All In   |  September 12, 2013

Very controversial former senator lauded by Ted Cruz

Chris Hayes sits down with Michael Steele to talk about controversial remarks made by Senator Ted Cruz on the late Senator Jesse Helms who opposed integration, interracial marriage and The Civil Rights Act.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> stars thinks the problem with the party is that it doesn't have enough racists. tea party darling, senator ted cruz of texas gave a speech at the heritage foundation 's jesse helms lecture series . he relay laid a story in which he was talking to john wayne .

>> apparently john wayne said, oh, yeah, you're that guy saying all those crazy things. we need a hundred more like you. the willingness to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic. and you know what, it's every bit as true now as it was then and we need a hundred more, like jesse helms in the u.s. senate .

>> that line grabbed a few headlines, because it's a provocative statement and it's ted cruz doing what he does best. but there was no real uproar. and i couldn't help but remember another republican senator from the south celebrating another notorious republican senator just a few years back.

>> when strom thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. we're proud of him. and if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we would haven't had all these problems over all these years, either.

>> you will recall, that was followed by total outrage and rightly so, because strom thurmond ran for president on an explicitly segregationist ticket. well, jesse helms , i guess to his credit, never ran on an explicitly segregated ticket, but this is who jesse helms really was. helms was elected to the senate in 1972 , opposing interracial marriage and integration. he was against the civil rights act , and called it, quote, the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the congress. helms supported an appropriations bill , co-sponsored by none other than strom thurmond , appropriately, that would have gutted the justice department 's ability to enforce busing. helms described the university of north carolina chapel hill as the university of negroes and communists. in 1982 , the voting rights act was reauthorized, despite a helms ' filibustefilibuster. in 1983 , he led a 16-day filibuster against the creation of the martin luther king national holiday , which obviously ultimately overcame his racism. in 1990 , helms ran the infamous hands ad against an african-american challenger, harvey gant.

>> you needed that job and you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority, because of a racial quota.

>> in 1990 , helms stayed away in protest when nelson mandela addressed a joint session of congress . and just in case you think this was posturing, no, which was jesse helms to the bone. care moseley braun, the only african- american woman ever elected to the united states senate offered this anecdote. she got into an elevator with senator helms and he started singing "dixie," and helms says to senator orrin hatch , i'm going to make her cry. i'm going to sing "dixie" until she cries. and just for good measure, helms was also a notorious nasty, broodish homophobe. this is who this guy was. jesse helms was a racist and a scoundrel. and that is who ted cruz is saying there should be 100 of. and the gop wonders why they have such a hard time broadening their appeal. joining me now, michael steele , former chairman of the rnc and msnbc contributor. for real, should ted cruz apologize.

>> and with that, michael steele .

>> no, really, i am genuinely, in good faith curious what you think of this.

>> i don't know. i mean, apologize for what? i mean, i think you need to explain it. i mean, because i think -- i understand being at the jesse helms , you know, center of program and want to say something nice about jesse helms , who lest we forget was a good southern democrat for many, many years before he became a good southern republican. holding those same views. but i think there are so many other individuals that ted cruz and many others in this party can speak to. everett dickerson, the conservative from illinois who championed the civil rights act . edward brooks , the first african-american elected --

>> but michael, this is the problem. there are no everett dirks in big events because that's not where the base is at.

>> understood. and i think that's where the party needs to recognize it is and where it needs to move to. it needs to understand its history and put it in the proper context. you know, a hundred jesse helms or strom thurmonds in the united states senate does not broadening the party make. does not inclusion make. does not send the kind of message to not just folks who aren't in the tent with us, but to those who are already inside the tent, that you're not really understanding where this party needs to go.

>> and part of this, though, is that the incentives are for ted cruz to say things like this. the kind -- this is where i think the rubber hits the road. i understand conservative friends of mine, conservative colleagues of mine who say, don't call us racist, don't call the tea party racist, don't call the conservatives racist, and i say, no, that's painting with a broad brush. but he was a racist.

>> that is one man's opinion about who he wishes to praise. that is not representative of who i would recommend in a situation like that.

>> but you could -- but what you are not doing right now is trying to win over primary voters in the republican party for 2015 and 2016 . and ted cruz is. and ted cruz is making a calculation about what those folks want to hear. my question to you is, is that the wrong calculation?

>> it is the wrong calculation and it's a sad state for the party , if that's the only appeal that we could have, is to go out and to make those types of statements. now, you know, again, he can idolize whoever he wants and say nice things about whoever he wants, but it's not reflective of where the party is or where the party needs to go. and individuals like ted and others need to make sure they understand that. you're not just speaking to the folks in the room.

>> that's the most dangerous thick for a politician.

>> it is. let me tell you how you get into trouble, and i understand trouble very well, but when i was rnc chairman, i remember saying to some members, why do you think every time i open my mouth i'm talking to you. there's a broader audience. if you're really serious about broadening this tent and making this party responsive to people, you've got to begin to communicate with them. so not every utterance, it has to be this hard-right core base and say, you know, if they don't understand you're with them by now, they're not going to get that me think. learn how to pivot off of that and have a conversation where you bring them along, but you're also looking to bring others into it.

>> but you just said a second ago, that's not where the party is and it's not where it should be. convince me that's the case, that's not where the party is.

>> because i'm looking at individuals like susanna martinez, the governor of new mexico who's going phenomenal work. chris christie in new jersey, raul labrador, who's doing tremendous work in states. even those who have been in the news that you've talked about, whether you're talking ohio or wisconsin, those governors, that's where they're doing some things, yeah, some of it is hot spot stuff.

>> we don't like it.

>> you may not like it, but tem poo do. and you look at their numbers and look at how they've grown through the rust patches in their polls. their policies are beginning to click with people, their messages are beginning to click with people, and that's where we need to concentrate our firepower and our energy to get those examples of good republican leadership in the states.

>> does it handicap the republican party that it is now governing from the house and it's governing from the south in the house.

>> yes, absolutely it does. and it is the one thing i did not want to have happen as national chairman, was to have everything concentrated in washington, at a federal level , at a congressional level. i wanted to push the resources, the messaging, the energy out into the states, because that's the best laboratory.

>> and you're more likely to get sue sanna martinez in mexico.

>> absolutely.

>> michael steele , thank you so much.

>> thank you.

>> we'll be right back with