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Former Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman on his bid for RNC chair

Monday, December 8, 2008
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HH: Chip Saltsman was formerly the chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. He also served as campaign manager for Governor Mike Huckabee in the surprisingly successful Huckabee campaign in 2008. He now wants to be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee. He joins me now. Chip Saltsman, welcome back, good to have you on the program.

CS: Thank you, always a pleasure. What’s cooking?

HH: Well now, Chip, but why did we get blasted out on ’06 and ’08? Why did the Republicans get creamed twice in a row?

CS: Well you know, I think some of it is our actions were speaking louder than our words. Our words were a conservative party, our words were less government, individual choice, but our actions were big government programs and a federal budget that grew at about 40%. So I think it’s important, it’s important that as we move forward, that we’ve got to make sure our actions speak as loud as our words, not louder, because we need to not only talk about being conservative, but we need to act like it.

HH: How great’s the tech gap between the RNC and the DNC?

CS: Well, I’ll tell you what, there’s a lot of work to be done. And it’s one of those situations, that’s going to be a gap that we’re going to spend a lot of time working on. It’s one that’s got to be worked on. I think that the DNC, and I put in, when I say DNC, I’m including the Obama campaign, because the Obama campaign gets a lot of credit for where the DNC is on this, obviously. And they did some pretty innovative things. And I’ll be honest with you, I was impressed with some of the things they did. One of their, one of my favorite programs that I think of all the campaigns is an early voting software package called Houdini, where every night it uploaded the early votes. And if you had a name on your list that had the early vote, and they’d already early voted, they came off the list, so you didn’t have to worry about it. So they did some pretty impressive things. I think it’s important for us as a party not to try to replicate what they did, but because then at that point, they’re already ahead of us. We need to go ahead and leap frog them and start working on some things that are uniquely Republican that we can take advantage of, just like I think we did in 2004 with the 72 hour program, even though that’s not pure technology. There were some aspects of that…

HH: If I say to you Republican new tech guru, who comes to mind?

CS: Oh, there’s a lot of good folks out there. You know, Ruffini is one of those guys that kind of thinks outside the box on the technology side. You know, Phil Musser and his group, Rebuild The Party, have done some good things. I’m pretty…was impressed with folks I’ve worked with, Chris, Mariana, Linus, Kat & Annie, some of those guys that kind of think out of the box. They don’t get a lot of press type stuff, but they’re always thinking about different ways of communicating in a world that let’s face it, the younger crowd doesn’t come how, sit on the couch and turn on the TV to get their news. They don’t open up newspapers and magazines like they used to. We get most of our information from a laptop. We get most of our information online, and as I do.

HH: A lot of people get their information over the radio. Now…

CS: That’s right.

HH: Sarah Palin was nominated on August 30th, didn’t appear on talk radio until she appeared on my show on October 1st.

CS: Yeah.

HH: Your guy, Governor Huckabee, came on this show once, then went to ground when he thought I was hostile to him, wouldn’t come back.

CS: (laughing)

HH: I mean, you can’t play, you can’t win by hiding from talk radio, can you?

CS: That’s right.

HH: Did me make a mistake not coming…

CS: I think you know, especially with Governor Palin, I think that it’s a great audience, and she, I think she would have done herself right, and I don’t know who’s decision that was, I’m not going to sit here and blame people. But this is a great venue for us to talk to not only our party folks, but also to talk about, or talk to folks that are in the middle that we can get to vote for us.

HH: So why didn’t you let Huck come back on after we had our first dust-up? I mean, I was fair, I asked tough questions.

CS: Yeah.

HH: But I was fair. I’m not an ambush guy.

CS: No, no. You know, to be honest, Hugh, I’m not sure I have an answer for your question. I’m not going to sit here and try to answer it for three minutes and then give you nothing. I think it was, in our campaign, I can tell you, as things do in campaigns, move fast and furious. We were focused for the longest time on Iowa and Iowa only, because that’s the only game we had in town. And we were not raising much money, we were not getting much traction on the national press, and we had to go to those things that we knew at the end of the day that we could effect, places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, things that we knew that we could work really hard, and make some progress.

HH: All right. Now Chip, why did you let the anti-Mormon stuff get out of hand on your website?

CS: (laughing) You know, it’s amazing. I did not know I could do all these things. If I would have had all this power back then, I wish I would have known it.

HH: But on your website, the haters came out, and the put some nasty stuff up there. You’ve got to have seen it.

CS: On the presidential campaign?

HH: Yeah.

CS: Now we may have been looking at different ones, but on our website, we were pretty diligent about making sure that none of the anti-Mormon, anti-anything was making it through.

HH: All right, well let’s move on from that, too.

CS: Yeah.

HH: Now let’s get to the question, though. If you’re going to be the RNC chairman, a lot of people respect your talents immensely. And by the way, www.chipsaltsman.com is his website, and they’d love you to do this job, but they’re worried you’re a Huckabee guy…

CS: Yeah.

HH: …and you’ll just go there and run it for Huck.

CS: Yeah, I’m not sure if I was a Huckabee guy I’d vote for myself. You know, I’ve got a long history of being involved in politics in Tennessee. I was elected state party chairman when I was thirty years old. We climbed a pretty tough mountain back then, too, beating Al Gore in his home state. Nobody thought we had a chance, but we did it because we had a plan and we knew how to work it. Also took on a Republican governor in Tennessee that tried to impose a state income tax in Tennessee. Again, the guy just got re-elected with 70% of the vote, 45 days later, 60 days later, he tries to put an income tax. We beat him because it was the right thing to do, and that was a mentor of mine, somebody that I respected a lot. Then I worked for Senator Frist when we were taking control back of the United States Senate in 2002. I’ve done a lot of things politically in my life, and the presidential campaign, I did what a lot of us do. I chose my candidate, I worked my backside off for him and loved every minute of it, but that doesn’t define who I am politically. Neither does, Hugh, I bet you’ve chosen, you’ve been involved in a race, a primary race a time or two.

HH: Oh, you think? I was with Ford in ’76. You think I got that one wrong?

CS: (laughing) So…

HH: I mean, I love Jerry Ford, but I did kind of go against history there.

CS: Yeah, but does that campaign define you?

HH: No, of course not. That’s what I’m asking you, though.

CS: Yeah.

HH: What do you say to people that say come on, you know Huckabee’s back in, Romney’s back in, Sarah Palin’s going to be in, there are going to be lots of great…Tim Pawlenty’s going to be in, how can we give the chairmanship over to Huck’s guy?

CS: You know, let me tell you something, four years before the 2008 election, who were we talking about that were going to be the next president of the United States? Folks like George Allen and my friend, Bill Frist. A lot of times, those folks you talk about four years out never run, and look, I don’t know what Governor Huckabee’s going to do, but I would ask people to look at my record, look at the things I’ve done my whole life politically. I was honored to work for Governor Huckabee, and he is a friend, and was absolutely a good man, but that doesn’t define me politically.

HH: All right, all right. Chip Saltsman, if you’re going to be the chairman, you’ve got to take the tough ones, the high hard ones, right?

CS: That’s right.

HH: I’ve got a high hard one for you.

CS: Bring it on.

HH: Did Bill Frist make a mistake with Terri Schiavo?

CS: You know, that’s an interesting question, and I was kind of in a unique position in that I wasn’t working for the majority leader’s office at the time, and I can only say what I talked to him about personally. And remember first and foremost, this guy’s a doctor. And as he said, when he had the thirty some odd, or forty some odd members of the family come to him, they appealed to his doctor side, and they said you know, I think they probably even referred to him as Dr. Frist, we think that there is a chance. And as long as there is a chance, we want to do whatever we can to keep her alive. We want to…I mean, this her loved ones, this is her family members, and I think it appealed to his nature as a physician, as a healer, as a doctor, and I think that’s the reason he went that way.

HH: The question was, did he make a mistake?

CS: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I think there’s some people that probably thought he did, and probably some people thought he didn’t. I don’t think you ever make a mistake when you’re true to yourself and your feelings, and I think he was true to his own feelings on that one.

HH: Good question. I don’t think he made a mistake.

CS: Yeah.

HH: I’d stand by that again, I’d do it again, even if it costs you the election.

CS: Yeah.

HH: You do what is right by your moral principles.

CS: And that’s who he is as a person. And you know what? I’m glad.

HH: Now let me ask you about the primary calendar.

CS: Yeah.

HH: You love Iowa, obviously, but I think…

CS: I do love Iowa, but to be honest, I love New Hampshire, too.

HH: Do we have to change the primary calendar?

CS: Do we have to?

HH: Yeah.

CS: I think there are definitely some things that we need to work on. There’s no doubt, because it was so front loaded that even a win in Iowa, or for that matter, a win in New Hampshire, it was hard to gain any kind of momentum. But I’ll tell you what I do like about it, is a place like Iowa and New Hampshire gives you a chance to move in, introduce yourself to a lot of people, and really work hard and run for president in a way that once you’re the nominee, you never get to do that again.

HH: So are you for freezing it in place? Or are you open to changing it?

CS: I’m open to changing it, but I will say this, I’m for Iowa and New Hampshire going first.

HH: You know, there’s a new commission…

CS: Yes, I am, I understand that.

HH: Yeah, will you commit right now publicly to appointing me to that commission?

CS: Absolutely not, but I will tell you this…

HH: (laughing) You missed a chance there, Chip.

CS: (laughing)

HH: You could have had this whole audience.

CS: You know what? I like the high hard ones, I like the heat, but you’re going to find out something. I am, I’m probably too honest when it comes to this kind of stuff.

HH: Okay, last question…

CS: But if that’s something you really want to do?

HH: Oh, you bet. It is.

CS: I will give you a fair hearing if I’m the RNC chairman.

HH: We’ve got 45 seconds. What about the Latino vote?

CS: As far as what we’ve got to do?

HH: Yeah.

CS: Well I’ll tell you, when I talk about outreach, as we talk about folks all over the country, one of the things we’ve got to do is tell them who we are as a party, make sure they know what conservative values mean. Again, actions speak louder than words. We need to make sure they match because at the end of the day, when they see that, they’ll be with us, because they believe the same things. They want the best possible life for their family, and I think conservative solutions is what helps cause that.

HH: Chip Saltsman, fun, come back again, www.chipsaltsman.com. What’s your Twitter address, Chip?

CS: It is, let’s see, I’ve got it, I don’t know.

HH: Well, get it to us and I’ll put it out. At least you’ve got one (@chipsaltsman)

End of interview.

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