“Well, in practical politics the only move you have, shamelessly attack. Because the truth is in most elections you don't want to debate the past.”
- Mike Murphy when questioned about how Republicans can challenge Barack Obama fiscally, based on the Party’s own record.
A hot topic across the blogosphere and on political talk shows is the future of the Republican Party.
How can the Party prevent, in Murphy’s words, entering an Ice Age?
That subject came up in a round-table discussion on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning when moderator David Gregory talked with two men he described as “reform-minded Republicans.”
Gregory’s round-table guests were, in his words, “Republican strategist and John McCain's chief strategist during the 2000 presidential campaign, Mike Murphy; and former Congressman Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's ‘Morning Joe’ and the author of the new book ‘The Last Best Hope.’ "
I found the discussion intriguing, coming from champions of the GOP, and one worthy of DemWit readers’ attention. To-wit:
MR. GREGORY: … (L)et's talk about where the Republican road map picks up in terms of reaction to the Obama administration.
(Discussion follows commercial break.)
MR. GREGORY: And, we are back with our roundtable: Mike Murphy, Joe Scarborough.
Joe Scarborough, the new book is called "The Last Best Hope" (BJ: full title is "The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise”), and it is a real thoughtful examination of where the Republican Party is and where it should be going. This is what you write, page 234: "I told  Republican candidates that if they wanted to remain in the majority, they would have to admit to voters that the [Bush] White House had been reckless with taxpayer dollars. ... Our president was wrong to believe that the United States could fight two wars, cut taxes and increase federal spending, all at once. Once again, Republican candidates choose Republicanism over conservatism. They chose instead to remain silent. The result was a political and economic disaster we will be paying for over the next generation."
What's that difference between Republicanism and conservatism?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, conservatism believes in restraint; believes in restraint in federal spending, believes in restraint in foreign policy. We don't engage in military adventurism, we don't try to do everything all at once. Conservatism is about choices, tough choices. My first book I wrote back in '04 that Republicans hated I talked about it. We got to make a choice.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: That's what conservatives do, they conserve. And so, George W. Bush didn't make those tough choices, and now we find ourselves - because of our mistakes, now we find ourselves in an era where we've got another administration making no choices. They are - they are getting the federal government more involved. They're trying to do everything all at once, and they're taking a bad situation left by Republicanism and making it twice as bad, making it a lot worse.
MR. GREGORY: Well, that's an interesting point because, Mike Murphy, how, if you're a Republican right now, do you mount ...
MR. MURPHY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ... the challenge to President Obama on the backs of that record and say, "Oh, no, but you guys, you should trust us again with the country's finances?”
MR. MURPHY: Well, in practical politics the only move you have, shamelessly attack. Because the truth is in most elections you don't want to debate the past. The Republicans should say, "We made these mistakes, and we've learned from them." He has taken our mistakes, and he's put them on steroids. Because he has. You can fight out that case and win it on the facts. He is going to explode the federal debt like we could not even have imagined in American politics a decade ago. And so, I think the Republican Party still has fiscally conservative instincts. The problem is, as Joe said, all politicians like to appropriate and nobody likes political pain when it comes to spending cuts. But, I think we've reached a tipping point in American politics where the Republicans can start to define themselves as the party with the courage to say “no.”
MR. GREGORY: Right. But, here's the thing: this is a - this still is a nuance game, you know, because the conservatives now say, "No, no, no, we got to be a free market people. Get out of the market."
MR. MURPHY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: "All this intervention, you're owning the economy, this isn't capitalism anymore." Sarah Palin says it's an approach towards socialism. There has to be a balance here.
MR. MURPHY: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: And, the question is: is the balance out of whack? Joe?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, there has to be a balance. And, that's the problem over the past eight years, you had Republican appropriators giving a Republican president absolutely everything he wants.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Now, you've got Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank giving Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel everything that they want, and it's very frightening. There is no balance, there is no restraint, and it's very dangerous. And again, just very quickly, I criticized George Bush from doubling the debt from $5 trillion to $10 trillion. Barack Obama's going to double it from $10 trillion to $20 trillion, according to his own numbers. Using 4 percent, talk about 4 percent growth, it's the rosiest of scenarios.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: We are in dangerous, dangerous times.
MR. GREGORY: This - we're talking about ideas, but we also have to talk about the faces who are going to carry this forth. This is what you write, Mike Murphy, in your Time magazine column: "Despairing Republican friends have been asking me what I think we should do to rebuild the GOP and begin our certain and inevitable comeback. My answer disappoints them: `Build an ark.' ... The numbers tell a clear story; the demographics of America are changing in a way that is deadly for the Republican Party. A GOP ice age is on the way."
And, before you address inside the numbers, I was at my son's soccer game yesterday, a guy approaches me, and he said, "What are you doing having Newt Gingrich on? This guy is the past. We don't want to see those guys anymore." And yet, is he among those who's really influencing the way forward?
MR. MURPHY: Well, yeah, he is a powerful force. We're kind - it's kind of Russia in 1919. You know, you have 20 warlords in the Republican Party running around, and nobody is really in charge. That's the consequence of losing an election. And, we're going to have a big discussion now about the future of the Party, which can be a very good thing. What I'm trying to do as a practical pol in all this is get the discussion focused on the reality of America. The demographics are changing. The Hispanic vote, the fastest growing vote, 2 percent in 1980, 9 percent now, heading quickly to 15, is totally anti-Republican. We lose it 2-to-1. Number one male baby name in Texas now, Jose. That's the - Texas is the key to our Electoral College numbers. So, the point is: I don't want to dilute conservatism, but I want to modernize it. And, I think everybody having this discussion needs to understand that the country's changing. The young vote doesn't like us, it's much more social libertarian than we are. The anti-immigration stuff has been a big mistake. You can't alienate the fastest growing vote in the country. So, I want all of us who are trying to figure out what kind of conservatism to present to the country, the idea is not just - spokesmen come and go.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MURPHY: It's the big ideas that count. To understand that we have to evolve with the country, or it will be a ice age.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Right. But, spokesmen come and go, you need a candidate. And, one of my ...
MR. MURPHY: Yeah, and we'll get one. I mean, we're having primaries.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Sarah Palin, I mean, one of the - this week she made news taking on David Letterman over his joke against her daughter. Is that what she wants to be doing right now? Is that a smart move to put herself front and center?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, no, I don't think so. I, I also don't think that we win the middle of America again by being intemperate, by calling Barack Obama a communist or by calling Sotomayor a racist. I mean, what we've got to do, we find the middle of American politics by talking about ideas, conservative ideas. I, I, I differ a little bit with Mike Murphy, who I think should be put in charge of rebranding the Republican image. Good luck. Put a nice logo on ...
MR. MURPHY: I've retired. I work in Hollywood now.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Put a nice logo on the side of the ark. But, we, we need, we need to understand that we, we've got to go back to first principles.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: And again, that's restraint. Restraint at home, restraint abroad. We'll, we'll write the script again, and then we'll figure out who Murphy wants to put in to be the lead actor for that play. But, we, we can't run around, again, picking fights with late-night comics or calling Sotomayor a racist. That's going to lose votes for us.
MR. MURPHY: The ...
MR. GREGORY: Real, real quick, Mike.
MR. MURPHY: The pain is: it's going to get a little worse before it gets better.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. MURPHY: Because our politicians are from safe Republican areas, they tend to see the world through the Republican primary. That model's going to have to break and rebuild.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: But, but, I don't think so. You look at Connecticut.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Republicans are ahead in the Senate race in Connecticut. New York ...
MR. GREGORY: OK.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: ... ahead there, Illinois ahead there.
MR. GREGORY: And, who knows, Republicans could be up against Joe Biden after Barack Obama is through ...
MR. MURPHY: Good ammo.
MR. GREGORY: ... based on his answers today. Thank you both very much.