Apparently at CNN, the phrase "Republicans are the problem" is not challenged, but encouraged. On Thursday's The Situation Room, lame-duck host Wolf Blitzer simply tossed softballs to GOP-bashing Norm Ornstein, who had hit the party before as "extreme" and "unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science."
Ironically, Blitzer was three weeks behind schedule as Ornstein and co-author Thomas Mann penned their critical Washington Post op-ed in late April and were welcome guests on NPR and PBS shortly after. Could he possibly have responded to Media Matters slapping the media the other day for ignoring the two "well-respected, centrist political commentators"?
Regardless, Blitzer let his guest take a hatchet to conservatives even though the CNN headline noted the "controversial" nature of his claims. Normally a "controversial" guest merits tough questions from an interviewer, but not on Thursday.
And the questions furthered the GOP-bashing. Blitzer read a quote from Ornstein's Washington Post op-ed ripping the GOP and asked him to expound on it. He then brought up notable conservative figures whom Ornstein had gone after.
"But you basically blame a lot of the problems right now on two individuals, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. Is that right?" Blitzer teed up his guest. He later mentioned conservative Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) who had branded some Democrats as members of the "Communist Party." He later clarified that he was referring to members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
"[T]hat was pretty shocking, A, but what was even more shocking to you – and you point this out," Blitzer said giving his guest the green light. Ornstein vilified the GOP leadership for not condemning the comments.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 24 on The Situation Room at 4:26 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
[HEADLINE: "Republicans Are the Problem": Controversial claim by pair of political scholars]
WOLF BLITZER: They're a pair of veteran political scholars. One from a liberal think tank, one from a conservative think tank, and they've sent out shockwaves with their claim that Republicans are mostly to blame for the gridlock and the dysfunction in Washington.
And Norm Ornstein is joining us now from New York. He's the co-author with Tom Mann of a brand new book entitled "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." It's a powerful new book, I highly recommend it, but Norm, let's talk a little bit about what you say because I was pretty surprised to hear your bottom line. And let me read a couple of lines that you and Tom wrote in The Washington Post recently.
"We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believe it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
I read that Norm, I said wow that's pretty strong stuff from you. Give us a sentence or two why you say that?
NORM ORNSTEIN, co-author, "It's Even Worse than It Looks": You know, it wasn't an easy thing for us to say, Wolf because we've, you know, tried to be impeccable. We call them as we see them, but we believe that with the problems of the country such as they are now, and after 42 years of being immersed in these politics from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, that what we now have is an imbalance. That we have parliamentary parties, but we have one party that's kind of gone towards the edge of the process enough that it's more concerned with blocking anything done by the Democrats and the incumbent than in trying to find compromise and work toward solutions. And no better example of this than what Richard Murdoch, the man who knocked off Dick Lugar, no moderate, a real conservative but a problem solver, in Indiana just last week.
BLITZER: He obviously says he doesn't want to compromise, he wants to hold firm. But you basically blame a lot of the problems right now on two individuals, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. Is that right?
ORNSTEIN: Yeah, and I think you know, there's a lot of blame to go around. And let me add that it's not like there are any angels here. Neither party is blameless, but it's an 80/20 mix now and some of it goes back to what Newt did to try and break the stranglehold the Democrats had on the House of Representatives which lasted for 40 years. It took him 16 years but it was a – we've got to destroy this institution in order to save it and along the way it really engendered a lot of the tribal politics that we have now. Marry that to the pledge. The Grover Norquist pledge that 95 percent or more of Republicans in Washington in the House and Senate have signed, you can't solve our debt problem as Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin and Domenici, the "Gang of Six" in the Senate. Every group that’s looked at this that’s tried to span the ideological spectrum has said must include some revenues. If you say my way or the highway, not a dime in revenues.
BLITZER: Listen to what Republican Congressman Allen West of Florida said last month. He’s obviously a favorite of the Tea Party. Listen to this.
ALLEN WEST: I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.
(End Video Clip)
BLITZER: In case our viewers didn't hear that. “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party." Now he's not backing away from that at all, but that was pretty shocking, A, but what was even more shocking to you – and you point this out.
ORNSTEIN: Yeah, and it basically is, you get statements like that and you know there are people who say outrageous things in many cases, but not a single member of the Republican leadership or establishment, from the Speaker of the House to the Republican candidate for president, condemned what was Joe McCarthy reincarnated here. It was an outrageous thing to say. It's still a smear to call somebody a member of the Communist Party and that you didn't have anybody standing up here tells us even those people who would like to presumably solve problems or move to the center right, which is where the Republican Party had been, are just not going to step up when you get extreme things said.
And of course the fact that West isn't backing down at all also tells us that there’s no sense of shame anymore in making outrageous statements, you just double down. And that’s no way to reach some kind of common ground or collaborate on policies, to solve problems that are not going to be done unless you find that common ground.
BLITZER: What’s been the reaction, I’m curious over at the American Enterprise Institute, you’ve been affiliated with them for a long time, it's a conservative think tank here in Washington. What are your colleagues saying to you?
ORNSTEIN: Well you know some of my colleagues are not happy and some have written rejoinders but mostly, everybody has been very supportive. Whether they agree or disagree, they're happy that Tom and I have done a book that is grabbing a lot of attention and selling a lot of copies.
And so, I've always been left alone to do and think and say whatever I want, whether people like it or not and let's face it, Wolf, a part of this is Tom who’s at Brookings, and I built a lot of capital over more than 40 years of studying this of being straight shooters and now we’ve spent capital doing something and saying something that's pretty controversial and we'll draw some lines that a lot of people aren't going to like because we felt it was time and necessary to do it.