Interview Vin WeberQ: Tell me about when you first met Newt Gingrich. You were in the same class...
Weber: No, we did not come in together. He came in 1979 and I came in 1981. I don't know if I actually remember my first meeting with him. I can remember my first impressions of him and my first serious conversation with him.
He was, clearly, the most active person in the Republican Conference at a time when we were both very hopeful. We'd just elected a large number of new Republicans with Ronald Reagan in the election of 1980, and, yet, still short of the majority status.
Here was a really very junior member of the party challenging the Republican Party at a time when they thought they were headed for victory. We had the Presidency, we'd taken the Senate for the first time since the 50s, we had made significant gains in the House, and Newt Gingrich was basically saying that we still weren't doing it right. He proved, of course, to be right over the course of the next several years, as we receded in numbers and remained in the minority.
Q: You guys were the Young Turks of the Republican Party in those days.
Weber: That's right. There weren't very many of us to begin with. There had been an operation in the 1960s that were the Young Turks of that time. It was lead by [Don Rumsfeld] who was a Congressman from Illinois and went on to become Secretary of Defense, and then he filled a number of other positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
There was a group of young members in the 60s called [Romney's Raiders] that were sort of the Young Turks of their day. [They were] probably more moderate Republicans at that time because that's where the center of energy was in the Republican Party and the Congress in the late 60's. Between then and the time that we formed the Conservative Opportunity Society, in 1982-1983, there really wasn't much of a Young Turk group.
To be candid, our group started out pretty small to begin with because there was a great fear of offending senior members, offending Democrat members, and what was to be gained by this, after all?
Q: What did you think of Newt Gingrich? Here's this guy who, from day one, is saying and telling everyone in town, 'The Republican Party could be a majority party and that's what I'm here to help accomplish.'
Weber: I certainly believed that. I guess the most important thing that I remember from my early conversations with Newt is that he believed that we could be in the majority. He also understood that the major impediment to becoming a majority was our own mind set, the minority party mind set, as we put it. It was the sense that we couldn't become a majority and since probably a majority of the members in the Republican Party believed that, even if they didn't articulate it, it drove them to behave in ways that hurt the Republicans.
So it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because we're in the minority, we act a certain way that assures that we're going to stay in the minority. That's the first thing I really remembered Newt saying. I thought it precisely fit with what I believed about the Republican Party and what I had been saying back in my home state of Minnesota, which is a Democratic bastion, more so even then than now for some time.
Q: Tell me about the Conservative Opportunity Society. How was it formed and what was the idea?
Weber: He basically came up to me on the floor of the House. It might have been the last day of the session of 1982 or near the last day of the session. He essentially said, 'What are you doing next year and for the next ten years after that?' I thought that was interesting and I said, 'I expect to be back here, but nothing special other than that.'
Then he got serious and said that he wanted to talk to me about, in essence, forming a faction. That was my term, not his. He had a different way of describing it which I don't remember. I could understand immediately what he was saying. What he was saying was that he, as one person, was not being effective. He might be right; I thought he was right. He identified me in the Conference as somebody [who] had been supportive of his point of view and maybe had some ability to organize things.
I understood immediately what he wanted to do. One person is a lonely voice. But, all of a sudden the faction has to be dealt with. That's not the phrase he used, [it was] the phrase I used. We started talking through who we would want to try to bring into a room of people that could challenge the minority mind-set within our own party while challenging the Democrats at the same time.
We didn't actually do anything until after the 1982 election which reduced our numbers rather significantly. But then in 1983 we began sitting down talking and organizing the Conservative Opportunity Society.
Q: What's the political philosophy that brings you together--the Conservative Opportunity Society?
Weber: I think that's pretty important. There's a philosophy, but not a rigid, narrow, almost theological conservatism. There is certainly a conservatism. [But it's], in some ways, broader than the conservatism of the past generations of Goldwater, not to denigrate that at all though. It's a little different.
But the most important thing is to understand then, as now, that twelve, thirteen year ago, Newt Gingrich understood and argued that the Republican Party could not simply be against. They had to replace what existed with something new. For a long time, nobody paid much attention to it. Or they might have laughed at it, called us the Conservative Opportunists Society, things like that. But it was a tremendously important notion. He thought it through and we discussed it. Words were chosen fairly carefully even before the program was fully developed.
In fact, the program is not fully developed today. But his notion was that what we had in this country can be called a Liberal Welfare State. People think of that as a term of denigration. That wasn't always a term of denigration. If you describe something as a Liberal Welfare State, thirty or forty years ago people would have been proud to say that's exactly what we're trying to build here. It contrasts with an authoritarian state. It contrasts with the Darwinian free enterprise, laissez-faire. Liberal Welfare State was a positive idea.
It's a sign of the times how much that has become pejorative. His argument was that we need to talk about replacing the Liberal Welfare State with something. It's going to be, number one, conservative, based on conservative principles rather than liberal principles of free markets, individual freedom, decentralization. [They are] a whole range of ideas that are conservative in opposition to what we have come to think of in twentieth century America as Liberal.
[It's] opportunity as opposed to welfare; welfare being, in our view, synonymous with a dependency society. What we talked about doing was replacing that with a society that would actually give people opportunities to become independent. Society, as opposed to state, recognizing that the dominant form of our culture is not governmental and that the most important centers of activity in society, if you will, are families, non-profit organizations and neighborhoods. The grand ascent of the state has been an abnormality, a move away from the norm. Granted, for all of us, it's dominated our lifetimes. But that doesn't mean that it has dominated the history of this country or much of the world. We're going to get, in some ways, back to and ahead of this period when we were dominated by a Liberal Welfare State. So, the Conservative Opportunity Society was a fairly carefully thought-out construct. I argue, even today as we're sitting here, the main challenge to the Republican Party and the conservative movement is to think through what replaces welfare state policies as opposed to simply editing them, defunding them and tearing them down.
Some things can probably be abolished and never be missed. The public expects government to respond to a lot of different problems like education, poverty, problems of the inner city and [to] figure out exactly how to approach those. It remains our major challenge. You can really say that the one person who's been saying for a long time, fifteen years or more, that that's what we had to be thinking about was Newt Gingrich.
Q: Now tell me a little about the tactics, the strategy. Newt as a kind of a General.
Weber: I think that the military analogies are pretty helpful in understanding Newt Gingrich. He wasn't a military person himself but he grew up in a military family. [He] studied a lot of military history and has studied the military both as a partial vocation and as a serious advocation. I don't know if he still does, but he always used to lecture at the War College. He thought of it as one of his most interesting volunteer assignments. He occasionally went on the maneuvers with the Navy to see what they're doing. Figuring out how that affects his thinking is important. And he certainly thinks of himself as a general. There's no question about that.
In terms of the strategy that we employed, I think one of the most helpful things to think about is that he had a construct and we really developed it. We needed to develop as a party - wedge issues and magnet issues. It's a fairly simple notion with wedge issues, or ideas that really separated the Democratic majority from the public, issues where they were plainly wrong and the public did not support them. But they were, for a variety of reasons, not paying a political price. In those cases our assignment was to find ways of making clear the differences between the Democratic Party and the public on those issues driving a wedge between the Democrats and their constituencies.
The Balanced Budget constitutional amendment was one of those. Voluntary school prayer was another. With both of those issues, seventy to eighty per cent of the public said they were in favor of the constitutional amendments. Democrats not only opposed them but used their power in the Congress to prevent them from coming for vote. For a long, long time there were no votes on either of those constitutional amendments. So that's exactly the sort of thing we were arguing. If they could be forced to make those positions clearly known to their voters, they'd pay a political price. There's a whole range of issues like that.
The magnet issues really relate to this concept of a Conservative Opportunity Society -- always understanding that you can't just win by being negative. Ultimately there has to be a positive set of issues that attract people to the Republican Party, issues for which they feel confident voting for. That part of the message was lost early on because the press and our opposition, of course, only focused on confrontational tactics that we employed in the House, tactics that deserved a lot of attention. But it did obscure for many years people's vision when it came to understanding what Newt Gingrich was all about. They laughed at the notion that there even was a positive side to this movement. In fact, it really was much more than simply bashing the Democrats on a few key issues. I think people now understand that. For many years people in his own party didn't really understand that.
Q: C Span. C Span comes to Congress about the time Newt Gingrich arrives. You guys made very effective use of C Span.
Weber: Bob Walker, who was probably the third member of COS, was really the person who was most in tune with C Span and argued the strongest that it needed to be a fundamental part of our constituency.
It's important in a second way to understand that part of Gingrich's strategy, and all of our strategy, was to understand that while we created a faction within the Congress, we could multiply its strength beyond its numbers if we also did something outside of the Congress to create a faction, if you will, in the country.
There are a number of things we did then. One of them was to form the Conservative Opportunity Society group outside of the Congress. We met every Wednesday [at] noon at Paul Weyrich's offices at the Free Congress Foundation. It consisted mainly of conservative activists, sort of a cross-spectrum of issues from the Washington area to become the troops outside of the Congress supporting what we were doing inside of the Congress. Paul [Weyrich] is a really important figure in all of that. The 'inside/outside operation,' I believe, was his invention. It was the notion that if you wanted to succeed inside the Congress, if you're in the minority party, you needed an outside operation of activists and organizations to support you and lobby the Congress and write on your behalf.
C Span really fit into that in a very big way. It was a potential to expand the 'outside operation' in ways that nobody had thought about. We understood that however many people were in the chamber of Congress, there were always a lot of people watching C Span. I don't know what the current ratings are. But I remember one prominent Republican in the Congress who was pretty sympathetic to us. [He] would never engage in special orders, for instance, at the end of the day, when the formal business of Congress is over because he said there was nobody there watching. Bob Walker said to him, 'You're wrong, there's half a million people watching.' Because at that time, that was the best ratings we had showed, that at any given time you only have about half a million people.
I remember Newt Gingrich argued to Jack Kemp, 'If you could be guaranteed that you could have an audience of half a million people in a stadium listen to you, you'd never turn down a speaking engagement.' But because you can't actually see them in front of you, they're home in their offices and living rooms watching, there's a sense that you're not talking to anybody.
We found out, real quickly, that they were out there. Wherever Bob or I or Newt or Duncan Hunter went, we shortly found out that there were all sorts of C Span junkies, if you will, that watched us, that identified with COS, that paid attention to what we were saying, and that were ready to contact their Congress people. We found a lot of the senior members who were not part of COS, maybe some who were quite hostile to see us, would find themselves going home, speaking to a Republican audience and afterwards, a number of their own constituents and supporters would come up and say, 'Isn't it great what those guys on COS are doing. I hope you're helping out Newt and Vin and Bob.' So the reach of C Span was tremendously important in that way.
Q: That was a real leap of imagination to be able to, as you say, look at an empty chamber in the House, but realize you had a half a million people out there. Also, in understanding new technology.
Weber: And it's still developing. When we go interactive there'll be other opportunities there. What amazes me was how long it took the Democrats to figure that out. The Democrats really never quite understood what was going on there. Tip O'Neill, when he got so angry at Newt Gingrich for, in his view, defaming a member of Congress in front of an empty chamber. He really never understood that that was not his intention. He wasn't trying to play any games. It was just an ongoing set of communications that we were aiming at the American people. The response of the Democrats to try and diminish the quality of that forum by panning the chamber to show that nobody was sitting there, really missing the whole point and missing it for a very long time.
They had the same opportunities to communicate with a home audience that we did, but they instead found it threatening, which is sort of a symptom of the problem that, ultimately, ten or twelve years later, led to the Democrats losing their majority status.
They really were very uncomfortable genuinely communicating their agenda and their vision to the American people. We only wanted to communicate part of it. If you actually start going outside of the very controlled environment of the Congress, which they controlled, it was quite threatening to them.
Q; Tip O'Neill said that Bob Walker, Newt Gingrich, and Vin Weber were the three stooges.
Weber: It was one of our great days.
Q: Tell me about that.
Weber: It was always our objective to engage the Democrats on the floor. If we ever could get them to engage us in this debate in front of the country, we thought that we'd won. We could illustrate the differences more clearly to the American people. We never really thought we would get the speaker himself to directly engage three very junior members of the minority party. He may have gotten laughs on the Democrat side of the aisle but suddenly the three of us were sort of folk heroes of the grass roots level in the Republican Party around the country.
We got all sorts of invitations to go and speak at Republican events, all three of us together. We did a number of those around the country together. He really popularized us to an extent.
The fourth member of our group at that time, by the way, was Connie [Mack], at the time a freshman Congressman from Florida and now a Senator from Florida. He has a picture of his grandfather, Connie [Mack] of the old Philadelphia baseball team, pitching to the three stooges back in the 20s or 30s. I think it's still on the wall of the Senate office, Connie [Mack] and the three stooges, which he showed us and we autographed it for him.
Q: You draw Tip O'Neill into a fight. Flash forward about a decade. Isn't that what happened in the '94 election? The Republican Party with a Contract really drew President Clinton into a fight. He nationalized the election.
Weber: That's exactly right. Nationalizing the election was always part of the strategy, taking the issues directly to the country, getting outside of the committee rooms and getting outside of the Congress was always part of the strategy. And we succeeded only little bits at a time.
It could have happened, probably, earlier if you'd had the very aggressive support of a Republican President. But, in fact, we just couldn't move either President Reagan or President Bush along. It was too big a risk to take. They were better than President Nixon had been in the early 70s. Students of political history always talk about the 1972 campaign when President Nixon won reelection in 49 states --it is sort of a model of how to get reelected without doing anything for your party in the Congress.
That was really the model for Republicans for a long time. We were the minority party. Back to the minority party mind set, we thought we could win the Presidency but probably never the Congress. So Presidents and their advisors always believed that you really can't attach yourself to the Republican and the Congress too much because they're not going to win the majority. So, they were never very helpful.
Reagan and Bush were more helpful than Nixon had been a decade or so earlier. Still, there was target set here: you can't really get involved in a strategy. The Republicans holding on to the White House, in many ways, was an impediment to our doing exactly what we wanted. Because as much as we could try to engage Tip O'Neill or communicate through C Span or do a number of other things, in the end, it was Ronald Reagan and then George Bush that were communicating for the Republican Party to the grass roots electorate. And if their message was not our message, we were drowned out by the sheer volume of the Presidential soapbox. Actually seeing the White House go over to the Democrats was almost indispensable to the ultimate victory of new House Republicans. Suddenly House Republicans and congressional Republicans carried their own message. There was nobody out shouting at them, if you will. There was nobody they had to compete with. In fact, they were able to play off of President Clinton very successfully and use him to help amplify the message of congressional Republicans and turn that into a genuinely national election.
Q: In the middle of all of this politics, you're getting to know Newt Gingrich pretty well.What kind of a guy was he?
Weber: I like him. I liked him then; I like him now. I think he's a guy with a good sense of humor who likes to have a good time. We'd go to movies and restaurants together and we enjoyed each other's company, I'd say. He is however, a workaholic. I guess that probably has some technical meaning and psychological jargon and I'm not trying to engage in any armchair analysis. I just mean when people ask me about his success, I say there's a lot that's unique there. Some of it's not very hard to explain. Number one, he is very smart. I'm not saying he's smarter than anybody in the Congress, but he's a very smart guy. [He has] a high IQ, Ph.D in history, all that stuff. Second of all, he really probably works harder than anyone in the Congress. If you're smarter than most people and work harder than just about everybody else, it's hard for you to fail. A lot of that explains Newt Gingrich.
When everybody else is done working at the end of the day and would like some leisure time, time with their family, Newt Gingrich is ready for another round of meetings to clarify the issue that didn't get clarified at the three o'clock meeting. If you get done at ten o'clock and still haven't driven it home finally, he'll say, 'I'm going to go for a walk tomorrow morning at six-thirty. Why don't you join me and we'll talk about this some more?' And he means it and he'll be there.
We're friends and we socialize together. But it's hard to form a close personal attachment to somebody who is really consumed by his work. I'm sure that his wife Marianne, who's also a very good friend of mine, finds that frustrating too because nothing really comes before his work.
Q: In a way, he didn't have a family. He was divorced at the end of his first term in office. His wife raised the children. He married again. But her description of the marriage was that there were a lot of stresses and strains in part because of all --
Weber: Well, his description of the marriage, he was very candid publicly about that. In the early 1980s his marriage had a hard time jelling, if you will. That's the way I put it because he got married to Marianne and immediately she found out that she was married to somebody who was married to his work in a very serious way. Add to this the problem that any congressional spouse has, looking to your husband and cheering for him and whatever, while people fail to recognize you at all. That puts a stress on every congressional marriage. Members are always in the spotlight and the spouse isn't and that creates some real problems. Add to that somebody who's consumed by his work as much as Newt Gingrich is and it created some rocky days in the early part of their marriage. I think that it's pretty much behind them and I think it did come together. I'm not suggesting that Marianne wouldn't like to pry him away from his work a little more often. It may not have been exactly what she thought she was getting into, but they worked it out pretty well.
Q: He has had a few very intense friendships in his life that have meant a great deal to him. Jim [Tilton] --we talked to [Tilton's] widow and his parents about how close a relationship that was. He doesn't seem to have a whole lot of friends but he seems to have a lot of acquaintances and a lot of political allies.
Weber: Yes. I think that's right. I think there's something in his personality make-up that makes it a little harder to attach to people. To O'Neill's credit, just to use him as a continuing example, he really was an old-fashioned Irish politician who was very comfortable getting very close to people and didn't feel any hesitancy about bonding or brotherhood with folk. That created both intense friendships and some pretty strong opponents as well. But with Newt, there's a little distance there. I don't know if it's generational or in his background. It's a little more difficult for him to attach to somebody.
He values friendships greatly, perhaps because he can't come by them so naturally. He doesn't take friendship for granted. He understands that you have to work at it and when you become friends, that's a special thing to him. He's said many times to me and Bob Walker jokingly, with a little laugh in his voice, 'If we keep at this long enough we may actually become friends.' He laughed, but he meant that very seriously. In his case, it wasn't an automatic thing. You could work with somebody for years and years and unless you spent some time working on actually becoming friends, it wasn't sure to happen. Whereas with a lot of other people it's the opposite. We can become friends, maybe we can work together, I don't know about that but we can surely get along. Newt is the opposite. He can work with anybody but he has to consciously think about making friends with them.
I do emphasize, for that reason, he values friendships a great, great deal, maybe more than some of us that just take them for granted. And you saw that in the death of his closest friend, Jim [Tilton] which really hurt him badly. Not that we all aren't hurt by the loss of a friend. But he suffered that loss a great, great deal.
Q: Would he make a good President?
Weber: I think he would. I think he'd be a very good President. He has a sense of history. He has an understanding of the issues and he's shown himself, both as House Republican [Whip] and now as the Speaker of the House, to be able to manage and construct a system that operates efficiently. He's not just rhetorical. He's not just philosophical. He's also highly practical. I think he'd make a great President, actually.
Q: Some say that Newt has contributed to this phase of nasty politics because in his early days he was an attack dog and a bomb thrower. And he wanted to shake things up and go after the establishment. Do you think that's a fair criticism?
Weber: I'm sure there's substance to that. That's a very difficult question. On the one hand, it certainly is true that he is a genuinely historic figure, the first Republican speaker in forty years, really the first speaker maybe ever, credited for bringing his party to majority status. That makes him an historic figure. And it's also true that part of that helped to [ration] up the level of instability in the political discourse.
On the other hand, he's quite right in saying, if you asked him, the Democratic Party was quite solidified and you almost needed a stick of dynamite to dislodge them. We could still be sitting there in the minority if he had not told us that we had to wake up and shake up the Democratic majority. It's very difficult to draw that fine line exactly in the right place. Be ready to shake up the Republican minority and get them to understand that they must shake off this minority party mind-set, that they must challenge the Democrats in several serious ways without crossing the line into the personal?
I think that if you actually read the things that he said, I can intellectually defend everything that he said. But I understand that the atmospherics were quite poisonous and probably did some damage to the atmosphere in the House of Representatives. Could we have done it differently? Probably not.
Q: It's interesting because he has been, this year, extremely pragmatic in dealing with different factions of the Republicans, of getting the coalition to hold together in the House to get bills passed.
Weber: I don't think that's surprising at all. I think Newt's always been supremely pragmatic. I just think that the definition of pragmatism in the Congress, at least for the Republican Party for a long time, simply meant keeping your mouth shut and going along. If pragmatic is defined more literally as doing what it takes to succeed, Newt's always been pragmatic. He's always been quite ready to work with senior Republicans. He's always been able to work with Democrats that would help him. He has also always understood that the price of passivity can often be defeat, particularly when you're in the minority. Nothing that he's done in the last year surprises me in the slightest.
He's a pragmatic guy and he's not, in the traditional sense, nearly as ideological as a lot of the Conservatives. A lot of the newly-elected conservatives and many of the other leaders in the House today are far more conservative ideologically than Newt Gingrich. Dick [Armey's] a genuine conservative ideologue. So is Tom [Delay], the House Republican [Whip]. They're tremendous guys and good friends of mine. They are far more ideological than Newt Gingrich.
Q: In Gingrich's book he praises Franklin Roosevelt as one of his heroes. Dick Armey, more traditionally as a conservative, says Franklin Roosevelt was the man who turned everything wrong. It's a great statement.
Weber: I think that there's a sense of responding to history which separates Newt from people like Dick Armey, who have a well-developed economic philosophy. In Armey's mind, if I can sort of interpret what he says, he understands what he believes economically. I believe it too. And Roosevelt was [antithetic] to all that. Hence, what Roosevelt did was wrong.
He's not going to just get out of touch with the rank and file numbers. I'm not concerned about that. I do think that it's one of the great challenges to the Republicans today to take this new group of members in the Congress, the real revolutionaries in the Congress, and convince them that the real challenge now is not simply dismantling the old order but figuring out what takes its place.
There's an awful lot of populous anger at government and Congress today. And to an extent, that reflects to popular will and helps the Republican Party --it's appropriate for the country to be angry. They've been angry in the past about various things. But that's not a long term governing principle. There are mixed messages coming out of the Congress right now about whether or not they view restraining government as being the first step or the ultimate goal. If it's the ultimate goal, I don't think that bodes very well for the Republican Party. I know that Newt Gingrich doesn't think it's the ultimate goal.
Q: Newt Gingrich thinks there's a role for government.
Q: He's conservative, but he's flexible, he's pragmatic, he's got some very maverick ideas--some would say kooky ideas. Describe him politically.
Weber: He's a twenty-first century, information society, traditional values, free enterprise, pragmatic conservative. That's for starters. It's seriously a very difficult question to answer. He has a very strong sense of threats to society and a very deep sense of a historic mission to assure that America's as great in the next century as it has been in the twentieth century. Those ideas are not theological in their intensity or rigidity. He understood, very clearly, during the time I was in Congress with him in the 80s, the threats from communism in the Soviet Union.
Beyond that he was quite willing to look at different strategies for resisting. He wasn't married to any one particular strategy. He now sees a great threat from the welfare state in terms of what it's doing to the values of the country and particularly how it's affecting poor people.
Q: In replacing the welfare state, and there's been a lot of stories recently about the odd couple --Marion Barry and Newt Gingrich-- you have some sense that he's a guy who's always tried to get more black voters into the Republican Party. I get some of the sense that he's making this up as he goes along.
Weber: Well, I think Republicans are generally making it up as they go along. Just as the New Dealers made it up as they went along for Franklin Roosevelt. If you look back at the history of the first years of the New Deal, they came to office with a lot of principles that they believed in, centralization and redistribution of income and Keynesian economics and what have you. But they didn't have a plan. They basically put it together as they went along based on those principles.
Well, the Republicans now have come to office with a bunch of principles and you can hear the words 'individual empowerment' and 'devolution' and 'supply side economics' and 'free enterprise' and 'incentives.' But in terms of having a clear program to replace the welfare state we're sort of making it up as we go along. Maybe that's just the way things work in a democracy, I don't know. But the danger in terms of dealing with the problems of the inner city and the poor and particularly the problems of the African Americans, is that because we haven't thoroughly invented a replacement, there's a tendency, if you really care about those issues and you want to succeed in doing something for those communities, to buy into too much of the old order. That is what some people criticize Jack Kemp for in his four years as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He clearly had a greater commitment to doing something for the inner cities than any Republican in federal office probably ever. Yet we didn't have all the solutions. If you want to be helpful rather than simply destructive, you might end up buying into more of the other side's agenda than necessary. And that's a danger, a pitfall that Newt needs to avoid.
Q: The Republican Party that you're a part of --Who is it the party of?
Weber: The Republican Party, I would argue, since Goldwater has not been nearly as much the party of big business as the Democrats would like them to believe. Furthermore, to the extent that the Republicans have been the party of big business, it has not been helpful to them politically.
The new Republican Party that came to power in 1994 is a party of small business, of white collar workers. It's a party that probably is also defined some ways, not necessarily by people's occupations. It's the party of intact families. It's the party of religious people, people who go to church every Sunday. That's a better way of identifying who the Republican constituencies are. [They're] small business owners, intact families, church going people, you can probably add another half a dozen constituencies.
It's not really the party of Wall Street and corporate America. There certainly is not the antipathy to wealth in the Republican Party that there still is in the Democratic Party, but there's also no sense that they have it all right in the corporate board rooms in the Republican Party anymore.
Big business can accommodate itself to big government far better than small business can. Even when small businesses get to be pretty big, their partnership with big government was always something that frustrated the Republican Party.
In some ways the Republicans, when they were clearly identified as the party of big business in 1980s, early 90s, had the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, you've got the popular rap for being a party of large corporations. On the other hand, if you looked at how the political action committees that those corporations formed directed their political contributions, a majority of them went to the Democrats because they were basically interested in accommodating themselves to the federal government. I don't like the phrase 'buying influence' because I don't think that these are bad people, and I don't think there's nearly the degree of corruption that the popular mythology would have you believe. But I do think that big business has the resources and the desire to accommodate itself to government and work out a deal, if you will, with big government. And part of that was substantial political contributions to Democratic members of Congress and Democratic candidates.
So the Republicans sort of lost on both sides. They've got the negative attachment of big business but they didn't get the positive of having the resources flow in to their campaign.
Q: The commerce department. Big business loves the Commerce Department. It's like Japan. The government's always helping big business with export. The Newt Gingrich revolution wants to get rid of the Commerce Department.
Weber: I think that is an important issue because it has to do with our vision of the future. If you have a positive vision of the future as Republican, it has to involve a very vigorous entrepreneurial economy where the private sector is a lot of the good news. That's only true if you have a lot of innovation, a lot of competition and a lot of economic growth.
There certainly is every reason to believe that that has diminished, in at least the Republican's model, certainly, diminished to the extent that the government starts picking winners and losers and subsidizing large mature businesses that have had their main growth in the past. So, it's not just abolishing the Department of Commerce, it's making a strong statement that says, 'We don't wish any harm, any ill to big business.' Unlike big Democrats who may have, at least rhetorically, said that big business is a threat to the country.
On the other hand, we don't believe that the best things in America's future are going to come as a result of businesses that exist today. They're going to come as a result of new businesses that are going to be formed tomorrow and the next day after that.
Our policies are going to be tilted to the extent that they are tilted at all. One of the things that Republicans are going to be pursing in the next year or so is leveling the playing field as much as they can so it doesn't tilt in any direction.
But if we're going to tilt in one direction, it ought to be to an entrepreneurship, toward small enterprise, toward innovation. That means not toward big business.