This is a partial transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," April 8, 2006, that was edited for clarity.
PAUL GIGOT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Tom DeLay's decision this week to resign from Congress one large Republican liability this election year. But it hardly ends the party's political problems. With a midterm elections fast approaching can the GOP get it's mojo back?
Political strategist and nationally syndicated radio talk show host, Hugh Hewitt is the author of a new book, "Painting the Map Red: The fight to create a permanent Republican Majority. He joins me now from Irvine, California.
HUGH HEWITT, AUTHOR, "PAINTING THE MAP RED": Hi, Paul.
GIGOT: You argue in your book that the Republican prospects in 2006 could be "disastrous," I think that's your word, as they were for the Democrats in 1994. Why do you think Republicans are in such trouble?
HEWITT: Well, I think it's a combination, Paul, of indifference and dithering. Republicans now are taking a lot of comfort in what they consider to be a gerrymandered and defeat-proof map in the House and a 10-seat margin in the Senate. But it is pretty easy to see how could lose at least four seats in the Senate, Lincoln Chafee, Conrad Burns, and Santorum and DeWine. And maybe one more and we're back to 50/50. In the House it's about wave politics.
I was doing a show much like this in 1994 on the night that the Democrats were surprised by a wave, Chris Cox, now the SEC chairman came into the studio and told me, Hugh, if anyone tells you they saw this coming they're lying. Well, right now, a lot of voices are joining mine. Whether it's Newt Gingrich, or talk to Tom DeLay this week, after his announcement, and many of those voices who close to American politics at the base realize that while Democrats can't pretty much turn out anymore than they did in 2004, all those people are most likely going to vote but a lot of Republicans may in fact sit on their hands, unless they see the sort of activity they thought they would get from a majority.
GIGOT: Well, you know, this Republican Congress, they have the White House and the Capitol Hill, but it started with so much promise, yet very little has gotten done. What has gone wrong, why haven't they been able to agree and get some legislation passed?
HEWITT: You know, even if they would stand and slug it out with the opposition, that would be preferable to the appearance of inaction. The House, for example, is on a track record to match the Congress of 1948 for the least days in session. The number of actual debates, sort of like the ones that marked the judicial knock downs of 2003 and 2004 are missing. Now, the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito are great things to have on the table to point to, because there might be yet another vacancy and Senate would lose ability to confirm a Bush nomination to a third seat on the court, if they lose two or three Senate seats. But Majority Leader Frist and certainly the House leadership have not managed to set up the kind of confrontations that attract the attention of the American people and clearly delineate the parties.
There is a big difference here, and yet I think Republicans have McClellan's disease. They don't much care for face-to-face confrontation for the kind of political conversation and debate that inspires Americans to make choices, rather than stay home in November. Right now I think they're leaning towards staying home.
GIGOT: A lot of Republicans say, look, with President Bush's approval rating at 35 to 40 percent, very low, they need to distance themselves from the president, and maybe even criticize them, to protect their own status within their own districts or states. Do you agree with that as a Republican strategy?
HEWITT: No. No, that is the worst possible move. I do see that, though. You're right. It's accurate description of what's going on out there. Chapter one of "Painting the Map Red" is about the war and about the president's leadership in the war. And about the need for Republicans to define themselves as the party that is serious about the threat that we face, is serious about the supporting the president, is serious about winning Iraq, victory in Afghanistan, and deployment wherever terrorists might find refuge. Those that are running away from the president are basically telegraphing that they're not serious about the war. That is one issue about which there is complete clarity in this country. The Democratic Party, if they win the House or the Senate, they will lead to the withdrawal from Iraq. That means defeat in the war.
So Republicans, despite the numbers, may have to rally to the president's side and to the cause of the war, and to the cause of security, in there lies with hope of victory in November. As it was in 2002 and 2004, Paul. I don't think there can be much distance from the president that doesn't lead distance from a majority.
GIGOT: But, Hugh, we're now five years from 9/11, from September 11. We haven't had a terrorist attack here in the United States again. And Iraq is a struggle, it's a very difficult fight. Isn't the landscape of the national security debate different now than it has been, was 2002 and 2004. Could Republicans lose the national security debate this year?
HEWITT: You know, I don't think they can but I think they could lose it by not having it. I was in a theater recently when the trailer "United 93" played. It was a gut punch for most of the people watching it. Right below the surface, we saw it in ports controversy and we see in the rallying to the president over the NSA program to conduct warrant-less surveillance on Al Qaeda contacting Americans, who may be in cooperation with them. We see it time and time again. Right below the surface, American people are convinced that the president's number one job and the job of the Congress is the security of the United States. The immigration debated, for example which could have been solved with a generous program of normalization and regularization, provided it had been coupled with serious security measures on the border, including a fence, that shows, security, security, security, the war, the war, the war.
And, Paul, all the polls in the world will not persuade me that the American people have forgotten this, or that at least a majority of them have not forgotten it. All you have to do is push a little bit hard on the issue and the American people quickly go back to understand that 9/11, as horrific as it was, could have been much, much worse. And that there remain tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Islamists that would do worse if they could.
GIGOT: All right. Hugh Hewitt, we'll see if they're listening to you. Thanks for coming.
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