CBN’s chief political correspondent dissects Romney’s conservatism and how the media portrays the GOP candidate; he also discusses his text on the Tea Party, Teavangelicals.
CBN’s David Brody
Tavis: David Brody is the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of “The Brody File” on CBN. His most recent text is called “The Teavangelicals.” He joins us tonight from Tampa, Florida. David, good to have you on this program. Thanks for your time.
David Brody: Tavis, great to be back with you
Tavis: Let me start by asking the obvious – whether or not it’s your sense that these weather concerns that have caused the RNC to change its format this week, whether or not those changes in any way are going to make it more difficult for them to get the message out this week that they want to get out.
When you lose a day, one has to assume that there are certain things that they wanted to say to the nation that will not be said, at least not in the way they had hoped it would be said. So is this going to impact their getting their message out this week in any significant way?
Brody: Well, yeah. I don’t know about significant way, but I think it’ll impact their message for sure. Look, you have a 100 percent pie, and if you’ve got 20, 30 percent of that pie, maybe even more, going to hurricane coverage and more importantly media coverage going away from this convention, absolutely it’s going to impact Romney.
He’s been snake-bit all summer. It just seems like this is the hurricane force, so to speak, that has summed it up here down in Tampa.
Tavis: Since you mentioned the media, Mr. Romney over the last few days has made a couple of comments here and there about the media. He has not been pleased with media coverage. For that matter, I guess no politician is ever thoroughly pleased with the way we cover them. But what’s your sense of how the media has covered the Romney campaign thus far?
Brody: Well first of all, I think the media is frustrated. They’re frustrated at the access that they’re not getting to the Romney campaign as much as they got to Obama in 2008, even to McCain in 2008. So yeah, I think there’s some frustration, there’s no doubt about it.
As for how Romney receives the media, he’s a very guarded guy. He plays it very close to the vest, if you will, so there’s not much there for the media to cover. Now I don’t mean that they’re not going to cover it. I’m just simply saying that Romney’s not going to give them as much as they want.
Tavis: Is he going to regret that somewhere down the road, particularly if he loses?
Brody: Well, I think that very well may be a distinct possibility, Tavis, and I’ve got to tell you, and I know we’ll probably get into this a little bit later, but as it relates to his Mormon faith, look, he has been very guarded when it comes to his faith.
But it’s not just his faith. There are some other issues as it relates to he just doesn’t want to let his hair down a little bit. With Mitt Romney, he’s got good hair. Why not let it down? No, I think he’s really concerned that the media is going to blow things out of proportion, and he’s playing it so conservatively to – no pun intended there – that I think it could end up backfiring him, because ultimately, what do people want to see from a candidate?
Yeah, they care about policy, but they want to have an emotional connection with the candidate. All polls show it, and not only polls, but the actual psychology behind it. There have been books written about this, that the voters have to emotionally connect to a candidate, and Romney is definitely not there yet.
Tavis: So you mentioned his Mormon faith, and here’s something I do not understand. Maybe you can enlighten me tonight. So I understand, perhaps, why he might not have been so open about his Mormon faith early in this contest because of all kinds of concerns about how that might not be embraced by the conservative wing, certainly the Christian conservative wing of the GOP base. So I get that early on.
But once it became clear that he was going to be their nominee whether they liked it or not, he’s going to be their nominee and they are going to rally around him because they dislike Obama more than they dislike Mitt Romney, why not then start to talk if not about your faith explicitly, at least your faith journey?
That is to say, if not talking about Mormonism, at least talk about the fact that it is your faith that allowed you or calls you or motivated you to travel around the world and to do X, Y and Z. You know the storyline.
But it seems to me that if I’m a person of faith and my faith has driven me to love and to serve people, and certainly he has a part of that story that he could tell – now, we’re not talking about his politics now, we’re just talking about his faith journey – why would you not tell that story, particularly to a GOP audience?
Brody: Tavis, you’re making that analytical argument, quite frankly, that I’ve been making for months on the air at CBN and some other media outlets. Absolutely. Look, what’s the reason Romney doesn’t do it? Let’s just call it straight out.
He is concerned about if he goes there with his faith in any way, shape or form, people are going to start to go there with the systematic theology argument. They’re going to start getting into some of the theology of Mormonism. He doesn’t want to go there. He doesn’t even want to take the chance that anybody will go there. That’s the reason he doesn’t do it.
Now having said that, it’s a no-brainer, Tavis. What you just said, what I’ve been saying for months now is that there is a huge compassionate side of Mitt Romney when it comes to him being a bishop in his church, and there has been a lot of humanitarian efforts in that realm, if you will. It’s what he’s all about. It’s what he’s all about.
To connect to voters in that way would be huge for him, but he will not go there. He thinks this election is just about the economy. The economy, the economy, the economy. Look, at some point it becomes all right, it’s about the economy, but hey, we need a little bit more from you than just that.
Tavis: So to your point now, the real question is who do you trust, who do you feel any empathy or relationship with, and every poll, as you suggested earlier, indicates that the American voter, by and large, feels Mr. Obama more than they feel Mr. Romney.
So he’s been told by everybody that this week he has to show us that other side, to tell us more about him, to write a different sort of narrative about his life and his legacy thus far that we don’t know anything about. So how willing is he going to be to do that when either his wife speaks this week, or for that matter when he speaks?
Brody: I don’t think we’re going to see it so much from him. We’ll see it from his surrogates – from his wife, from Paul Ryan, from others. They’re actually bringing in, obviously, surrogates around the country that know Mitt Romney and will tell his story, and that’s somewhat of a traditional route.
But I don’t think we’re going to hear so much from Mitt Romney about how great a guy he is coming from his mouth. He is a pretty humble guy. He is, and that’s what most folks, even some of his critics, say about him. So I don’t think we’re going to be hearing much in that way at all.
Tavis: All right, so to your text, “The Teavangelicals,” tell me the role – I’ll start with a big question and we’ll hone in on it. But what role has the Tea Party played in this race up to this moment as you see it?
Brody: Well, they’re huge, and a lot of people will say well, wait a minute? How could they be huge? Mitt Romney is the candidate. He wasn’t their candidate. Well, let’s check the record here for a moment. The last time I checked you had Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain and Rick Santorum and shall I go on, all splitting that teavangelical vote.
By the way, what do I mean by “teavangelicals?” Conservative Christians, typically evangelical, that are breaking bread with the Tea Party. It’s kind of a combination. I came up with the word and I thought that fit pretty well.
All of these candidates split that vote, and here’s Mitt Romney. So now what they’re doing is they’re saying well, look, Mitt Romney is pretty much our guy. We pretty much have to go with him. They’re about 80 percent there. Paul Ryan got them to about 90 percent there, but now it’s up to Romney to seal the deal.
How does he do that? Well, to the teavangelical audience, Tavis, he has to talk about how our rights come from God, not government. He needs to talk about the “Judeo-Christian heritage” of our nation. I think that will play well to a teavangelical base.
If he can do that on the stump consistently, he’s going to continue to have this base. Here’s the key, Tavis – it’s not so much about the base turnout, it’s about the raw vote total. So in other words, everybody says well, the base is of course going to vote for Romney. Yeah, the base that normally shows up is going to vote for Romney. The question is can they expand that base.
Can they get more of a raw vote total number in this teavangelical crowd? The sense here is that they very well may do that. Ralph Reed’s group, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, they have the cell phone numbers and emails of 13 million teavangelicals right now where they’re texting voter guides to these folks.
They were not on the scene in 2008. They are in 2012.
Tavis: The challenge, though, as you well know, is how Mr. Romney tells that message. How does he run that narrative while at the same time this week having a mandate, as it were, to try to play to a larger audience, to talk to the American public?
So talking to teavangelicals is one thing; talking to a more moderate country is another thing. Those two messages, pardon my English, ain’t the same.
Brody: Well, right, and I think what he has decided, and I think we can tell by the anecdotal evidence and quite frankly some of the statements they put out is that they’re pretty much going for more of that independent, moderate group.
They think the base is going to be there. There is no question they think the base is going to be there. I know a lot of people say well wait a minute, this is a base election, you’ve got to get the base to turn out.
I think they want to show Romney as the moderate guy, the pragmatist guy, the guy that’s going to appeal to independents, and honestly, that really is indeed more of who he is. He’s more of a kind of a level-headed, even-keeled guy that is not a flamethrower and doesn’t start to rile up the base that way. That’s why they don’t really like him – they didn’t really like him too much to begin with in the primary season.
Tavis: So Romney is a Mormon, as we all know, Ryan a Catholic, as we all know – the first time since what, the 1800s that there’s not been a Protestant on the ticket. How is that going to play, or is that much ado about nothing at this point?
Brody: It really is much to do about nothing. I know a lot of people want to make a big deal about it. Look, why did Rick Santorum get so far in the race? He was a conservative Catholic. It was because he had street cred within the evangelical community.
Paul Ryan, same thing. Maybe not to the degree that Rick Santorum has, but Paul Ryan also has street cred in that evangelical community. So really, look – Mormon, Catholic, the bottom line is they’re going to vote their principles over their actual theology, if you will, and I think that’s going to be the majority opinion within that teavangelical base.
Tavis: So everybody from Bob Dole to Jeb Bush, you name it, it seems like so many of the party elders or certainly those persons who have been in positions of power in this party for years now are starting to say almost uniformly that if this party doesn’t find a way to broaden its base, it’s dead.
So you can talk teavangelicals all day, but at some point the party has to figure out a way if not to change its principles, whatever they might be, to change the message, how they deliver it, to broaden the base. I just don’t see in the long run how anybody in the GOP thinks that not doing that can help them win long-term.
Brody: Well, I think you’re onto something extremely important. It’s something I lay out in the last chapter of the book, the teavangelical book we’re talking about, and there’s so many challenges for the Tea Party, for these teavangelicals.
One of them is to make the message mainstream. Look, you cannot have the reputation that you’re the Tea Party, the teavangelicals, you’re up on Capitol Hill and all you want to do is you rail against increasing the debt ceiling. If that’s going to be your playbook, forget it. It’s a non-starter. We saw their poll numbers dive because of it.
They’ve got to figure out a way to break bread, to find common ground with independents in this country. If you look, and we detail this in the book, Tavis, over 70 percent of independents in this country believe that a balanced budget amendment’s a good idea. Over 70 percent think term limits are a good idea.
Well guess what? News flash: So do the teavangelicals. So does the Tea Party. So if they can come and somehow get some victories with independents, bring them on their side a little bit and say hey, you know what, the Tea Party actually stands for something I believe in, then they can start to march a little bit more in more of a positive direction. It’s a challenge, though.
Tavis: Ultimately, how do you think the economy is going to play in this sprint from Labor Day to Election Day?
Brody: It’s huge. I think we look at the number – not that this is a numbers game specifically – but I think if it dips below 8 percent there’s going to be a lot of media cycle stories about hey, here we go with the economy looking better, and the president will get a bump from that.
If it continues to increase or stays about 8 percent, those stories will stay out there. So we’ll look at the trend line between now and November, but it is about the economy. I think Romney’s challenge between now and November is to somehow convince Americans, somehow, some way, to say that look, his polices are better.
He’s saying he’s going to create 12 million jobs, Tavis, in four years. We’ll see about that if that ever happens, but he also needs to make sure that this Medicare situation – when he picked Paul Ryan, that’s a heavy lift, to convince Americans to get on board with changes to Medicare. I think they’re putting themselves in a very tough spot and they’re going to have to do some serious heavy lifting between now and November.
Tavis: Well, we’ll see how that heavy lifting gets off the ground, to the extent that it does, this week, given that the RNC is meeting, as you all know, in Tampa, Florida. David Brody is the chief political correspondent for CBN news. His new text is called “The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back America.”
David, good to have you on. Stay safe down there this week, and good to talk to you.
Brody: Thanks, Tavis, appreciate it.
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