The National Journal’s Ron Fornier on the race to succeed Eric Cantor:
HH: One of the guests, Ron Fournier, was there. He is of course the senior political columnist and editorial director of the National Journal, and he joins me now. Ron, welcome, it’s great to finally talk to you.
RF: Thanks for having me on. It’s great to join you.
HH: Well, I was watching this morning, struck by a couple of things that you said that I wanted to relay. One, that Cantor was much more interested in becoming House Speaker than representing his district. That, you know, that’s what Joe was basically, you two took the line that I believe to be the takeaway from this. And has your opinion shifted much throughout the day as you’ve learned more?
RF: No, no. I think on two levels, that’s the way I look at it, both why it is that Cantor lost, I think the biggest problem is here’s a guy who was, let himself get disconnected from his voters, that put his ambitions ahead of theirs. More broadly, I think, and coincidentally, I was in Pennsylvania working on a story about populism that I planned to write later in the summer, but I ended up writing it today, because coincidentally, that is the problem that voters have across the spectrum with almost all of their leaders, particularly in politics, that they feel that they’re selfish and motivated by their own interest, and not looking out for the interest of voters, that the country is going to hell in a hand basket and our leaders aren’t making the tough choices that are needed in the long term for the country. So I think what’s happening with Cantor is just yet another sign that the peasants are sharpening their pitchforks, and if you’re a political elite, you’d better get our act together. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Eventually, the folks out there are going to stop just being mad as hell, and are going to stop taking it anymore.
HH: Now you also said on Morning Joe this morning that Cantor, “Isn’t the only politician in D.C. who has lost his connection to voters,” and you added the GOP is not the only party that has, either. And I actually think at that moment, you know, we reach perfect agreement. D.C. has become Rome, and a lot of people just hate it on both side of the aisle, Ron.
RF: Yeah, I mean, I left Joe’s show, and I banged out a column. It was going to be a magazine piece that I was going to spent weeks writing, but I ended up banging it out after Joe’s show, that starting with these three women who I met in a diner in Westchester, Pennsylvania yesterday, and pulling in some data and some work I’ve done with actually a Democratic consultant, a guy named Doug Sosnik, that yeah, that Rome is burning, and the Romans are begging for leadership, and they’re not getting it. And they’re, they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to take back their government. And therefore, it’s hard for me to be able to define and predict where this populist movement is going, but it is fervent on the right in the Tea Party. It is strong among the libertarians through Rand Paul. And it is angry on the far left through Elizabeth Warren. And those are very divergent political views, but they all share an anger with Washington, and a desire to get politics to the people.
HH: Now Ron Fournier, I also think that this choice next week could well be the most significant for the Republican Party substantively as any has been made since the Shadegg-Boehner showdown in 2006.
RF: I agree.
HH: So I have a couple of questions for you. Objectively speaking, if you were a member of Congress, and you just wanted to vote for the more conservative, who would you vote for – Hensarling or McCarthy?
RF: Boy, I don’t know. You know what? I think most voters would say that’s a choice between two evils.
HH: Okay, if you were able to, if you wanted to vote just for the guy who was better at messaging and communicating and enjoying it, and getting out there on every available medium and making the case for conservatism, would you pick Hensarling or McCarthy?
RF: I don’t know. What do you think?
HH: I tend not to, I’m trying not to tip it too much, but I think on both of those, Hensarling is more conservative and is a better communicator. Kevin’s only done this show once in two years, Cantor at zero times, John Boehner zero times. Jeb shows up quarterly if we ask him.
HH: I mean, he’s always willing to go places, and that tells me a lot. How about…
RF: That makes sense to me, and I talked to several senior Republicans today who would agree with you.
HH: How about a better policy wonk?
RF: Again, I don’t know. What do you think?
HH: Again, I think it’s Hensarling. He’ll come in here and talk Ex-Im Bank with me, which I support and he abhors, endlessly, and he gets down into the grass and digs around in that, so I kind of like that, too. And then this one is not, this is very speculative, but would the GOP, objectively, be better off if the Speaker came out and announced that he’d be passing the gavel to, eventually, not now, but at the end of the session, to whomever wins this leadership election, he expects, because he’s not going to run again? Would that help infuse the GOP with some new energy and purpose?
RF: You know, this probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for, but I don’t think it matters. I don’t think there’s an American out there who’s hanging onto their job, trying to keep their house, trying to figure a way to get their kids through college, trying to make sure they get a fair shake, and others aren’t living off of their hard work, who really care about who’s going to lead the House. You know why? Because the House has not been getting its job done. The House’s popularity right now is about, you know what, 9%? Do you think people who have a higher opinion of lice really care who’s head, than they do of Congress, really care who’s running it?
RF: And it’s almost the same with the White House. You know, a lot of people put their hopes in Barack Obama, and he’s broken his promise, and he didn’t get even close to his potential, and I think what’s happening is a lot of people are just turning away from politics, and don’t care who’s going to lead the House, and don’t think that there’s going to be, the next president’s going to help them out, either. That’s what I think.
HH: I agree with you 1,000% in the vast middle. But when it comes to the base, and that’s where elections are won, it’s, you know, the old Rove model, and I think Axelrod used it as well, which is if it’s going to be close, you’ve got to get every one of your people to show up, that this election matters for that 10 or 15% of the country that is on the right, or the 10 or 15% on the left, if it’s whoever replaces Nancy Pelosi. They’ve got to believe that the guy or the gal in the chair cares about them, hears them, listens to them, and motivates them. It’s sort of like getting your five starters, yeah, not everyone in the auditorium is playing, but you’ve got to get your starters on the floor and…
RF: Yeah, but you know what we’re doing? We’re quibbling over who’s going to coach a losing team. And I think if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, we’ve got to stop thinking about how do we get to the next election, and win the next election, and get a few more votes than the other guys, who are also a lousy team. Instead of being the least worst party, I think the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have got to decide that they’re going to be the party of the next century.
HH: Amen, and I’m going to talk to you after the break about how to do that when I come right back with Ron Fournier.
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HH: I want to close by talking about immigration, Ron…
HH: …because of lot of the MSNBC conversation today, immigration, immigration…out here in California, we just elected Neel Kashkari over Tim Donnelly, and Neel Kashkari is soft on immigration in the world of anti-immigration people, and Tim Donnelly founded the Minutemen. And Lindsey Graham won last night. I actually believe 75% of the Republican Party is for regularization of everybody, build a big, long fence, just don’t give them a quick path to citizenship and be done with it. I think it’s a false positive.
RF: And punish them. Punish them for breaking the law.
HH: And I don’t even believe that if they’re nice people and they’re working hard. I’d just let them stay and get on, I just wouldn’t let them vote ever. But I don’t think, I think we’re getting a false positive on the anti-illegal immigration, and the big winner last night was Tom Tancredo, which makes Cory Gardner possibly the big loser, because Cory Gardner has a really tough time winning if Tom Tancredo’s the nominee. Do you think that there is a little false positive out there on the immigration issue?
RF: Yes, if by that you mean that you think people are over-reading this election as an indictment against any kind of immigration reform…
RF: …and that Republicans can’t touch that or they’re going to die? I agree with you. Lindsey Graham survived.
HH: And he won 60%.
RF: Right, and why? Because he had a position, he explained it articulately, and consistently. He didn’t look like a hypocrite that was flip-flopping, and being an opportunist, which is what Cantor looked like. The Republican Party needs to realize that if the definition of amnesty is having 12 million people, giving them no way, even after they’ve been punished and have paid their dues for the crime like anybody else, that there’s no way they could ever become a citizen, then we’re never going to get immigration reform. And the Republican Party will never win the White House again.
HH: Yeah, but what I actually think is that the majority position among the GOP is let everybody stay who isn’t a criminal or a near-criminal, build a very long, high border fence…
HH: …the visible expression of an internal resolve, and at the same time, making a 20 or 24 year process, because you did enter the country illegally, so you shouldn’t get the precious ballot. But if they just say, and they say we’ll do that in 2015, we’re not going to do it now. We’re not going to trust…
RF: Right, right. I agree with you. I think that’s the right thing to do, and I think the majority of even conservative Republican voters would be okay with that. The problem is there’s too many of their leaders who are making too much money, and building up too much political capital by demagoguing on this issue.
HH: Amen. That is, it has become, and the Democrats, Xavier Bacerra, were you on with him this morning?
RF: I was not. He was on right after me.
HH: He doesn’t want to solve this issue, either. They love having this issue to crush the Republicans with.
RF: Exactly. See, right, both sides, the leaders, are demagoguing this issue. And that goes to the longer diatribe I had earlier, is that we’ve got to take this country back, and either, and vote out these leaders who are using us and abusing our country.
HH: Ron Fournier, very excellent segments this morning, thanks for joining me this afternoon. You’re working late today, and I appreciate it.
End of interview.