Thomas Roberts   |  December 10, 2013

Civil war erupts in the GOP

The “Agenda” panel discusses the top political topics of the day, including Rep. Steve Stockman’s decision to challenge Sen. John Cornyn in the Texas primary.

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

>>> so shifting to the civil war with house republican steve stockman taking on a powerful republican senator in john cornyn and then a promising figure, dick cheney gives props to governor chris christie with a caveat, of course. back on track, president obama bringing on a former clinton power player. these are the topics for our agenda panel today. victoria defrancesco soto, lee fang and steve benen. gang, it's great to have you here. i want to start with this interesting civil war issue with steve stockman john cornyn . he said he's challenging cornyn because he's disappointed in the way he treated his fellow congressmen and broke the 11th commandment and undermined ted cruz 's fight to stop obama care. steve , do you think that this is really what the challenge is all about? that statement that he made is just going over and over in my head. what do you make of that?

>> well, i think you're right that there is certainly a civil war going on in the republican party right now. it seems odd in this case, in particular, because what we have is a very conservative senator in john cornyn being challenged by a hysterically conservative congressman in mr. stockman. i i think that it's a lot more than just the 11th commandment or the affordable care act with ted cruz . i think steve stockman is trying to possibly get a promotion and has a wider venue to share his very strange ideas.

>> today in "first read" we have them noting that seven of the 12 gop senate incbents up for re-election receiving serious or semi serious tea party challenges. even if many of these tea partiers won the primaries, would they have a real chance in the general election ?

>> well, thomas, in the last few years we've seen republican primaries handing big victories to democrats in otherwise unwinnable states like todd aiken or christine o'donnell. unfortunately for democrats, this texas race is a missed opportunity because the filing deadline was last night. even if steve stockman wins the primary and potentially hands democrats, you know, a potential victory in the general election , they don't have a candidate, so democrats did not file any serious candidates. like i said, it could be a lost opportunity for the party.

>> so, victoria , playing off of that, how does that affect other races in the state of texas ?

>> well, what we're seeing with steve stockman is he's this really annoying tick on a really big dog , john cornyn , and he's going to be pulling the cornyn race further and further to the right but he's also going to be pulling all of the other races further to the right. and two things could possibly happen. one is he gets the republican right so riled up that they're going to have a big impact in helping defeat wendy davis . on the other hand, it could impact democrats and democrats could see this craziness on display with the steve stockman campaign and get them ready and motivated to come out for wendy davis . but even though anything is possible in politics, i do not think we're going to see another ted cruz happen. john cornyn just has too much money. he's an incumbent. and steve stockman is running on thin ice and trying to say he broke the 11th commandment. what else does he have? i think john cornyn is here to stay.

>> i like when we look to the right of the right an see who's standing over there because this brings us to where we are with dick cheney 's comments on chris christie . they're sort of positive, kinda nice. they're not besties, but take a listen to this.

>> i think chris is a promising figure. i don't agree with him on a lot of things, i'm more conservative than he is. chris christie has got to do a lot of work to earn the nomination, just like anybody else.

>> do you think he'd blow up on the campaign trail? his temper would blow him up?

>> i don't know. i don't know him that well. i had lunch with him once. i watched him operate. i wasn't a fan of the way he welcomed barack obama to new jersey when the hurricane hit.

>> you would think that chris christie basically took a camera in with him and let them shoot him pulling the lever for barack obama in new jersey the way that they talk about how much it is chris christie 's fault that he embraced president obama on the shores of new jersey after sandy. victoria , cheney says that christie is promising and then goes on to say he's more conservative than christie is. so was he talking out of both sides of his mouth and really is anybody listening?

>> i would say it's a backhanded compliment but i don't agree with dick cheney on many things but in this case i do. i don't think chris christie really has a shot, and not because he's too moderate. i just don't think the christie schtick will play well in other states, such as texas . in the primary here in texas , christie is not going to play well. so in this case i to agree with cheney .

>> but doesn't he, steve , have time to change or enhance his image on the national stage as the chair of the rga and that puts him in states around the country and in people's living rooms and on their phones and in different venues where they can learn about the type of guy chris christie is and come to know him differently?

>> it's possible. i think that the words we heard from dick cheney this morning are probably going to be prominently played over and over again in attack ads throughout the 2016 cycle and there's going to be a lot of problems. i think victoria is absolutely right. when you look back over the course of the last several years it's going to be hard for christie to walk away from the fact that he referred to the republican base as crazies. i think this is going to be something that will be a recurring problem for him that will make it very challenging for him in primaries and caucuses in 2016 .

>> it's like you're a star witness in a criminal trial or something and i'm interrogating you. it's possible, but we don't know until we see. lee, let me ask you about this, when it comes to whether or not chris christie is really the candidate for the gop come 2016 , it didn't seem like dick cheney really had the -- i guess the seeing eye of knowing if there really is a standout candidate come 2016 . obviously it's not like somebody like kries christie for him.

>> the republican primary since 1968 has been more or less chosen by the party establishment. everyone from richard nixon through mccain and mitt romney . so for chris christie 's road to the white house , he has to convince the donor base, the big business groups, the hedge fund manager, those types, the koch brothers and the party elders like dick cheney of the and cheney did have some kind words for him.

>> did have some kind words, so the operative word there being "some." we'll rest our case there. victoria defrancesco soto, steve benen, lee fang, thanks to all of you. you can find more at thomasroberts.msnbc.com.