Video: GOP wrangling

  1. Transcript of: GOP wrangling

    Let's start with the Republicans . Tom Brokaw , John McCain wins South Carolina . A week from Tuesday he goes to Florida . Rudy Giuliani , Mike Huckabee , Mitt Romney at least all lying in wait.

    MR. TOM BROKAW: You know, what it reminds me of now, Tim , is that in rural America , they have these quarter-mile dirt tracks and they have wreck-'em derbies, and they put all the cars on the track at the same time and they run into each other until there's just one car standing. I think we've got a wreck-'em derby going on in the Republican Party right now.

    I've just gotten back from Florida . Rudy Giuliani 's ads on the air don't mention terrorism. He's the man who reduced the corporate taxes in the city of New York , created new jobs, reduced crime and also took a lot of people off the welfare rolls. So this election on the Republican side now is changing, both in tone and in content, and it seems to me that John McCain , who I suspect everyone around this table shared my views six months ago, that he was down for the count...

    MS. MICHELE NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

    MR. BROKAW: ...has made an astonishing comeback, and people are looking for authenticity and it may be embodied by John McCain on the Republican side.

    MR. RUSSERT: His own staff refers to him as Lazarus , the man who has risen from the dead.

    Jon Meacham , here's your cover of Newsweek , an article by Michael Gerson .

    MR. JON MEACHAM: Mm-hmm.

    MR. RUSSERT: "The Party 's Over: A Dispirited GOP Struggles to Find Its Post-Bush Path ." And Gerson 's rather candid as to why he thinks there's a muddle now in the Republican primary fight. Let me read it for our panel here and for our viewers.

    "The Republican Party , well into the primary process, lacks a unifying candidate.

    "What caused the" Republicans ' "unraveling? It began with the Bush administration itself. Through the intense experiences of" September 11 , " Afghanistan and Iraq , the Republican Party became closely identified with President Bush and President Bush became closely identified with Iraqi violence and chaos. The slow response to rising sectarian conflict in 2005 and '06 left an impression of stubbornness in a losing cause. Every element of the Republican coalition the president had offended during his political rise budget hawks, anti-immigration activists, libertarian critics of compassionate conservatism felt liberated and emboldened by Bush 's weakness and reasserted their claim on the party's future. The president's embrace of the surge in Iraq has dramatically improved the situation but the damage was done. The cracks in the Bush coalition began spreading."

    Is that what we're watching?

    MR. MEACHAM: I think so. I think that the Reagan coalition that became George W. Bush 's in 2000 and 2004 has come to an end. It's an era of dominance that was -- ran politics for 30 years in action and reaction. Ronald Reagan was the great figure, whether he was bringing Democrats closer to the center or inspiring Republicans to be his heir. You now have a situation where even the most establishment-looking candidate in the Republican primary is running against George Bush 's Washington . Mitt Romney signs now say " Washington is broken." That does not sound as though it's someone who's running to succeed a president of his own party.

    MS. NORRIS: Hm.

    MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting, eight years ago when John McCain lost South Carolina to George W. Bush , he did not call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state Capitol , and it haunted him. He went back to South Carolina after that primary in 2000 and gave this speech.

    (Videotape, April 19, 2000 ):

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): I feared that if I answered honestly I could not win the South Carolina primary, so I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.

    MR. RUSSERT: This time he did not do that. Interestingly enough, it was Mike Huckabee , the former governor of Arkansas , who sought to inject the issue of the Confederate flag in the primary. Here was Huckabee on Thursday.

    :

    MR. MIKE HUCKABEE: If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them where to put the pole. That's what we'd do.

    MR. RUSSERT: I never had a pastor talk like that, but that's a...

    Peggy Noonan...

    MS. PEGGY NOONAN: Yeah.

    MR. RUSSERT: ...interesting how John McCain ran a different kind of race this time than he did in 2000 .

    MS. NOONAN: I'm not sure what you mean. In terms of his general approach in South Carolina to the folks down there? I think he was running this time as a grand old man of the party, a man you know, a man who backed Ronald Reagan , a man who has spoken for, in a way, Republican conservatism for a quarter century now. I think to some degree, to tell you the truth, he understood, and South Carolina itself understood, that they kind of owed him one, you know? They allowed him to be smeared, they'd given him a bad time in the year 2000 , they decked him then, they knocked him out of the race. This time they picked him up and put him back in. So he was a different fellow, but it's a different age and he had different guys to be running against.

    MR. RUSSERT: Let me throw one more issue on the table and get everyone involved here. The issue of evangelical Christians . They were 60 percent of the Republican voters yesterday -- the way we've seen in Iowa , not quite as many in New Hampshire -- but this time, Mike Huckabee did not win them overwhelmingly. He won a majority with 47 percent -- 43 percent, John McCain at 27 percent, Fred Thompson at 15 percent of them, indicating that Thompson could've been a spoiler to Huckabee and to help John McCain . But on Monday, Mike Huckabee gave a speech about the Constitution and religion, and this is what he said.

    :

    MR. HUCKABEE: I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution . But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do, is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.

    MR. RUSSERT: Michele, that speech received a lot of comment in the Republican Party in South Carolina .

    MS. NORRIS: Yes, it did, and it spooked some of the -- I just got back from South Carolina , by the way.

    MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.

    MS. NORRIS: And it spooked some of the evangelicals, the conservative Christians that we spoke to there. I mean, they're drawn to Mike Huckabee because the speaks their language, they like him personally, he's very, very charming. But people who were sort of on the fence, when he starts talking about amending the Constitution , they started to back away from him and that's where -- that's one of his biggest dangers is that he's charming on the one hand, but he has almost a disinhibition when he gets on stage. He sort of says things that he later has to backtrack on. And if he does things like that where he alienates the Christian conservative base, it's bad news for him as he tries to go forward. If you listen to his concession speech last night, there are questions about where he might be able to win after South Carolina . He's not talking like a man who plans to step off the stage. He is having a lot of fun in this race, he is enjoying this moment. This is almost the wrong metaphor to use for a Baptist minister , bit's an almost eucharistic experience for him, and he's having too much fun to step off the stage.

    So the question is, you know, we talk about the fractured -- the fractured party at this point. Who among them is the person who can bring them all together? Is it Mike Huckabee ? Is it John McCain , who still doesn't find that the conservative Christians embrace him? Is it Mike Huckabee who the country club conservatives look at him and say, "Ooh, I don't know if he's really the man for the White House ." Is it Mitt Romney , who people still are perhaps not willing to embrace in part because he's flip-flopped on issues or in part because of his religious values. So it's really interesting going forward. It really -- there's no clear choice for many people in the party.

NBC News
updated 1/20/2008 11:39:47 AM ET 2008-01-20T16:39:47

The Republican Party clearly has a tougher presidential campaign road than Democrats, a roundtable of analysts on NBC's "Meet the Press" said Sunday.

"I think we've got a wreck ’em derby going on in the Republican Party right now," former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw said in describing the internal debate over conservative values.

It's "much tougher" for Republicans, echoed Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, since they are trying to define the "soul" of the party, while Democrats are just trying to decide which contender would win against a Republican.

Brokaw and Michele Norris of National Public Radio sensed a large mass of flexible voters not interested in party dogma. "People are rejecting dogma," Brokaw said of the bloc that he called a "nomadic herd."

Norris described that bloc as "freelancers" looking for "someone who speaks to issues they really care about."

The analysts did give credit to Republican Sen. John McCain for his resurgent campaign. Brokaw described it as an "an astonishing comeback."

Noonan felt South Carolina voters backed McCain in part because they see him as "the grand old man of the party."

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin felt that the "desire to win" could help heal the Republican divisions — especially once Democrats choose a candidate.

Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham took that thought a step further. "The one person who could in fact unite the Republican Party," he said, "is Hillary Clinton."

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