activities is to attempt to have this law reviewed and cancelled in Congress.”
It’s hard to generalise, but would you say Republicans Overseas tend to me more socially conservative, as many Republicans are in the States, or are they more business-oriented?
“Yes, I would say conservative business-oriented – combining those points.
“We’re conservative and we support the US government and support our president.”
I guess Roger you have lived through a lot of Republican presidents, I’m assuming from Nixon on – Ford, Reagan, the Bushes, now Trump. Which of those would you say you personally identify most with politically?
As president I think Reagan set a very good example on how one works with all Americans, not just conservatives
“Ronald Reagan. His background was as an actor, as you probably know. He was also governor of California.
“And as president I think he set a very good example on how one works with all Americans, not just conservatives.
“At that time, during his presidency, the speaker of the House of Representatives was a fellow named Tip O’Neill and they were miles apart, worlds apart, in their political views.
“However, the two of them, Tip O’Neill and President Reagan, if there was a problem to discuss, they went into a room alone and sat down and discussed and looked for ways to find an acceptable solution for all parties.
“I think that was a good lesson for Americans, even today, to see that the word ‘compromise’ is not a dirty word, that we have to be able to find a way to work together and to find a solution that’s acceptable to all.
“At this point in our political history that seems difficult to do, but I still think that’s the ideal we should be striving for.”
Some Republicans, admittedly a minority, have come against Donald Trump. Is there any debate among Republicans Overseas over Trump’s fitness for office?
Donald Trump was not my first choice.
“We’ve had many discussions about that, especially in 2016, at the beginning of the campaign.
“At that time I think there were 17 candidates.
“In fact I was at several of the debates – I think there were eight or 10 debates in 2016 – and at the first debate, in Cleveland, Ohio, they had to have two different sessions for debates, because they couldn’t fit all 17 on the stage at the same time.
“Donald Trump was not my first choice. I supported several of the candidates, one after the other, but then they would drop out and at the end of the day Donald Trump was the only one left.
“I decided, Well, I think I can support him. The views that he was proposing were good.
“And it was also appealing to me that he was not a politician.
“He was a successful businessman and I thought that was important to be able to do.”
And four years later, how would you rate his performance?
“Well, up until the Covid virus, he did a tremendous job with the economy.
“Unemployment rates are at record lows for blacks, for Hispanics, Asians and up until earlier this year the women’s unemployment rate was the lowest it’s been since the end of the second world war, when many women were involved in defence industries.
“I would rate him very highly.
“I know the Democrats have made quite a bit of wind, saying he should have handled the Covid virus better.
“But at the end of January, when President Trump implemented the travel ban from China, Joe Biden and many of the Democrats were just livid – they called it xenophobic and fear-mongering.
“Even in March, I believe it was, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, criticised it extensively, saying he shouldn’t have put that in place and should have allowed people free travel from China.
“History gets revised and they’re saying he didn’t do a good job.
“I thought he did really well with reacting to the lack of what we call PPE – personal protective equipment, gowns and masks and things – as well as ventilators.
“The national stockpile had been drawn down during the Obama administration and never resupplied.
“Also there was extensive off-shoring for medical devices and drugs, prescription medicines. A very high percentage of that now comes from China – either the finished product or the materials to create the products.
“And I think he’s done a great job on moving the manufacturing of these products back to the United States.
“Also both California and New York were very concerned about an insufficient amount of hospital beds and without any discussion or debate about it, he moved two hospital ships from the US Navy, each with a thousand bed capacity, to New York and California.”
We could speak a lot about Trump’s performance during the coronavirus crisis. From my point of view he’s been a disaster, but let’s not get into that – we don’t have time. One thing I’m curious about is how do you respond to the way he treats people, the way he attacks people with very personal insults? Obviously he’s kind of without a filter and he’s always tweeting. Have there been things that he’s done where you’ve said to yourself, Now he’s gone too far?
“I have often said to myself and also to colleagues in our organisation, I wish he wouldn’t tweet so much [laughs].”
Somebody take his phone away!
I believe it’s accurately described as a Chinese or Wuhan virus.
“[Laughs] What counts for me is that the results and what he’s done with the economy.
“By the way, it’s bouncing back now, quite well. The stock market is also bouncing back.
“Yes, this Covid virus has been a terrible catastrophe for the entire world, also including the Czech Republic and all of Europe.
“I believe it’s accurately described as a Chinese or Wuhan virus, because it appears that appears to be the source of where it came from.
“Yes. I think it’s important to work together on that and how we solve this, how we go forward.”
Right now it’s not looking so great for Donald Trump in the polls. Be honest – how do you think it’s likely to go for him on election day?
“Well, you’ll remember in 2016 all of the polls said it was going to be a Hillary Clinton victory.
“During that time I was doing a project for the US Army as a civilian logistician and I was located in Germany.
You’ll remember in 2016 all of the polls said it was going to be a Hillary Clinton victory.
“I was on six different German talk shows, talking about the election.
“In fact on election night I was in Hamburg on an hour and a half show with politicians.
“I was wearing a red tie and the next night I had to be in Berlin, so the day directly after the elections.
“I was leaving the TV studio and I said goodbye and the moderator said, It was great to have you, thanks for coming and, by the way, tomorrow in Berlin wear a different colour tie – it will be too embarrassing, because it’s sure that Trump is going to lose.
“So I said, Let’s wait – with the time difference we’ll know in another three or four hours.
“And he said, No, no, every expert and every politician in Germany says it’s completely impossible for Donald Trump to win.
“[Laughs] And sure enough, he won.”
Some people are saying that Donald Trump may try to hang on to power if he can, basically – that if Biden doesn’t win by a large margin he might try to put up some legal barriers, or take some legal steps so to not go. What would you say in that case? Do you think he should go if it appears that he has really lost?
“Yes, absolutely. No question.
“And he’s also reacted to that. I believe last week he was asked and he said, No, it will be a peaceful transition of power.
“Also in this conversation – like I say, I think it was last week – he said, Although with me, it wasn’t a peaceful transition.
“From the very first day in office the Democrats were trying every possible method to remove him, up until today. It’s still going on and it’s almost four years.”