Interviews

Is the Tea Party Toxic for the GOP?

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 27, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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LAURA INGRAHAM, GUEST HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight: Is the Tea Party good for the Grand Old Party? One influential Republican, Michael Gerson, formally the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, doesn't think so.

In a Washington Post op-ed, he wrote that the Tea Party is "incompatible with some conservative and Republican beliefs. It is at odds with Abraham Lincoln's inclusive tone and his conviction that government policies could empower individuals. It is inconsistent with religious teaching on government's responsibility to seek the common good."

Michael Gerson joins us now from Washington. Mike, it's good to see you.

MICHAEL GERSON, FORMER CHIEF SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Great to be here.

INGRAHAM: Here's what I look at when I think about some of the advice that you're giving. In 2000, Republicans had majorities, barely in the Senate, but a majority in the House and the Senate. By the time President George W. Bush finished his second term, we had lost, Republicans had lost 52 congressional seats, nine Senate seats. We had an increase in the first term of discretionary spending by 29 percent. Seventy-five percent increase in the education budget. We had a demoralized Republican Party and a demoralized conservative base. With all due respect, why should we listen to you now?

GERSON: Well, actually, there were two presidential elections that were won by George W. Bush in the intervening time and large congressional majorities really until 2006 and 2008. You know, the problem here is not in these cases that Republicans had a domestic policy message. That's what George Bush brought in 2000, a message on education, a message on Medicare. You know, positive things. The next presidential candidate, whoever it is for the Republican Party, is going to need a domestic agenda.

INGRAHAM: But Michael, Michael…

GERSON: It can't just be a…

INGRAHAM: Yes.

GERSON: …kind of simplistic anti-government agenda.

INGRAHAM: Well, I agree with you absolutely, wholeheartedly. But do you say now today that Bush's policies of the last three or four years of his second term have no culpability at all? There's no culpability for what happened to the Republican Party?

GERSON: Well…

INGRAHAM: Big government conservatism, Michael, was tried and it failed. We tried to expand Medicare, the biggest expansion ever, and we ended up adding to the deficit. We tried on all these big programs. You guys gave it the old college try and it failed.

GERSON: Well, I'm not here to defend big government conservatism, but I am here…

INGRAHAM: Well, that's what it was.

GERSON: No, no, no. First of all, I substantively disagree with that in the last few years the Bush administration, who actually had a freeze in domestic discretionary spending, something we haven't seen under the Obama administration, the facts are just wrong. But I would also argue here that Obama has overreached significantly, creating a huge backlash in America. There is a risk that libertarian Republicans, anti-government Republicans, anti-immigrant Republicans will create a backlash.

INGRAHAM: Who are anti-immigrant Republicans? You and you…

GERSON: J.D. Hayworth.

INGRAHAM: You…

GERSON: Tom Tancredo.

INGRAHAM: …were one of…

GERSON: There is a variety of them.

INGRAHAM: …the people, I believe, who were advising the president at the time for this path to legalization, the rest of us called it amnesty. I was on the front lines to fight against what you were doing, as you remember. And you guys knew that the base of the party didn't want what you were pushing. You knew that, but you just went ahead with it anyway. And party base be damned, our concerns be damned.

And then you throw around these words, Michael, like the nativist impulse in the Tea Party movement. That's insulting. And that's what I expect from people like Howard Dean and our friends over at the at the other cable network. I don't expect those kinds of things to be thrown around by a former Bush speechwriter.

GERSON: Well, I'll tell what you my point is. My point is, which I make in the column, is that two out of every five Americans under the age of 18 is non-white now. I have been involved in three presidential campaigns. The reality, talk to anyone, talk to Karl Rove, talk to Dana Perino, if Republicans don't get 40 percent or more of Hispanic vote, they will be voted into singularity. This is a survival issue for the Republicans.

INGRAHAM: Right, and your path to that is amnesty. You think -- what I think…

GERSON: No, no, I don't believe in amnesty.

INGRAHAM: …job. Jobs…

GERSON: And the president didn't either. You're making it up.

INGRAHAM: Jobs will grow the base, Michael. Jobs will grow the base. That's what's going to grow the base. If young people, older people, Hispanics, that's going to grow the base. But I just -- I just get the sense and you're right…

GERSON: And Hispanics are not going to support the Republican Party if they feel they are a target of prejudice.

INGRAHAM: Yes, of course they do.

GERSON: That's just the reality.

INGRAHAM: But they might think -- feel like they're a target of prejudice, because some of the ridiculous things that people like you say about the Tea Party movement, with all due respect…

GERSON: No, it's Tom Tancredo and J.D. Hayworth.

INGRAHAM: Tom Tancredo? What power do they have in the Republican Party right now? What?

GERSON: They're in many ways on the immigration issue, people…

INGRAHAM: Oh, you're just throwing out these red herrings. Again, that's why…

GERSON: They are the image of the Republican Party.

INGRAHAM: That's like something I would expect from a left-wing activist to say. That's what they would say about this issue, not a Bush Republican carrying the torch for conservatism. Do you see why I think a lot of people are looking at some of your advice and saying, I like Mike, and I do, I like you. I like President Bush. I like all my friends in the former Bush administration, and I'd love to go mountain biking with President Bush again. But the bottom line is a lot of these policies, well-intentioned, weren't popular with the base of the Republican Party and destroyed, in part, the Republican Party. That's what happened.

GERSON: The point I'm trying to make here is that Republicans in this wave election that's coming, and I think it is and deserves to come, I mean, I'm all for it, they could make some mistakes, some ideological errors that would have long-term consequences to the party that would be very, very destructive. One of them would be alienating immigrants. Another one would be using this faux revolutionary language like Angle does in Nevada. You know, Angle is literally…

INGRAHAM: So you're now on Harry Reid's bandwagon because that's what he says.

GERSON: Angle is literally the only person in America who can re-elect Harry Reid. That's…

INGRAHAM: Well, you're like…

GERSON: …the reality.

INGRAHAM: I mean, is this MoveOn.org, or is this Michael Gerson?

GERSON: No!

INGRAHAM: You're making every left-wing argument. Why is that?

GERSON: You know what? I don't make left-wing or right-wing arguments. I just make arguments. And my column attempts to do that. You have to try to be fair and balanced.

INGRAHAM: Well, I'm fascinated to have you on. And I do like you, Michael Gerson.

GERSON: Enjoyed it.

INGRAHAM: This is why it's a big tent. We do have a big tent Republican Party.

GERSON: We do.

INGRAHAM: And it's great to see you.

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