MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A number of moderate Republicans serving in Congress won't be returning come January either because they decided not to run again or because they lost on Tuesday. Of the latter group, President Trump suggested their fatal flaw was distancing themselves from him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They did very poorly. I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad. But I feel just fine about it - Carlos Curbelo, Mike Coffman - too bad, Mike.
KELLY: Too bad, Mike. Well, that is a sentiment that Ryan Costello says disgusts him. Costello is Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, also a Republican, who chose to retire rather than run again. And he joins me now. Congressman, welcome.
RYAN COSTELLO: Thank you.
KELLY: You've said these comments from the president anger you to your core - your words. Why?
COSTELLO: Because many of the folks that lost were my friends, and they are in districts similar to mine where Trump is extremely unfavorable. And we have dealt with a lot of anger and outrage from our constituents directed personally at us not because they dislike us necessarily but because of their contempt for the president. And his unwillingness to recognize that and to somehow minimize his role and really responsibility for why we lost many of those House seats really, really personally bothers me.
KELLY: Setting aside his specific words yesterday, does he have something of a point? I mean, many of the candidates who he came out and stumped for and campaigned with, particularly on the Senate side, won.
COSTELLO: Well, those Senate races were in states where he won those states by upwards of 20 points. In these House races, he didn't campaign for any of these candidates 'cause these candidates didn't want him because his unfavorability was between 55 and 60 percent.
KELLY: You voted for President Trump back in the 2016 campaign.
COSTELLO: I did.
KELLY: Regret it?
COSTELLO: Well, I'm a Republican. And when the primary was going on, I had supported several of the other candidates. But all along, I said, I will support the nominee in the general election, which I ultimately did. I regret many of the things that the president has said since he's been elected. But...
KELLY: That's not what I asked you, though. Do you regret voting for him in 2016?
COSTELLO: I find myself struggling with that at times because I feel you can vote one of three ways. You can vote for the president. You could have voted for Secretary Clinton, or you could have done something else which would have meant your vote essentially didn't count, in my estimation. So I hold myself accountable for how I voted, and I stick with that for the time being.
KELLY: I mean, it's interesting to hear you trying to still balance this line even as you're a lame duck congressman. You weren't standing for re-election. You're...
KELLY: ...Pulling out of politics, and you're critical - very critical of what the president said but still...
KELLY: ...Won't come out and quite make that leap.
COSTELLO: Well, I wouldn't say that that's the leap that I - that's not why I'm saying what I'm saying. I think tone and civility matter greatly and now more than ever. And that's why, you know, I tweeted what I tweeted.
KELLY: The New Yorker has got an article out, and the headline of this article is "The Demise Of The Moderate Republican." And this is a profile of you. I want to ask if you agree with the premise of that headline that moderate Republicans are an endangered species.
COSTELLO: I worry about that, yeah. I think that the election results point in a direction that has us diminishing. But as with political parties and if you look at history, you know, there are movements back and forth. And right now, I think that the party is aligned directly in the image of President Trump. And I think that that is problematic for some members in districts that are what I would call swing districts.
And I also think that the Republican Party needs to accept that background checks on commercial sales for guns is smart policy. And climate change is a serious issue that requires a response in terms of reducing carbon emissions and a smarter clean energy policy and an environmental agenda.
KELLY: Would you say...
COSTELLO: And there are a number of...
KELLY: Would you have said those things in those exact words...
COSTELLO: Oh, certainly.
KELLY: ...A year ago?
COSTELLO: I've been saying that throughout my term in office, to be sure. And there's been several of us. But those are issues that resonate with voters of both political parties. And if Republicans don't talk about that, many people who - there's issue resonance there will simply vote Democrat because Republicans are not even acknowledging the problem, let alone proposing an alternative solution.
KELLY: Congressman, thank you.
COSTELLO: Thank you.
KELLY: That's outgoing Republican Congressman Ryan Costello. A Democrat, Chrissy Houlahan, just won his district in Pennsylvania, beating her Republican opponent by 17 points. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.