All-Star Panel: Effort to rebrand the Republican Party

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 5, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR, R – VA, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We are really putting on display and demonstrating why our conservative policies of self-alliance, of faith in the individual, of accountability in government, why that they are good policies, good principles to help people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, HOST: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor just a short time ago talking about his new attempt to rebrand the Republican Party and broaden its appeal before the 2014 elections. Bill Kristol, is this something that one man can do?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: If I hear another politician talking about rebranding the party or changing the image – why don't they just advance policies? Republicans control the House of Representatives. Right? They very much dislike ObamaCare. Fine, pass a bill repealing ObamaCare or delaying it and then pass a replacement. It's not going to pass the Senate, President Obama is not going to sign it, but it will show how Republican policies help. Republicans dislike the financial regulation in Dodd-Frank. Pass different regulations that would help country. If you can't pass the whole thing, pass bite sized pieces of legislation that would help the country. I really think they should talk less about rebranding themselves and actually pass some legislation, either big legislation or medium-sized bites, that would embody conservative principals.

ROBERTS: Why are they losing to badly on messaging, Bill?

KRISTOL: They haven't been losing that badly on messaging. They lost the presidential election by three points. They held the House of Representative. The Democrats got 1 million more votes of the complete House out of 110 million cast or something like that. And if they do their best in the House and oppose President Obama they'll do fine. They should worry less about how they look and they should just act according to conservative principles.

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: I'll answer your question, John. They also, although Bill left it out. They lost a lot of Senate races. And one of the reasons they lost --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: And who were most of the people who lost? Establishment candidates – and now the establishment is going to come in and say --

(CROSSTALK)

LANE: Todd Akin branded the whole party.

KRISTOL: Oh is that right? The Republicans were running ahead --

LANE: Eric Cantor who studied these issues I think carefully, at least I hope he got his money's worth, is doing some important things in this speech. He's saying --

KRISTOL: Washington talk and the Republican establishment are coming to the rescue of those idiots in the country --

LANE: He talked about real life concerns.

ROBERTS: Tucker Carlson and Juan Williams were sitting in those same seats and nearly came to blows last night.

(CROSSTALK)

LANE: I just want to say, one, it's going to take more than one speech to restore the Republican Party's political fortunes, and more than one guy. And who knows if this will ever lead to anything. But I do think Eric Cantor is not guilty of one charge Bill has just made, which is not proposing bite-sized legislation. There were a number of such proposals in this speech.

And secondly, I would just say, that to the degree Cantor is trying to reposition the party as somebody who's actually addressing what he calls, appropriately, real life concerns of voters, I think that's a step in the party's political interest.

KRISTOL: One point and then yield to Charles. The whole Republican establishment and Washington Post – I like Eric Cantor, but that's not the issue -- the whole Republican establishment is going to come to the rescue of the Republican Party. The most anti-establishment Republican year, Republican spirit, instead of candidates – Republican spirit, was 2010. Republicans won 64 house seats and seven Senate seats. The establishment took over in 2012. It was Mitt Romney, it was just the economy, we're not talking about foreign policy, we're not talking about social issues, very focused. The Republican establishment loved that, Crossroads spent $300 million and Republicans lost seats and lost the presidency. Maybe we should just let the Republicans and the conservatives of the country run their campaigns.

ROBERTS: And crossroads is going to be spending tens of millions of more dollars in 2014 supporting more establishment candidates against people like Todd Akin, Mourdock in Indiana. How is all of this going to fit together?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, let me rise above the partisan bickering here, and let us reason together. I think one way that you can unite the party, which I think has had major success in integrating the more populist elements, which did not necessarily have to happen. You could have had the split in the party, a third party -- a Tea Party element, is to agree on the Buckley rule, that people will try to support and nominate the most conservative candidate who can win. If you keep that in mind and you don't try to make statements by nominating extreme conservatives who can be sort of enjoyable and rouse the populous but have no chance of winning in a general election, you don't go that way.

Classic example is Delaware Senate 2010. They threw away a seat. They would have had a moderate, even a semi-liberal Republican, but that beats having a hard-line liberal Democrat, and you might have had a change in control of the Senate had that not happened with one or two other states.

ROBERTS: A lot of people are talking about this idea of a brewing war in the Republican Party as we look toward 2014 and organizations like American Crossroads supporting candidates they think can win and then the conservatives wing of the party saying no, we don't want you fighting in our primaries. We want our candidates to rise to the top.

KRISTOL: I think let's have primaries in all these states. People can butt in as they wish. It's hard to know ahead of time who the best candidates are. The whole establishment was behind Charlie Crist in 2009 against Marco Rubio, who couldn't win. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin couldn't win. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania couldn't win. You don't know ahead of time always who can win. I myself agree, Akin was a very bad candidate, most of the Tea Party people were not for him incidentally. But I have no problem with people in Washington helping the candidates they prefer.

ROBERTS: Do you or do you not foresee any kind of civil war brewing in the Republican Party.

KRISTOL: I think there will be lots of little civil wars in lot of different states. And a lot of that is healthy. When were there a lot of contentious primaries? 2010. Did a couple go off the rails, as Charles says, and Republicans lost seats they could have picked up in Delaware? 2010 though was a very contentious year within the Republican Party and very good year for the Republican Party. A little internal debate, in primaries, some arguing about the best way to go about advancing conservatives principals isn't such a bad thing.

(CROSSTALK)

LANE: I guess I don't see anything in this speech by Eric Cantor that says we can't debate things on matters of principal. I think what he's trying to do actually – successfully or not -- is give them a program that everybody in the Republican Party could sign up for, so there is no contradiction --

ROBERTS: Next time, boxing gloves.

KRAUTHAMMER: It won't be a civil war. It will be the kind of mud-slinging that we saw today.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: That's it for the panel. But stay tuned to find out the real reason behind the Super Bowl blackout. Don't go away.

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