Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee rejects suggestions former President Donald Trump weakened the Republican Party, pointing to increased support for GOP candidates in the 2020 election from ethnic minorities and working-class voters.

Trump was ousted by President Biden in November, with Republicans losing control of the House and Senate during his term. That, and Republican infighting over whether the former president is responsible for the party’s exile from power, has left many GOP insiders anxious about the future. Indeed, Lee told the Washington Examiner that friends and colleagues raise the Republican Party’s predicament with him on a regular basis.

Those concerns, Lee conceded, are driven by Trump’s behavior post-election: his unfounded claims about the 2020 election; refusal to concede defeat attend Biden’s inauguration; and the role he played in encouraging grassroots supporters to march on the United States Capitol in a protest that turned into a violent insurrection.

But the governor claimed not to be worried.

“There’s a lot of folks, in the Republican Party, for example, that are very sort of disturbed. I’ve gotten texts. 'Will our party survive?' And: 'Where do we go from here?' And, you know, I’m really not too discouraged when I think about where the Republican Party is headed. Even though it has seemed like a very tumultuous few weeks,” Lee said Monday.

“The Republican Party got more votes among blacks and Hispanics than any time in the last 60 years,” the governor continued, adding, “Democrats have long touted themselves as the party of working people. But I frankly think the GOP, as evidenced through this election — the GOP has become the party of the working people and party of people with dirt under their fingernails.”

Lee, 61, was elected governor in 2018, entering politics after a career managing a family construction business. The governor plans to run for reelection in 2022 but said he has zero interest in running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Tennessee is a red state, and Republican voters there have been very supportive of Trump. The former president easily won Tennessee last fall, with a 60.7% vote share.

Reflective of Trump’s hold on GOP voters and the backlash from the grassroots followers some prominent Republicans have experienced for the mere act of criticizing him, Lee trod carefully when answering questions about the former president’s provocative conduct. For instance, the governor readily admitted that he was “saddened” by the Capitol siege and “heartened” that Congress reconvened the same day to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory.

“It was very, actually, encouraging to me that by the end of the night, Congress was meeting. It gave me a great deal of faith in the fact that this country is resilient,” he said. “I really, like most Americans, found myself heartbroken at watching it happen — but very heartened as the evening wore on, and the country responded in the days following it.”

But pressed to address Trump specifically and how the 45th president handled his defeat, Lee clammed up, saying only: “I wish he had handled that differently.”