Frank Luntz: How the “21st-Century Republicans” Changed Washington
February 12, 2013, 7:38 pm ET
GOP insider Frank Luntz is a Republican party strategist, pollster and political consultant. On the night of Barak Obama’s first inauguration, Luntz organized a dinner with top GOP luminaries that would set the stage for the party’s plan to take on the new president. In this edited transcript of an interview conducted on Dec. 12, 2012, Luntz reflects on the new face of the Republican Party, the strengths and weaknesses of the president and what he sees as the dismal prospects for the nation to come together.
Inauguration Day . Million and a half people come to Washington. What do you see? How do you view it? How [do] Republicans in general view this defeat? …
Inauguration Day was important to understand just how massive the public reaction was, and how people — urban, hip hop guys, 15 years of age, hanging out with 70-year-old blueblood, Democratic women with the jewels and the mink coat and all of that — and watching them standing in line for hours trying to get through the metal detectors, talking to each other, groups of people who would never even consider being in the same room, let alone having a conversation. And everybody was cool. …
I positioned myself on the fifth floor of 101 Pennsylvania Avenue because I wanted to see the entire thing unfold in front of me. I never saw so many people in Washington, and it really looked like a quilt of people. And everybody was getting along, and everybody was patient, and everyone just felt so good about what was happening.
Even the Republicans who wanted to defeat Barack Obama, would have done anything to ensure that he didn’t win, even they felt good on that day.
Is this something Republicans in general felt –“Hey, this is so big, this is historic; we have to be part of it”? Barack Obama of course was talking all about bipartisanship.
I think Republicans on that day were split into three. One-third of them couldn’t believe that he was elected and were just so sure that he really wasn’t the moderate that he portrayed himself. One-third didn’t know, but they thought it just looked good for the country. And one-third actually thought this is a good thing. Even though it would have been nice for a Republican to win, this was so historic and so significant that it would be good for the country, and that just maybe he was this guy who they could deal with, who they could negotiate with.
The state of the Republican Party at that point, how bad a hit was this? How dire did it seem to the folks in Congress, for instance, or people that worked every day with the GOP?
On January 20, 2009, I think that the Republican situation was as bad as on the day Richard Nixon resigned. Everyone was depressed about their own situation.
I hosted a dinner that night, and it’s a dinner that’s gotten some publicity, and I want to set the record straight on one specific item. When people gathered, I had no idea who was going to show up. In fact, 15 minutes before — we were 45 minutes into the drinks — 15 minutes before the dinner was to begin, there were only three or four senators or congressmen there, and I thought nobody was showing up.
And then they all came, and it was because the parade was late. We actually learned something about Obama on that day: that he was going to be late then, and he’s been late ever since. I don’t know, eight senators, nine senators, eight or nine congressman. The room was filled. [Former Speaker of the House] Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.] participated.
And the whole focus was, is the GOP still relevant? Do they still matter? It has been reported, and then totally twisted and abused, that the conversation that night was about blocking and thwarting what Barack Obama was trying to do.
It was exactly the opposite. They wondered, did they still matter? Was there a reason and a purpose for them to exist? And it was all about, how do you rebuild from the absolute bottom? They lost every Senate seat they could lose. They lost all these House seats. The numbers were so great that they thought that they weren’t coming back again, not for an election or two but maybe a generation or two.
And the assumption was that Obama would seize the center and make the Democrats the ruling party, much as FDR did in 1932. And the entire dinner was about, do we still matter? It’s the line from John Adams in 1776: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anyone see what I see?”
Three hours, some of the brightest minds in the Republican Party debated how to be relevant. And not once did anyone say, “How do we hold this president back?”
Who was there? Who was some of the leadership that was there? …
[House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor [R-Va.] was there. [Rep.] Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.] was there. [Rep.] Paul Ryan [R-Wis.] was there. [Former Senate Minority Whip] Jon Kyl [R-Ariz.] was there. [Sen.] Bob Corker [R-Tenn.] was there. [Rep.] Darrell Issa [R-Calif.] was there.
It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen or in the majority, who now wondered, out loud, whether they were in the permanent minority. …
The role of Gingrich that night?
I invited Newt Gingrich to speak first. I thought it made sense. Former speaker of the House, brilliant, someone who could encapsulate the challenges of what it was to be a very small minority and an insignificant one, and how you, through whatever kind of strategy or planning, create the ingredients to at some point become the majority.
There wasn’t a person in that room who thought that there was any prayer that you could become the majority just two years later. Nobody did. They just wanted to know that they mattered.
I remember [Sen.] Jim DeMint [R-S.C.], who was one of the leaders of the conservatives, waiting patiently to speak. I remember Darrell Issa talking about how do you hold the administration accountable when you have no levers of power? You cannot imagine just how insignificant they felt.
It’s been reported that people came in pretty low, but by the end people were pretty exuberant over the fact that there had been a strategy figured out, or a direction to go, and a belief that they could take back the House two years later.
No, I don’t buy that. They walked into that dining room, the Caucus Room, as depressed as I’ve seen any elected members of Congress. And they walked out feeling like there was a purpose for them, that there was a reason for them to exist; that you could create an alternative budget, an alternative approach to the size and scope of Washington; that there was a rationale that would give them some sense that they could communicate an alternative point of view.
Because when they walked in there, they thought it was hopeless. They walked out believing that there was a communication strategy, and they walked out believing that they could make a difference and just maybe be heard.
But make no mistake: They did not walk out ever thinking that 2010 and what happened in 2010 could ever happen. This is before the Tea Party. This is before activists. This is before any of that happened. This is before Glenn Beck. This is before all of this. It did not exist. But they walked out of there believing that they still could communicate and that the power of language still mattered.
There was a feeling that Obama would overreach. Is that true?
No, they didn’t know what he was going to do. On the 20th of January, 2009, nobody knew. Now they knew that he had appointed people with checkered backgrounds. They knew that they had someone who was the head of the House Ways and Means Committee who hadn’t paid his taxes; that you had someone who was appointed to the secretary of treasury who hadn’t paid his taxes.
I think that was the only laughter in the evening, is that someone made a joke about how here the people responsible for collecting taxes and setting tax rates actually hadn’t paid them. But other than that, it was a very serious and somber conversation.
One of the things that’s reported is that there was a decision made that you needed to go after the weak points. If you’re going to win, you’ve got to prove yourself worthy of leadership, and you’ve got to prove the other guy is not up to the job that you guys are up to. If you’re going to win, you have to have a strategy to come back together. Was there some feeling that this Obama that had this amazing day and an amazing election was not all that people expected him to be?
No. I never saw anyone like him. My assumption, and I stated it there, was that I actually thought that he had the capability to increase his Senate majority and maybe even add a House seat or two; that traditionally in American elections you always lose seats in the first election after you’re elected president. I thought he had the capability of doing even better, that this was the guy who could speak to his base and reassure them, as he spoke to swing voters, to bring them in.
I had no idea on the night of the 20th, sitting with these senators, congressmen and leaders, that this administration actually didn’t understand the American people, didn’t connect with the American people, because all I saw was a gentleman who could draw crowds of 100,000. I had no idea that he did not know how to speak to 100 million.
What did Gingrich mean when at the end of the night he said, “What you’ve seen here tonight, gentlemen, is the seeds of winning back the House in 2010″?
There was incredible brainpower in that room. Some people were good at language. Some people were good at policy. Some people were good at tactics. Some people understood the media. Others understood the way Washington worked.
And the feeling was that if that group could cooperate, and if that group could lead, that the wilderness might not be a generation away, but it might be more like a few elections away.
Why was [Speaker of the House John] Boehner [R-Ohio] not there?
Because at that point Boehner was not interested in anything I had to say or any meeting that I would pull together.
Why did you set that meeting up? What was the seed of inspiration you had?
One Southern senator looked me straight in the eye when I invited him and said: “What are you doing? You’re not a senator. You’re not a congressman. Why are you convening these people?”
I said that in my study of communication and in my research into how politics and policy works, I learned that the power of convening people, of bringing bright people together for a night of deep conversation and debate, and how that could have an impact on strategy, tactics, messaging.
And he said to me, “This is none of your business, and it’s not what you should be doing.” And for about 30 seconds I thought of canceling. And then I realized that until the House and Senate talk to each other, until conservative and moderate Republicans talk to each other, until the younger members talk with the older, wise men and women talk to each other, then there would be no strategy; there would be no organization.
I just thought that putting them together in a room, at one time, in one place, that would make a difference.
And do you want to know why I did [it on] Jan. 20? Because during the Clinton administration, I’d been invited to a dinner that was hosted by Ken Duberstein, the former chief of staff for the White House [during Reagan's presidency]. And he had made an effort to make it bipartisan. But Clinton was more of a bipartisan president, so you could see Republicans enjoying that inauguration.
There weren’t any Republicans involved in Obama’s inauguration. Already there were the seeds of a very partisan era. And I thought that Republicans ought to have a place to go, a place where they could be among friends and a place where they could talk. And if I could be the guy to do it, I was happy to do it.
Let’s talk about the leadership, the “Young Guns,” because we’re going to focus a lot on the three of them.
[I've known] those three people longer than any living person. I knew Kevin McCarthy from 1994, when the Contract for America helped bring the Republicans to the majority for the first time in 40 years. Kevin McCarthy was one of the first people to come introduce himself to me. He was a senior staffer in [former Rep.] Bill Thomas’s [R-Ca.] office.
I knew Paul Ryan from when he was an intern at Empower America, back when I worked for Ross Perot in 1992. And Eric Cantor, as soon as he got elected, my being Jewish, “Wow, another Republican Jew.” That made — let me see — two of us.
I knew them for a combined 50 years, and so it was very easy for me to spend a lot of time with them because I go back so far with those guys. I go back much longer than before they came to Washington.
You wrote that they represented the Republican future in Congress. What did you mean, and did they live up to it?
For years, Republicans were good on policy and had no way to communicate it. And then they get elected and they know how to speak, and they know how to relate to a new generation. For years, it was always this battle of moderate versus conservative, and are you conservative enough, and these splits over policy. They understood that to be in a majority you had to bring people in rather than push people out, and they did it.
For years, the leadership team often was more interested in their own budgets and their own roles and their own positions. This group cared more about working together and made a true effort at cooperation rather than fiefdoms.
And so in every way that you would measure it, they have been a difference, a revitalizing force within the GOP. And just the way they talk, the way they look, the way they act, the music that they listen to, they’re 21st-century Republicans. And it took until their election for the GOP to move into that 21st century.
Why did they understand the importance of the Tea Party? Why did they understand it while the establishment GOP did not quite understand what was going on?
There’s a reason why the Young Guns connected, and this is going to sound very strange to you, but they’re politicians who listen. The people who used to run the congressional committee and the senatorial committee were old-fashioned politicos who understood how to raise money and how to make the Washington political establishment feel good.
These guys didn’t owe Washington anything. They came from outside Washington. Their attitudes were different. Their engagement was different. They came from the grassroots, and that helped them understand the grassroots and understand that you could not win with message alone; that you had to have people behind that message, millions of people — not thousands, but millions — willing to work, willing to volunteer, willing to get involved.
So how’d they do it? One of the things, of course, that they did was they understood that the 2010 elections were very important. They went out; they recruited people; they got money for people; they worked.
Ah, but that’s different. See, each one of these — they call them the Young Guns, but each one has a specific skill.
What were their skills? Define for me each one of their roles in this grouping, this power leadership.
You will never meet a nicer human being than Kevin McCarthy, someone who will put his arms around you and really mean it, someone who’d say, “Hey, it’s great to see you,” and you know that he’s not giving you a line. And Kevin is a brilliant recruiter, because he understood that you couldn’t send to Washington the same old political crap and expect them to get elected; that you had to find people who came from outside the world of politics if you really wanted to seize that majority.
“You will never meet a nicer human being than Kevin McCarthy.”
Paul Ryan is a genius at policy in general and the budget in particular. Here’s a guy who actually read the budget but knew how to communicate it, knew how to explain it. So he could talk about Medicare in terms that a Medicare recipient would understand, but then he could go toe to toe with the president on Medicare policy and proved that he even knew more than the president did.
And Eric Cantor, who understood the requirements of leadership, of bringing people together, of uniting. In the Gingrich days, everybody was at war with each other; Cantor knew how to keep the peace.
So you’ve got your brilliant recruiter, your brilliant policy maven and your brilliant unifier, all together as friends, not just colleagues, and all working together for one purpose.
The summer of discontent before this, where the Tea Party rises up. Health care is slowly slogging through. Something is going on out there. Is it surprising that … the Republicans got it on what was going on while the White House and the Democrats did not understand what was going on in the streets?
You don’t win over your opponents by insulting them, which is what [former] Speaker [of the House Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and many of her Democratic colleagues did. Their comments about the Tea Party were offensive.
These are people who believe so much in the Constitution that they’re willing to take a day off from work, willing to pull their kids out of school and attend a rally because they feel like they’re saving the country, and then they get insulted by the Democrats.
I don’t understand that. You never do that. You don’t insult your opponent. You try to show them that they’re wrong, or at the most extreme you ignore them. But the Democrats actually insulted them, made them into an issue, made them want to organize, made them want to participate.
And I don’t necessarily think it’s that the Republicans got it. It’s that they became the vessel by which these people in the Tea Party were able to be heard. They became in essence the manifestation of the movement.
But I’m going to point this out to you. The Tea Party never voted for the Republicans; they voted against the Democrats. And they sent a message to every Republican on Election Day of 2010: If you break your promise, if you become just like they do, we’ll throw you out, too.
So that leads us to the 2010 elections, the midterm elections, the 87-freshman class that comes in. What the hell happened there? Who were these 87 people, and what did they portend for Washington? What did they come expecting? …
You really need to talk to Kevin McCarthy. … He understood them better than anyone. He would describe them, the guy from Frog Jump, Tenn., [Rep. Stephen Fincher], or wherever the hell it is. He loves telling these stories. The football player, the guy who was the champion ax thrower or tree cutter, [Rep.] Sean Duffy [R-Wis.].
“These 87 Republicans were unlike any political class before, and I don’t know if there will ever be a class like them, because they eschewed traditional politics.”
These 87 Republicans were unlike any political class before, and I don’t know if there will ever be a class like them, because they eschewed traditional politics. They actually went out of their way not to do it the way politicians normally campaigned. They went out of their way to show that they were different because they actually were different. They had business backgrounds or teaching backgrounds or farming backgrounds.
These were not people who spent 25 years in politics. In fact, that was a big strike against you. If you’d run for office before, you had a hard time winning the Tea Party vote, because they didn’t trust anyone who was a professional politician.
So you’ve got people here who aren’t saying it the way politicians say it and don’t look like politicians. They dress like me. They didn’t have the suit and the tie and the trappings of political Washington. They didn’t come riding up in a car often that someone else drove. They drove themselves. They pumped their own gas. They shopped for their own foods. They were just like the people who they wished to vote for them, and that’s what made them different.
And the Democrats who they were running against, the incumbents, had gone Washington. They sounded like Washington politicians; they talked about “continuing resolutions” and “sequester” and all of this Washingtonian language that the average individual who was really frustrated just didn’t understand.
And so these people spoke like Harry Truman. They said it like it is, and that was the right time to do it.
And this attitude that they didn’t understand the tools of Washington, they didn’t understand how things were done here, they couldn’t compromise?
No, it’s not that they didn’t understand. These freshmen understood what Washington was about and chose not to be of Washington. And so they wouldn’t cave like a typical politician did because they weren’t typical politicians.
They got elected on principle, not on politics. And you can criticize them, as some people do, for being too rigid, but they believed, and I agree with them, that they were elected not to sell out the way so many politicians had done, that they were elected to speak truth to power.
Now, we’re used to that phrase on the left; we’re not used to it on the right. But that’s how they felt, that they were a little more clean-cut than the protesters of the 1960s, but they were just as much protesters about a system and a Washington that was out of control, about a political class that didn’t listen to them, about a financial class that was spending them into ruin. And they weren’t going to cave.
Why do they latch onto some of Paul Ryan’s beliefs, a lot of what he said in his budget, the budget which a lot of the GOP was walking away from because they were scared of it? The 87, however, gave them the strength, perhaps, to push forward on this and possibly led Paul Ryan to a very different history.
Two reasons. Number one is that Paul Ryan is simply the best communicator face to face, 10 to one, 100 to one, a million to one. Paul Ryan understood how to communicate the principles of his budget better than anyone who’s ever occupied that.
They used to say that Paul Ryan would have been the illegitimate child of [Gov.] John Kasich [R-Ohio]. Paul Ryan was actually a better communicator because Ryan focused on the principles, and he knew every detail.
Paul Ryan could quote from a specific page but then put it in a broader picture. And these 87 freshmen appreciated someone who didn’t ask them to vote for something they hadn’t read, didn’t ask them to compromise on their principles; that they actually took the principles that they got elected and found a way to create a budget around it.
And we have not seen anyone like Ryan, like that, who connected to them on an individual, personal and human level. And his ability to reach out to the country gave those 87 the faith and the trust that by supporting that budget, not only would it not harm them in running for re-election, but it would actually help them. And most of those candidates won.
Barack Obama won a convincing victory. It wasn’t a point or two. And Republicans lost a net two seats in the Senate in almost every close race. But in the House, when you would expect them to drop seats with Republicans dropping everywhere, net loss of eight. This is the second largest majority that the GOP has had since World War II. And they ran on Ryan’s budget because Paul Ryan explained it, taught it, educated it.
The story that no one knows is that Paul Ryan essentially became a professor, and that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights he would teach class. Sometimes the class would be six members of Congress; sometimes it would be 16 members. But every night he was teaching them. And he was a good professor, and he had very willing students in these 87 freshmen.
These are the Listening Sessions.
The Listening Sessions, because he was listening to them and he was teaching at the same time. It was interactive. It really wasn’t listening because he had a lot to communicate, but it wasn’t just one-sided, because he actually cared what they had to say.
It goes back to the difference between these Young Guns and the politicians that they created. It used to be that if you were in leadership, you told and people responded. These Young Guns — Cantor, Ryan, McCarthy — they truly listened, and then they responded to the will and the wishes of these freshmen.
Why is the debt ceiling seen as an opportunity? …
I was invited to speak to the freshmen before they actually became the freshmen. I was invited to address them when they were still members-elect, and I asked the question, “How many of you are going to vote for the debt ceiling?,” and only three or four of them raised their hands.
And I said, “If you vote for the debt ceiling, the people who put you in office are going to knock you out, because the average American does not understand that the debt ceiling is not about the future; it’s about the past; that it is merely to keep up with commitments and spending that we have already done, not what we will do. To them, the debt ceiling is more than symbolic; it’s a chance to say to Washington: ‘Enough is enough. You will not spend another dime. You will not put us in hock.'”
I asked that question, and, oh, did I cause myself problems, because I didn’t realize that people were actually having the conversation at that point. We actually have to vote for the debt ceiling increase, that we cannot be irresponsible, that we will try and do everything we can to stop spending, and we’re going to use that debt ceiling vote to put handcuffs on Washington so it can’t keep spending your future. …
But Boehner and Cantor were for it passing, weren’t they?
They were for it passing.
These guys were true believers, and they believed what you were telling them.
The members believed what I told them at the time, which is that you vote for the debt ceiling, you’re voting for your own political death certificate.
But then answer the question, because people don’t understand this: the dire consequences to put the United States in default, that nobody expected anybody to not understand that, and there is a lot said about the naiveté.
“The members believed what I told them at the time, which is that you vote for the debt ceiling, you’re voting for your own political death certificate.”
It’s not naiveté. Please understand the frustration that they had. Understand that there are millions of Americans, a majority of this country, even people who voted for Barack Obama, who believe that we are truly heading on a fiscal cliff, not for what is happening as we do this interview here in December, but a fiscal cliff because of the commitments that we have made and the inability of this government to rein in spending.
They thought that this car is like Thelma and Louise, just going right off the cliff, and unless you send them a message by voting no to increase the debt ceiling, then we will not ever be able to stop Washington from spending what it spends. And I will tell you that I share some of that.
Even if it puts the country in default?
Because the country’s going into default anyway. You cannot keep spending more than you take in. The simple truth is, at some point a country goes belly up.
Back in 2010, that was before Greece came apart; that was before Spain came apart; that was before Portugal came apart. Iceland had already come apart. You were starting to see the domino effects in Europe, but it’s before the riots and before the absolute destruction of economies across the globe.
To these 87, those who voted against the debt ceiling, it was not to put America into default; it was to send a message that we were going to destroy our future, we are going to destroy the value of our currency.
And I heard that argument a lot, and no one ever reported it, that the dollar wasn’t worth anything anymore because of how much we were spending and how little value there was to that dollar.
But you’ve got Boehner negotiating with the president. What were these people thinking when they were hearing they’re talking about revenue? They’re talking about getting this thing accomplished. Boehner is saying we have to have a deal. What were they thinking, and what was their relationship with Boehner?
I will get so many emails. I will get so many comments on your little Web page. Thank God there are people who say what they mean and mean what they say. Thank God there are people who look their voters straight in the eye and say: “This is who I am. This is what I believe. And I will not cave.”
Yes, you have to cooperate, and you have to talk, and even more importantly, you have to listen. But these are people who said that the economic situation in this country had become so horrific because of all the spending that unless you lay down the marker, then you’re merely putting off the inevitable, which is the inevitable economic collapse of this country.
And I approve of what they did at that time, because it spoke to the need that we still have today, to stop all the spending that this country cannot afford.
What position did it put Boehner in, though? …
I’m not the right guy to answer that. I know how the 87 freshmen felt. I don’t know how Boehner felt.
In the end, the final result, kicking the can down the road.
I hate that phrase. Paul Ryan is the best communicator the GOP has on policy with one exception. He continues to use that phrase, “kick the can down the road.” I hope you use this clip. Paul, stop doing it. Nobody understands it; nobody appreciates it. It’s a metaphor that doesn’t work.
Why did they do it? … Were they happy about the final result?
It’s been said that Ryan said: “You know what? It’s got to be decided by the electoral system. We have to go to an election. We have to get the public here, and if we keep negotiating, if Boehner keeps on going down this trail that he’s going, he’s going to destroy the party.” What was going on, and what was the thought?
The belief among leadership is that you could not risk the full faith and credit of the United States at that moment in time in an effort to stop Washington from spending.
It was a horrible situation for everybody. Obama desperately wanted to raise taxes on wealthy Americans. Senate Democrats and House Democrats did not want any compromise with the GOP. And the Republicans just did not want to vote for debt increase, because to them it would have said that we were pushing the issue off and we weren’t taking a stand right then.
So that was one of those cases where nobody was happy. Everybody was miserable, and everyone started to complain about the deal within 24 hours of its passing. In fact, I don’t know anyone who stood up for it within a week of voting for it.
Obama, he seemed to have learned some lessons when he comes back at the Republicans in a very different way after that. When you saw him and the jobs bill and the way the White House then dealt with big issues, what was going on?
I don’t know. I was there in the front row when Barack Obama came to the Republican retreat in early 2011, and he actually singled me out, which is a very frightening thing to be there, taking notes. He says to me, “There’s Frank Luntz sitting there in the front row, and I bet he’s taking notes, trying to figure out how to attack me or criticize Nancy Pelosi.” And he was somewhat correct, to the point where I had to close my computer to make sure that no photographer took a picture of my screen.
And then he said: “Hey, but I like Frank. We have communications. We talk to each other.” And then I can hear the Republicans behind me booing because they wouldn’t want me to talk to the president.
He did very well against the GOP, and he proved one point there, which is that nothing out-trumps the presidential seal. Even when you’re facing 150 House members, if you’re the president of the United States, you always get the last word.
And he understood the power and the authority and the control that a president has. And he took on those House members in that moment, an hour and a half, and he won. One president defeated 150 members of the House.
He’s a smart guy.
Very smart guy, and he understands the power of language. And the only one who challenged him effectively, of all of them, was Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan, who was then going to be next vice president of the United States. How important was that choice? What did it say about the changing GOP and basically putting his economic beliefs front and center?
Romney’s choosing of Ryan was a commitment not only to policy but a generational commitment, that the GOP was not going to continue to nominate Republicans from the ’80s and ’90s, that they were going to launch into the 21st century with someone who not only knew the specifics but knew how to talk about it.
And one of the best speeches in the entire campaign was delivered by Paul Ryan on that battleship when he combined some of Romney’s positions with some of his own and talked about a brand-new approach to governing, an approach that focused on accountability and personal responsibility, and an approach that started first with the individual, rather than just talking about the size of government.
The Republicans lost big time in this election. How surprising was it? What does it mean? What does it mean for Paul Ryan, but what does it mean for the party, and what does it mean for Obama?
All presidential elections begin and end in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, Toledo, Canton. They all begin and end in Ohio, and if a Republican cannot win Ohio, they cannot win America, because Ohio is the closest representation of America of any state — cities in deep trouble, suburbs with the challenges of the city, small towns and rural areas. It really is a microcosm, and you cannot win the country without winning that microcosm.
A Republican has now lost Ohio twice, and a population that sees the Democrats as better able to represent hardworking taxpayers than Republicans, that ought to tell you something about where America stands.
And when you start losing those close states, the states that make up these so-called swing votes — Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa — these are states that Republicans used to win in the past. It has to send not just a wakeup call but a kick in the head that there’s something wrong with your message and that you’re not connecting. …
“Obama had an edge in one particular area that Republicans have always had a problem with, and that’s empathy.”
Policy did not elect Barack Obama, and neither did his record. And in fact on both of them, one could argue that Mitt Romney was stronger. But Obama had an edge in one particular area that Republicans have always had a problem with, and that’s empathy. Barack Obama has that Bill Clinton gene that allows him to communicate in a way that you think he understands your problems, whether he does or doesn’t.
And Republicans seem to have these blinders on that never show that they feel your pain, that they get it. And until Republicans learn how to empathize — policy, politics, language — it ain’t good enough until you show that you understand and that you are.
Three simple words: “I get it.” Until Republicans show that they get it, they’ll be the minority party.
Does he have a mandate now?
Does Obama have a mandate? No. And the reason why Obama doesn’t have a mandate is that Republicans won with the second biggest majority since World War II in the House. …
Here’s the amazing thing: We essentially had a status quo election. The same people who created this mess that we all hate are the same people who are still there thanks to the American electorate. And they want them to work together, and they want them to cooperate, but then if they start to compromise, you get the extremes on both sides that try to tear them down.
Congress has a 10 percent job approval rating, the lowest ever. [Libya's Muammar] Qaddafi had a 14 percent approval rating, and that was among the people who killed him. How can you run a government when you have 10 percent job approval?
Where are we then? These debts, these negotiations over these same issues have been going on since 2010?
It’s a mess.
And here we are again. And you’ve got the same people, and you’ve got basically the same Houses, and the White House are owned by the same people. What the hell does that mean for where we go from here?
We are waiting for someone to be big enough and bold enough and courageous enough to do something great, to be prepared to stand up and say enough is enough, that this country is too important.
And we have basically in Washington some really good politicians. What I wonder is whether we have some really good statesmen.
… So here we have Boehner.
I can’t do Boehner.
Is he more powerful now, though, or less powerful?
You have to ask someone [else]. I try to speak about public opinions, about things I know about.
Then one other thing, because you know the power game in Washington. Boehner kicks out for Tea Party folk –
Not doing it.
Is there –
Not doing it.
… Well, I’ve been very unhappy since the election because I understand the consequences of it. Look, you’re interviewing me because you want me to take a Republican point of view, and there are times when I do that because these are people who from time to time I advise.
But I’m an American before I’m a Republican, and I am a student of history, and I know the implications. I know the consequences of where we are, and it’s really bad.
I look at the negativity, and I look at the resentment from one segment of society toward the other. And in my lifetime — I was too young for the 1960s, but I saw everything else beyond that — I’ve never seen such resentment. I’ve never seen a country that is so pulling itself apart that you can’t tell a political joke because people are so offended that they now have this righteous indignation that they’re right and everybody else is wrong.
We can’t talk to each other anymore. Forget listening; we can’t even be in the same room. And that’s not a system I want to be part of.
And this election didn’t change anything?
This election made it worse. We’re more divided now than we have been since 1968. We are more bitter; we are more angry. Forty percent of Americans who voted for Mitt Romney were sure he was going to win and believe the election was stolen.
How do you bring people together when they don’t see any legitimacy on the other side? We can’t agree on facts. We can’t agree on principles. We can’t agree on anything. So how are we supposed to get this done?
Now you’ve totally depressed me. I’ve got to go. …
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINEFrom Jesus to Christ: The First Christians (Part Two)December 30th
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE About FRONTLINE Contact FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.