OTR Interviews

The Tea Party Movement: The Pros and Cons of Becoming a National Federation

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 8, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The Tea Party movement is going national, or at least some of the movement is. There's a new group in town, the National Tea Party Federation. The NTPF says it is a growing coalition of national and regional tea party groups, and the group says it welcomes all tea party groups to join the federation.

From Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee joins us live. Good evening, governor. And what do you make of this federation of tea parties? It is not a tea party. It's a federation of people.

MIKE HUCKABEE, FOX NEWS HOST/FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: It is good because it is going to give a focus and I think sort of a different way for the tea parties to make sure their message is being heard and coordinated.

The positive thing is that it takes all of this energy and puts it in a funnel so it is going to be targeted like sort of a nozzle would on a hose. That's a good thing.

The danger is if somebody tries to capture the Tea Party for a personality. The biggest threat to the power of the Tea Party is it could become tied to a personality rather than the principles around which the Tea Party has seen its life. And that's primarily it's concern about debt, which you were talking to Liz about, the concern about fiscal responsibility, and a sense of reining in the spending.

So if the Tea Party would force candidates to come to them rather than actually trying to field candidates and become a third party, they've got a real impact on this election. They will have an impact if they field candidates. Unfortunately it would be the opposite of what they really want, which means they will enshrine the Democrats into power with more spending and more borrowing.

VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe I should ask you, is there a leader? Be. if this Tea Party movement is going to have any staying power I think it does need a leader. You can't rule by committee. Look at what happened to the Soviet Union eventually. You need someone to sort of run it and to be a leader and inspire it.

Maybe you disagree with that?

HUCKABEE: I do. And I'll give you some examples. The National Rifle Association is one of the most effective groups in the country. They really are not identified with a particular political figure. They have their own president, but he's not running for anything.

They are very clear, it doesn't matter if you are Democrat or Republican -- if you are with them on the second amendment, they are with you. If you are against the second amendment they are against you. It is pure. It's the way it ought to be.

And most of the pro-life groups tend to be very pure. It is not about what are your political affiliations but do you believe life begins at conception? If you do, it doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican, they are with you. If you are against that they are against you.

If the Tea Party can maintain a sense of, let me use this term, doctrinal purity, and that they will focus not so much on elevating somebody to capture and co-opt their movement, but rather cause people to come to them to make sure that they are going to be accountable and responsibility, they will have a dramatic impact on the elections, more so then if they try to rally around a single person who if that person ends up disappointing them or losing an election they hurt the tea party movement.

VAN SUSTEREN: If I sort of step back and look at the people I think might be in the Tea Party movement, they seem to fall primarily in my mind into three groups. One is independents, another group are people who are never involved in politics before but suddenly are getting motivated.

And the other ones are the ones that are furious at the Republican Party for letting them down. I don't think they are drawing down from the Democratic Party, do you?

HUCKABEE: I think one of the things we have to keep in mind, the early anger of the tea parties directed at where the Republican Party was justified. At some point the Tea Party people have to recognize there's a fundamental different between the philosophies of the Democrat and the Republican Party.

Once they understand that, they will realize they may not love everything the Republican Party does, but it is closer to what they want than the Democratic Party. And I think that is pretty evident by the health care bill.

VAN SUSTEREN: I suspect their thinking, though, is that the Democratic Party better get on their program -- I mean the Republican, that the Republicans if they want the vote they've got to come over to the tea party viewpoints and philosophy and more purity of thought on certain issues. I don't see them going over to the Republicans.

HUCKABEE: You say you don't see the Tea Party going to the Republican or the Democrats?

VAN SUSTEREN: I see the Tea Party people as being more indignant and saying to the Republican if you want our vote you better come our way. It' not like they are going to fall in line come November.

HUCKABEE: I totally agree with that. I think that's why it is important they don't rally around specific personalities. But they do operate more with the model of the NRA, even with the former Christian Coalition.

Often people thought that the Christian Coalition back in the 80s and early 90s was primarily a Republican front. It really was not. It was just that Republicans tended to agree them more on issues of traditional marriage and pro-life.

But they had their issues. You either came to them or you didn't. And if you did, then the voter guides helped. If you didn't the voter guides they would distribute hurt.

The Tea Party could do something along that line of a voter guide, coming up with questions they would ask candidates. The candidates would answer. Will you support a balanced budget amendment? Will you support reduced spending? And list the things that are important to them.

VAN SUSTEREN: But aren't those things the Republican Party supposedly have stood for, for years. Is there any issue you see the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement disagree on, except for the fact I think the Tea Party thinks the Republican Party let them down?

HUCKABEE: The Republican Party did let them down. The Republican Party supported TARP. The Republican Party spending extraordinary amounts of money and increasing a lot of federal programs and making the government bigger and taking power from the states in total violation of the 10th amendment and trampling over the 10th amendment and putting more power into centralized federal government is exactly why the tea party movement originally was so angry at the Republicans as were a lot of Republicans.

VAN SUSTEREN: So the Tea Party movement almost seems like the real Republicans and the Republicans that need to get onboard with the Tea Party.

HUCKABEE: I couldn't agree more. I think that's the power of the Tea Party. It will cause the Republicans to be more disciplined and give the Democrats a clear understanding of what Americans are upset about.

But what the Democrats have underestimated, and this is the one thing I think may be a default move for the Republican. The Democrats have shown contempt for the people in the Tea Party movement, calling them Astroturf and a bunch of white racists, when the polls show the demographics of the Tea Party movement reflect essentially the demographics of America in terms of gender, age, and race. And that's powerful.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course with the approval rating that Congress has I think it is safe to say they aren't listening.

HUCKABEE: Pedophiles are more popular than members of Congress right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know if I would go that far. But anyway, governor, thank you, sir. And of course don't forget to watch "Huckabee" every Saturday and Sunday night at 8 p.m. right here on Fox News Channel.

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