All-Star Panel: Evolution of the Tea Party

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 16, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


STEVE LATOURETTE, REPUBLICAN MAIN STREET PARTNERSHIP: I've always taken the posture that we're defending our main street members, but we're not going to be patsies either. So to be determined whether we challenge some people who we think are counterproductive to the Republican brand.   

BRENT BOZELL, FORAMERICA CHAIRMAN: Conservatives brought these people to power not to maintain the status quo but to make a real change in this country. This leadership has shown after years in power it has no intention of doing that. And that's why conservatives are saying it's time for new leadership.    


BAIER: The Tea Partiers over the past couple of days ago protested a conference in Florida where Republicans, and they say RINOs, Republicans in name only, were meeting to strategize. The group is called Republican Mainstream Partnership -- Main Street Partnership. Former GOP Congressman Steve LaTourette is heading that up. We're back with the panel. Tucker, something is changing in the battle between inside the Republican Party and for these primaries across the country.

CARLSON: Yes. And, I mean, this is something that won't be settled until we learn who the 2016 Republican nominee is. But the Tea Party is really frustrated. If you think they are frustrated now, for good reason, wait until Eric Cantor becomes speaker as I think he is likely to become. The outline as I see it was two years ago when the Tea Party is stronger than it is today, Mitt Romney still became the Republican nominee. Who are the two candidates that are talked up most in the field now? I don't know if either one is going to get it, but they Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, neither one a Tea Party favorite. Why? Because they have the backing of the money people who have something the Tea Party doesn't, which is organization and tons of dough. I'm not endorsing this at all, but my view is the establishment is still pretty much in control of more than what you would think they would be in control of.

BAIER: Is it fair, Kirsten, to say that the so-called establishment has co-opted some of the Tea Party and moved the party a little bit further right, thereby taking some of the power away from the Tea Party?

POWERS: I think they had no choice but to respond to the Tea Party, and that's a testament to the influence that they have had. That I think the party has in some ways become more conservative. Also, you know, look at Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are really the two stars right now. I know they may not be the people that the establishment are necessarily talking about, but I think they are indisputably the people that are getting the most attention certainly in the country and are the most charismatic sort of spokespeople for the party right now. So you can't say that the Tea Party is completely marginalized when you have these two leaders who are incredibly popular.

BAIER: Jason?

RILEY: No, they're not marginalized, but they are having influence on the party like you said. They have gotten some of their people into Congress and the leadership has responded. We do hear more talk about deficits and entitlement spending and the rest of it.

In terms it of electing people, however, they are not having a very good year, particularly in the Senate with these challenges. Mitch McConnell challenger is 30 points behind in Kansas. One exception seems to be is Mississippi where Thad Cochran is facing a stronger candidate there. But I think the problem the Tea Party candidates have been having is convincing voters that Mitch McConnell isn't sufficiently Republican or sufficiently conservative when Mitch McConnell's problem is that he is in the minority, not that he is insufficiently right wing.

And so I think that's where they are having trouble in some of these primary races. But, overall, I think the influence on the party, on the establishment has been good, and the party has moved further right.

BAIER: So when you hear that the House majority leader went to this conference by this group that essentially is designed to defend GOP incumbents from Tea Party challenges, do you sense a shift in the force here?

RILEY: Eric Cantor is part of the leadership. His job is to take these various factions in the party and make peace and to bring them together and to defend his incumbence. I think he was doing his job. His view is we have got to be a big tent here. We are in the minority, in terms of the Senate, at least, and in terms it of not controlling the White House. And this is the time to coalesce to bring people together to get more Republican votes out there.

BAIER: Do you sense in 2014 that the Tea Party takes a more public role? It seems like in the primaries there aren't a lot of candidates out there on the Tea Party docket who are doing well.

CARLSON: Well, have you already seen a number of other cycles where Tea Party candidates didn't do well and were blamed, actually, for losing a bunch of seats, as you well know. I think the real problem is really is an ideological problem. The Republican leadership is just flat out more liberal, certainly on the economic issues, probably also on some of the social issues, than its primary voters. And that's just a disconnect. And I don't know where that gets resolved -- maybe again in 2016 when we find out what the party is really comprised of. But as of today, I understand the Tea Party's frustration, but I think they have less power than again, you would expect them to have.

BAIER: And for Democrats is this a problem because they don't have the Tea Party to kick around?

POWERS: It's much easier when they have a Christine O'Donnell as a Senate candidate. But to read too much into them not being able to unseat an incumbent, it's very difficult to unseat an incumbent. And so yes, they've had some success a couple times, but not being -- you have these five races where they are trying to unseat five incumbents. That's very difficult to do. And so if they don't do that, that doesn't mean they aren't powerful or influential. And I think -- I just think they have much more influence. They have the kind of influence I think a lot of liberal groups would like to have within the Democratic Party. I think that they still wield a certain level of influence that's unusual, that I think for, you know, because you are right, the establishment does, in both parties, tends to be not in line with the, you know, the base.

BAIER: Last word, their influence on 2014?

RILEY: Well, if you look at the polls, their numbers haven't changed percentage wise very much. I think in 2013, about 12 percent of registered voters self-identify as Tea Party members. Back in 2010, it was right around the same number, 12 percent, 13 percent. So their numbers haven't grown. And I think as you said earlier, the establishment has sort of co-opted and they have become part of the GOP base. And the problem for the GOP, I think, is expanding the number of Republicans, not just keeping the base happy.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned. If you think you are having a bad day, well, just stay tuned.

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