Hugh and Nevada Senator John Ensign discuss the fallout of the GOP going soft on the war.
HH: Joined now by United States Senator John Ensign from the great state of Nevada, also chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, subject of the NRSC Pledge Campaign launched yesterday. Senator Ensign, welcome back. Good to have you.
JE: It’s always good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Now Senator Ensign, yesterday, a website went up, The NRSC Pledge.com, and more than 10,000 people have pledged not to support any Republican Senator who votes for the Warner resolution, or a near cousin to it, or the NRSC if it supports such a Senator. Has that message gotten through?
JE: Well, listen. The bottom line is people have disagreements on this. You know that I support the President, I support our country, and the troops on this particular issue, and I think it’s a huge mistake sending our troops over there, saying that we’re going to have a new strategy, increase the number in Baghdad because we think that’s the right way to go, and then have the Congress turn around and pass a resolution that says you know what? We don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I think that that’s a bad thing to say to the troops, and I think it’s a bad thing to say to our enemies, because it gives them, certainly…showing we are divided over in this country, and really emboldens the insurgents a lot more.
HH: Oh, I know you and I agree on it, and you agree with General Petraeus’ testimony from Tuesday, that in fact the Warner resolution and the Biden resolution would encourage the enemy. But did that message get through yet to the NRSC, and to the other Republican Senators who are conflicted about this?
JE: Well, you know, people are going to have to make their own decisions on who they support. As the chairman of the NRSC, you can’t pick one vote and say if you don’t vote here, we’re not going to support you. You can’t have litmus tests like that on virtually anything, because Ronald Reagan, and I live by his adage, he said that somebody who agrees with you 80% of the time, that’s your friend, not your enemy. And as we go forward, we have to look for people that are with us the vast majority of the time, and certainly because the other side, you know, if you elect a Democrat over a Republican, you’re going to end up with somebody who’s against you 80% of the time, if not more.
HH: So I gather, Senator Ensign, the NRSC will not change its policy of supporting incumbent Republicans, regardless of how they vote?
JE: Oh, I mean, we have a policy right now, I do, I’m the chairman, I set the policy over there, that we have to make sure to try to get back into the majority, and you know, we can’t do that without defending our 21 incumbents. But at the same time, I’m trying to recruit the best people I can recruit out there to try and get us back in the majority. You know, Hugh, you know where I’ve stood on the positions, you know my record well, and I am a Ronald Reagan type of a Republican. I believe in limited government, a strong national defense, and believe our party is best for this country. And sometimes, that means having people in our party here in the Senate that we don’t necessarily match up exactly with. But that…it still can bring us to the majority, to where then we can control the agenda. When we’re in the minority, we can’t control the agenda. And sometimes, we get upset with our other members who don’t vote the way that we would want them to vote, and sometimes it’s one person, and sometimes it’s another.
HH: Let me play you a clip from yesterday with Tony Snow on this program, where we talked about victory over party. Here’s Tony Snow:
HH: I am breaking with some longtime friends over this, and it’s very difficult, and I’m getting lots of phone calls from people, because I think the war trumps party. Do you agree with that, Tony Snow?
TS: I think the way, yeah, it does trump party.
HH: Senator Ensign, I guess…I understand all that, and I’m a big tent guy, and I’ve supported a lot of liberal Republicans. I supported Arlen Specter against a conservative challenger. The only time I’ve never done it is Lincoln Chafee because he was wrong on the war. But 10,000 people have signed an internet pledge that say they will not support the National Republican Senatorial Committee if you guys are going to support people who sign onto and vote for the Warner resolution. Does that not make any difference?
JE: Well certainly, it makes a difference. But you know, at the same time, that’s not a question of…that doesn’t relate directly to your question to Tony Snow. Your question to Tony Snow is which is more important, the war in Iraq or party, and there’s no question. I would agree that the war in Iraq…I mean, because this is…when you’re at war, you’re to be an American, not a Republican, not a Democrat. You’re to be an American. And there are people who have legitimate differences in this war. I vehemently disagree with them. I think that they are wrong. I think that they are absolutely wrong, and they are hurting our efforts there. But you know, you have to respect differences up here. That’s a kind of society that we have.
HH: Senator, with all due respect, I can’t respect a difference that endangers the American military fighting man or woman, and when General Petraeus testifies that the Warner resolution encourages the enemy, that’s what a vote for the Warner resolution says to me. How can I in good conscience support an organization that supports people that I believe on the testimony of General Petraeus and other sources, to be assisting the enemy?
JE: Hugh, you’re going to have to make that decision on your own. I can’t tell you what to do there. I do know that as I said before, there are many things that I will disagree with folks on. That doesn’t mean that my job as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is…1) is to try to elect as many Republicans as I can, but also as one of the leaders now, is to take our party back to its basic roots. So I as one of the leaders of the Republican Party, now am trying to steer our party back, and get it back to its roots, to the conservative base, that says we do believe in limited government, we do believe in a strong national defense. That’s all I can tell you on it.
HH: I know what you’re saying, but the listener out there, and the pledger, and a vast audience that will read and hear and consider what you’ve got to say, how do you persuade them that you can get there, when in fact, you’re going to be indifferent to the most important vote, as all war votes are, of a Senator’s career. Along with Supreme Court justices, these are it. It’s not like ANWAR, it’s not like tax policy. It’s not like immigration policy.
JE: Well, you know, Hugh, we are trying…first of all, we’re trying to come up with a resolution that will allow folks to now vote for the Warner resolution, come up with a resolution that basically says hey listen, the Iraqis themselves, we have to set tougher benchmarks. And if you don’t, there are going to be consequences if you don’t meet these benchmarks, because…and by the way, on that?
HH: We’re out of time…
JE: It’s probably one of the most important things to do, because if you think about it, if the plan that President Bush has put forward that General Petraeus has helped write, that plan will not work without the Iraqi people.
HH: Can you stay around for three more minutes?
JE: That’s about all I have.
HH: Be right back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: John Ensign sticking around with us for one quick segment, because I didn’t want to cut you off, Senator, and I really do want to give you the last word. We’ve got about two and a half minutes in this segment. But I go back to this. You’ve got 10,000 people saying don’t support people who don’t support the war, and who go against General Petraeus’ advice. I hear you saying you don’t care what they say, they don’t understand.
JE: No, that’s not what I’m saying at all.
HH: Okay, talk to them. Don’t talk to me, because you’re not going to persuade me. I’m done with them. I’m completely…but you can talk to them.
JE: This is what I’m saying, is that we have to absolutely try to get people to see, I believe, the error of their ways. And it’s not just Senators, it’s people across America. Remember the majority of Americans right now, according to the polls, are not supporting this effort. And I think that that’s what leadership is about, is trying to bring people in the face of great opposition, just like Lincoln did during the Civil War, a lot of people were against what Lincoln was doing, but he never gave up on him. He tried to change their minds, whether they are in opposite political parties or not. He tried…he made sure he didn’t give up on them, and he brought them along, and eventually, with that strength of character and doing the right thing, he eventually prevailed.
HH: Senator, he did not fund copperheads.
JE: Well, at the same time, he had copperheads he brought with him. He consulted them. He listened to them.
HH: He didn’t give them money. He didn’t try and get them elected.
JE: Well, I mean, copperheads were people that…and he did everything he could at the right time to make sure that his policies that he would see…and remember, he evolved his policy over time. He did things as he could bring victories along. It’s just like the Emancipation Proclamation. It didn’t eliminate slavery in the border states.
HH: Senator, I think you’re a great Senator. You’re killing me, though, as do a lot of my good conservative friends, because you’re trying to cover for your colleagues, who I like many of them, who are going south on the war, and we all know it. We all know it.
JE: And I disagree with them on it, and I told you that, okay?
HH: But that’s why there’s going to be this split. It’s a big split, and I just hope they’re reading their mail and answering their phones, Senator, because maybe you can find a way to prevent them from going over the cliff.
JE: I hope we can.
HH: But I’m not an optimist, but I appreciate very much your taking the time. John Ensign, United States Senator, chairman of the NRSC, and a good American, but I think saddled with a hopeless cause of persuading Republicans to support an organization that is supporting Republicans who have gone south on the war. And that’s what the Warner resolution is. It is absolutely an abandonment of our troops. It is, according to General Petraeus, an encouragement to the enemy.
End of interview.