In the wake of back to back disappointments the past two elections, as well as Arlen Specter's recent defection to the Democrat Party, liberal media members -- and even some not-so liberal media members -- have been blaming the GOP's supposed demise on Republicans being too conservative.
On Sunday's "Meet the Press," MSNBC's Joe Scarborough took issue with this popular yet obviously debatable theme:
[W]hen I hear Democrats like Arlen Specter and read editorialists like E.J. Dionne saying how liberal--or, or how conservative the Republican Party's become, they've got it backwards. We have not been conservative as a party, we've been radical.
That was just one of many eye-opening statements by Scarborough during this segment that have been edited together in the video embedded right. Below the fold is a partial transcript of this enlightening discussion that included former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie:
MR. DAVID GREGORY, HOST: And we are back with Ed Gillespie and Joe Scarborough.
Welcome to you both. Well, you've just listened to Senator Specter talking about what's wrong with the Republican Party. And he talks about this, Ed Gillespie, as a low point, a wake-up call. Do you see it as that?
MR. ED GILLESPIE: Well, clearly the pendulum has swung away from us, and it's our job as a party to figure out how to get it to swing back. And obviously President Obama and the Democrats in Congress will give us some opportunities there, but we've got to proactively go out and address some of the concerns. We've got geographic concerns; we're noncompetitive on the West Coast, largely, and noncompetitive in the Northeast and increasingly so in the, in the Great Lakes. We've got to do better with Hispanic voters. So there are some things we've got to address. But I, you know, I'm optimistic. This is the fourth time in my lifetime, and I'm 47, that the Republican Party's been declared dead. We've come back the previous three times and I think we'll come back this time as well.
MR. GREGORY: But, Joe, it seems like the fundamental question is, what does the party want to be, right? So there are people who've said, "This is a low point." Ron Brown, seen in his column this week in the National Journal, talks about the party being more monochromatic, more conservative regionally and in terms of the voters. And he talked to Tom Davis of Virginia who said this, we'll put this up on the screen: "Shrewd former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who chaired the Republican--the National Republican Congressional Committee, calls Specter's defection a `devastating blow' that will send a `bad signal' of ideological intolerance to the moderate white-collar suburbanites the party must recapture if it is to threaten the Democrats' congressional and Electoral College majorities. `The dilemma for Republicans is, are we--what are we going to become, a coalition or are we going to be a private club?'"
MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH: But look what's happening right now. This always happens, like Ed says. Republicans were dead in 1964, they were dead in 1974. They're dead again, we hear. But just look at Connecticut, the, the bluest of the blue states; you've got a senator, Chris Dodd, down by 16 points. Look in Illinois, another blue state; you've got Mark Kirk doing very well against all Democratic comers, another Republican moderate. Look, look in Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge. If, if Tom Ridge gets in, that's a guy that's probably going to win that state also. Even New York state, thank to, thanks to David Paterson, is a state that could very well go Republican. So there's always a back and forth. But the bigger question is, what does the Republican Party need to be? We keep hearing that it's too conservative. You know, it depends on how you define conservative.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Over the past decade we've spent too much money, we've spread our armies across the globe, we've, we've changed rules on Wall Street that allows, you know, that allowed bankers to leverage 40-to-1. That's not conservative, that's radical. And we have to understand that and be truly conservative.
MR. GREGORY: This--Ed, you worked for President Bush, and we look at the standing of the Republican Party from when he came into office to when he leaves. And look at this polling: positive ratings now for the Republican Party at 29 percent, in December of 2001 at 57 percent. Bear in mind, that's after 9/11 there. Negative ratings jump, they double, from 22 to 44 percent there. Is this about Americans turning away from President Bush, or is it about turning away from the Republican Party? Is there a distinction?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, I think--obviously, the president's numbers were low. It was frustrating to me because I am such a strong admirer and count myself a friend. But it's, it's a lot of different things. We had control of Congress for 12 years as well, and there were some things I think that we could've done differently. When we had the White House there were some things I think that we could've done differently. We--the, the point is to look at where we have opportunities, learn our lessons. I think that the effort that Eric Cantor and other leaders in Congress have, have just launched a go out and listen and learn and hear the voters is important. There's opportunities in that. President Obama, while he enjoys a, a 61 percent favorability rating, there is growing concern about his spending and borrowing and taxing out there. More independents in line with Republicans in those concerns than with Democrats.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. GILLESPIE: On national security issues we have some opportunities. So the key for us is to come forward with positive agenda and explain to voters how it is that our conservative principles translate into policies that improve their lives and create jobs and help them with health care and energy.
MR. GREGORY: I just want to, I want to press you on one point.
MR. GILLESPIE: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: You say independents are with Republicans on this. Obama advisers say just the opposite, that he's in the high 60s in terms of approval among independents, much more trust for Obama than for Republicans on the economy. And, and this from the ABC/Washington Post poll: Who do you trust to do a better job handling the economy? It's Obama 61 percent, Republicans in Congress 24 percent.
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah. Let me--the, the poll I was citing...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. GILLESPIE: ...was actually from a group that I recently helped to launched, Resurgent Republic.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GILLESPIE: Which is modeled on a, a similar liberal side of a group, but it's accurate data. It, it, it's consistent, 61 percent approval of President Obama's performance. But on the budget itself, specifically...
MR. GREGORY: Specifically on the budget.
MR. GILLESPIE: ...do you support this budget with its $1.4 trillion in--or $1.6 trillion in new spending, $1.4 trillion in new debt, and 51 percent of the respondents oppose it, and, and more independents aligned with Republicans in opposing that budget than Democrats.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. GILLESPIE: So that's, that's a specific issue I'm citing.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: But here's the, here's the problem, though. When Republicans took over Washington--and we're not just talking about George W. Bush, we're talking about Republican Congress. When Republicans took over Congress in 2001 and the White House, we owned Washington, D.C., like Democrats do now. We had $155 billion surplus. When Republicans got out of power we had a $1.5 trillion debt--deficit. We doubled the national debt from about $5.7 trillion to about $11 trillion. Americans believe that we were spending too much money on foreign wars as well. We, we were the world's 911. We got away from the basics that Eddie and I worked on in the 1990s: balancing the budget, reforming welfare and adopting Colin Powell. You want to know a true conservative on foreign policy? It's Colin Powell, who says we go to war sparingly, and when we go to war we fight to win so we can bring our troops home. We've gotten away from that. And it's not just been one Republican, it's been the entire party. We've got to refocus. That's why when I hear Democrats like Arlen Specter and read editorialists like E.J. Dionne saying how liberal--or, or how conservative the Republican Party's become, they've got it backwards. We have not been conservative as a party, we've been radical.
MR. GREGORY: You've got a book coming out in the next couple of weeks, and we're going to put the jacket, the special preview jack on the screen here.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Oh, this is so exciting.
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: "The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise." And then look at the headline from The New York Times this week: "GOP Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One?" Both of you address this question. Should it be broader? Should it be purer?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: That's a false choice, though. Ronald Reagan was about as conservative as you can be. Ronald Reagan said, you know, the government that governs the least governs best. Thirty years ago you had Margaret Thatcher, 30 years ago this month, coming into power. Again, Thatcher, a hard-core conservative on economic issues, especially. We need to be conservative, but like Reagan. Because conservatives always love talking about Reagan. They'll talk about the ideology but not the temperament. We've got to work on our temperament. We've got to be more like Reagan. We can't scare little kids and dogs.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, you know, I...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: And also regionally, let's face it, we've had conservative leaders. We've had George W. Bush...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: ...Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay.
MR. GREGORY: All right, but on, but on that point, Ed, Karl Rove and...
MR. GILLESPIE: Are, are, are they going, are they going to, are they going to win New England? No.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: No.
MR. GREGORY: But, but the, but the, the, the criticism of President Bush and Karl Rove was to run a base strategy not only to get elected, but to govern that way, to a point where Lindsey Graham from South Carolina says, "Look, we can't have a party where I can't accept somebody in my party who agrees with me 70 percent of the time."
MR. GILLESPIE: Well...
MR. GREGORY: Do you think it's a false choice?
MR. GILLESPIE: I, I do think there's a lot of false choices in there. First of all, let's note, President Bush, when he passed in his first term in office No Child Left Behind and the, and the tax package, all with bipartisan support in the both the House and the Senate. We haven't seen President Obama do that yet. So that, that's a false--that's a misnomer. I do think, though, that it is important.
The fact is Ronald Reagan, everybody talks about Reagan. He was right when he said, "Somebody agrees with me 80 percent of the time is my friend." And we can be a party that adheres to principles. But also understand, to me I think who we ought to be looking at is the Democrats, frankly, and how they got the majority. They have recruited and supported candidates who run in rural districts who don't agree with their party platform on gun control.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. GILLESPIE: They have recruited and supported candidates who run in predominantly Catholic or, or largely Catholic districts that don't agree with them on abortion.
MR. GREGORY: Right. That's a model, you think.
MR. GILLESPIE: Yes. I--the fact is, the most important vote a, a member of Congress casts is the first vote of the Congress, which is who is going to be the speaker and who's going to be the majority leader...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GILLESPIE: ...and set the agenda for the rest of the year.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: And while that may offend purists, remember, when we came in in 1994 we owned--oh, we owned Maine.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: We had two Maine congressmen, we had two congressman from New Hampshire.
MR. GILLESPIE: New Hampshire, New York.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: We had, we had, had two in Massachusetts. We had three in Connecticut. Now there's not a single Republican House member representing anybody in all of New England.
MR. GREGORY: All right, I want to get to...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: We are shut out of that region. We have to go Ed's direction.