Meet the Press   |  October 24, 2010

Panel on Tea Party, anti-establishment ‘wave’

David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, Harold Ford Jr., Rachel Maddow and Rick Santelli join David Gregory to discuss the political climate ahead of the midterm elections.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MR. GREGORY: We're back with more of our political roundtable, where the conversation hasn't stopped even during the break. I want to talk inside some of these races, some other trends, the vulnerability and the strength of the tea party in this race. Rick Santelli , of -- everyone knows, of course, you are, though you're, you're a mild-mannered man, but you are the father of the tea party , as you sit there. Look at some of the impact, the Delaware Senate race, Chris Coons , Christine O'Donnell , she was supported by the tea party , Sarah Palin -- by the way, this is not a close race. She's way behind. You wouldn't know that by all the attention it's getting. And some of her statements in the course of this campaign, beyond having to say that she was not a witch in a campaign ad , she's gotten a lot of attention for. This debate about the First Amendment , whether she understood really what was in the First Amendment , separation of church and state . Does she hurt the Republican brand as someone who a lot of people feel is not qualified to be a Senator?

MR. SANTELLI: I think that there's been a lot of people in Congress that didn't know all the ins and outs of the Constitution . I think we have a whole roomful of people that have record legislation in terms of quantity of pages that didn't read it. Who am I to say or, or put words in the mouth of the electorate in Delaware ? I think that the tea party movement is terrific. It's created discourse that might not have otherwise occurred. It's happened in breakneck speed against all odds. Neither of the medias, left or right, I think, really were very happy that they showed up on the doorstep. And as far as O'Donnell , you know, she's a lot more normal, less elite, and I think she's going to make mistakes. Whether she has or not, is not for me to say, but the tea party 's going to be -- the movement's going to be messy...

MR. GREGORY: But, Harold...

MR. SANTELLI: ...because you're bringing in outsiders.

MR. GREGORY: Harold , if you look at the impact she may have had on the Pennsylvania race, if you're sitting in Philadelphia , you watch TV from Delaware , and do -- are there a lot of Democrats , independents who say, "If that's the Republican brand this year, maybe I want to go with a Sestak "?

REP. FORD: If Christine O'Donnell had answered the question like Rick Santelli did when asked about separation of church and state or other things she may not know about and say, "Look, I don't know the full answer to that. Let me tell you why I'm running." She almost celebrated the fact that she didn't know it and even went further and suggested that what clearly is in the Constitution is not in the Constitution . Look , at the end of the day , the fact that she won that primary, I thought Michael Steele 's answer was a pretty good one on it when asked whether or not she was qualified. Voters in Delaware , like a lot of voters around the country , saying, "If the guys in Washington are so smart today, how come we're in the mess we're in today? Maybe we ought to send some people there that are not as smart or not as smart as people in Washington may think." Now, I happen to think Christine O'Donnell is just -- is not qualified for a number of other reasons. I disagree with her on a number of fronts, and I think Chris Coons has done a phenomenal job at pointing out where she's weak. The big issue for Democrats heading into this last week or so, I think is what President Clinton has tried to say and what President Obama is trying to do, which is, "Look at where we've come. Look at the mess we've gotten out of. We've got a long way to go , give us two more years here, and if we don't get this right, then you have the right to remove us from, from power. Until then, give us a chance to stay on path, because if you push us the other way, we're going to go back to the mess that got us into this problem that we're facing today."

MR. GREGORY: Look at, Rachel , look at what's happening in Nevada , where you've got Harry Reid , the majority leader, Sharron Angle , a tea party candidate, who didn't appear to be in this race, she's come back. Both are really disliked in this race, quite frankly...

MS. MADDOW: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: ...and yet it's a close race. She's running an ad that is reminiscent of what was done to Majority Leader Tom Daschle , you know, really capturing that anti-establishment sentiment out there. This is an ad she's running against Reid .

Narrator: Harry lives at the Ritz-Carlton while thousands are losing their homes. The nation needs a new direction and Nevada needs jobs. Say no to Harry Reid .

MS. MADDOW: Say no to Harry Reid because of where he lives is remarkable. I mean, the Sharron Angle campaign, I think, is instructive. Once the Republican establishment got over their discomfort with her winning that primary, the money has just poured, poured, poured into that race. She also ran an ad in that race that I think is the most overtly racist ad of this campaign season, showing a group of white college students being menaced by some tough looking Latinos . The Sharron Angle race, I think, is, is, is important -- it's the highest profile race in the country -- because for a lot of Democrats , there is no national message. That's absolutely true. Democrats decided they didn't want a national message. But in almost every race, the Democratic message to get out the base is three words, " Google my opponent." Look at this guy I'm running against. Sharron Angle says conservatives should be expected to use guns to try to get what they want if they don't get what they want from the election, the Second Amendment remedies thing; wants people -- a woman who's raped and gets pregnant as the result of rape, to be forced to bear that child. To be able to say, "Lookit, you may not like me, but look what you're being asked to choose instead of me," is the most powerful message a lot of Democrats have to share.

MR. GREGORY: Can I just add...

REP. FORD: Here's the problem.


REP. FORD: A week away, Sharron Angle was thought to be so far out of this race, people have characterized her views as so far out of the mainstream. At the end of the day , the only thing on voters' minds is -- are jobs and the economy . What would help in the last week...

MR. SANTELLI: Google the unemployment rate.

REP. FORD: Right. Exactly. What would help at the end of the, at the end of this last week, in addition to Obama and Clinton who -- Clinton , I think, has a great message on this, is to talk about what we're going to do to create jobs. Stay away from attacking these guys personally, stay away from talking about foreign money.


REP. FORD: Money is in politics, it's been there. I was in politics for 10 years, I had some of the worst ads run against me ever. I had some of the most money spent by a guy in my state running against me. That's not the issue. The issue is getting out and making the case for what we're going to do to create jobs and to make the economic situation for individual families better.

MR. GREGORY: Well, to that point...


MR. GREGORY: Hold on, David Brooks . To that point, Fortune magazine , I think, has an interesting piece about how difficult it is for the government really to move something on the economy , and here's a portion, I'll put it up on the screen. And this is really something for Republicans to deal with. "The latest tax-cut screed, the Republican party 's Pledge to America , is economically incoherent. It has no meaningful numbers, proposes no changes in programs like Social Security , Medicare , and defense, and asks no sacrifices of anyone, yet says it can balance the budget. Good luck with that." Where are the sacrifices that Republicans are asking voters to make to put them back into power, if they're in power?

MR. BROOKS: They're not. I mean, I mean, to talk -- first on the issues...

MR. GREGORY: And a question for Democrats , too, by the way.

MR. BROOKS: Right. I mean, it might be offensive to talk about the issues, but the reason the Democrats are in a mess here is that, first, the economy 's bad; second, their, their -- the policies are unpopular. Health care has like 38 percent approval. So, but going back to those core issues, voters are not insane, they're going to vote on those core issues. The problem is that the country -- and I think the polls are pretty clear about this -- the country right now is not willing to make the sacrifices the way the British people are that is necessary to get us back in some sort of fiscal situation that's stable. We know it has to be done. We have to means tests entitlements, that means take away some of the middle class tax subsidies. We have to raise taxes. We probably need to raise taxes on consumption. We're going to probably have to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts , the middle class and the rich, at some point. That's what has to be done. The American people sort of don't accept that yet, and the polls show that. And, as a result, neither party is willing to face that.