Democratic Party in crisis after grim election performance

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," November 30, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: I have a special spring in my step today because this opportunity is a special one to lead the House Democrats, bring everyone together as we go forward.

REP. TIM RYAN, D-OHIO: Leader Pelosi has been here a long time. She has a lot of friends. This is her caucus, clearly. I'm proud of having 63 votes.

REP. MARCIA FUDGE, D-OHIO: He didn't lose today. Today we made a caucus more responsible to its members.

REP. KURT SCHRADER, D-ORE.: Despite all the best efforts of this particular leadership, they don't understand what it's like to run in working America.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL, D-MICH.: We are in for the battle our lifetime these next two years. And we need somebody who has heard the discontent but knows how to bring us all together.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Some Democrats responding to the vote today in the House. And it came down like this, Nancy Pelosi, 134 votes to continue being House minority leader, and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, 63 votes. That's actually the most votes an opposition figure has had to Pelosi ever. He beat Heath Shuler by 20 in 2010.

You heard a little sense of how old, perhaps, the leadership of the Democratic Party is as you take a look at some of the leaders in the house. Nancy Pelosi, 76, Steny Hoyer 77, Tim Clyburn 76. They did elect some newer members today. Leadership positions for Representative Sanchez and Representative Crowley from New York. But the real leaders, perhaps, of the Democratic Party, according to many, are two senators, Senator Bernie Sanders, 75, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, 67.

What is the state of the Democratic Party right now? Let's bring in our panel: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review; editor in chief of Lifezette, Laura Ingraham; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Jason Riley, columnist with the Wall Street Journal. Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: I was told there was going to be no math.

BAIER: Six, seven, carry the nine.


GOLDBERG: I added up the ages of those three guys and Nancy Pelosi, and it's as old as the United States of America. It goes back to the -- more or less to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


GOLDBERG: And that is the kind of fresh, new blood, clear, crisp, 21st century thinking the Democratic Party desperately needs at this time. Look, that's a full third of the caucus. They have a real problem in the sense -- particularly Nancy Pelosi who literally represents the San Francisco Democrats. She is a cultural, coastal, elite figure who plays well with the donor class of the Democratic Party. And the idea the Democratic Party is going to be able to get new messaging through those three sounds unlikely to me.

BAIER: Jason, you have, as Jonah mentions, the head of the House Democrats, a San Francisco liberal, the head of the Senate Democrats, a New York liberal. And you have a guy from Youngstown, Ohio, who won the district that voted for Donald Trump who essentially was setting up -- sending up the red flare.

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Not just any district in Ohio. This was a deep blue district that Obama won twice by double digits. And Trump flipped it. This guy knows what he is talking about. Even with the popular vote, Hillary Clinton is still only going to win about 48 percent of the vote in this country. The Democrats are in trouble.

The last -- it's been 50 years since a Democrat won more than 51 percent of the popular vote. Obama has done it twice. He is the only one. Either they need to find another Obama or they need to start reaching out to these working class white voters that Tim Ryan says they need.

BAIER: Laura, you said it time and again that Republicans didn't get it for a long time, the Trump revolution, if you will. Democrats clearly are not getting it if that's the leadership structure.

LAURA INGRAHAM, LIFEZETTE.COM: I think you are absolutely right. When you think of the two figures that I think that drove working class people to the polls for Trump, one was Nancy Pelosi, one was Hillary Clinton. They kind of represent the same worldview, very elite, as you said. They can raise a lot of money. I think we have to all remember that. Nancy Pelosi is a prodigious fundraiser. Money still talks with the Democrat party.

We had the same issue in 2006. We all remember the Republicans lost in the mid-terms in 2006. Iraq war was very unpopular. The economy was beginning to show signs of real problems. Yet the Republicans reelected John Boehner to leadership in the House of Representatives. There were a lot of us at the time, said, something is not going right here. This is a real problem. And there was anxiousness in the base of the Republican party for change in leadership.

I would also say that even in this recent vote in the house and Senate for the Republicans, the Republicans have done well. But there was still this antsiness among some in the base for change away from Ryan, even away from McConnell. But in the end, if you there and you have been wielding power, you have a lot of influence. And you can still threaten a lot of people. There are few people who want to -- you want to kill the king, you better kill the king.

BAIER: From Democrats perspective, Mara, the ones who supported Nancy Pelosi, they say she is a brilliant tactician. She is someone who can whip votes. She is someone who manages the House very well. However, when it comes to elections, listen to all of these data points.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: There are two different functions. One is to be the leader of your caucus in the House or the Senate. Mitch McConnell is not necessarily the most charismatic person. He is not out there being the face of the Republican Party, but he is a darn good leader. And Nancy Pelosi is considered to be a really good leader. The problem for the Democrats --

BAIER: Let me interrupt. As far as pulling the levers that each chamber - -

LIASSON: Yes, yes, to actually function, get votes, keep your members unified on your side. But then there's the other task, and this is the real hard part for the Democrats who relied on the White House for the last eight years even though they didn't have majorities in Congress, is they don't have a pipeline. Because they lost so badly in 2010 and 2014 and they now, as we all know, have fewer elected offices nationwide than any time since the 1920s, they don't have a new generation of leadership. They have to develop that fast.

BAIER: Is it there?

RILEY: Not with Nancy Pelosi. This is a woman who has led Democrats to four straight defeats when it comes to elections that control the House. That is why Republicans are thrilled with this choice.

GOLDBERG: It's a huge cultural problem. The white working class, the guys who put Trump over the top in this election, they have been the bedrock of the Democratic Party's coalition since FDR. Republicans have won college educated whites for all time. Goldwater won college educated whites. And the response from the cultural elites in the Democratic Party and from the media, the Jon Stewart types, "The Daily Show" types, is that these voter suddenly who have sustained the Democratic party for generations are now all racists because they didn't vote for Democrats. And that is not a winning message to win them back.

LIASSON: That's not actually true. Obama didn't win those white working class districts. He just lost them by 43 percent instead of Hillary's 37 percent.

BAIER: He won Tim Ryan's district.

LIASSON: Yes. But the point is the white working class has been trending Republican for a while. But Barack Obama kept his head above water with them.

INGRAHAM: I think we also remember that the Democrats have been running this identity politics political correctness game for a long time. You just get the sense that people are getting real tired of it. If you are for immigration enforcement, you are anti-immigrant. If you think Black Lives Matter goes a little overboard, you are racist. Everyone is tired of it. And they play that morning, noon, and night. And yet we have to growth. We had no great job creation. Their policies failed the regular working people identity politics aside.

BAIER: There was a poll in western Pennsylvania that said people thought that Hillary Clinton was about transgender bathrooms and they were concerned about --

INGRAHAM: Cultural issues don't matter.

BAIER: You mentioned president Obama. "Rolling Stone's" interview, he says this -- "There is a cohort of working class white voters that voted for me in sizeable numbers but that we've had trouble getting to vote for Democrats in midterm elections. In this election they turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country. And part of it is also that Democrats are not working at the grassroots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments. That part of the critique of the Democratic Party is accurate."

Jason, I mean, we have heard that it's the messaging. You weren't there in Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton. But Fox News is a common thread for this president for seven and a half years.

RILEY: Exactly. This goes back to Anita Dunn. This goes back to David Axelrod. FOX is no legitimate news organization. But the second part of that sounds like Obama hasn't been president for the past eight years. How can a man go and complain about middle America clinging to their guns and their bibles and then say, but my party hasn't done a good job of reaching out to these rural voters? Maybe they have been taking their cues from him for the past eight years.

BAIER: We have seen this evolution, Mara, of him explaining this election. This is the latest.

LIASSON: Everything he said except for the part about Fox News is pretty correct. He was pretty critical of his own party. And then he threw that whiny aside in there.

BAIER: But he always says it's the messaging not the policy. Some part of is the policy.

LIASSON: Barack Obama won twice, and he won in a lot these districts, as Jason just said. But we have had three elections in the Obama era without Obama on the top of the ballot -- on the ballot at all where they can't turn out the numbers.

BAIER: I know. But two-thirds of the state legislatures are Republican, 34 governors are Republicans.

LIASSON: A deep, deep hole.

BAIER: The Senate and the House is Republican.

INGRAHAM: Almost seven in 10 people routinely say the country is going in the wrong direction. Wages have basically been flat since 1999. And yet this president for all of his kind of "no drama Obama" comes out in a very infantile manner blames cable news, and I'm surprised he didn't mention talk radio, my field, because that's what he usually does, without any sense of personal responsibility. They say Trump can be immature at times. What was that? He goes over to Europe and he says, I'm actually very popular. Look at the polls. My policies are actually very popular. You just got shellacked. Your party just got shellacked. At least do what Bill Clinton did and say, that was a -- we really took it.

BAIER: We are number one.


BAIER: He thinks we control the universe.

GOLDBERG: I don't mean to be pedantic about this, but just as a matter of fact, it's not true that every bar and restaurant in the country is running Fox News.

BAIER: How about every airport? Speaking of that -- airports, listen up. Fox News, that's where you need to go.

GOLDBERG: What was the last bar or restaurant that Barack Obama went to that had Fox News blaring? I really want to know.

But it's classic Obama where it's of course the only reason I'm not fully succeeding is because there are people being deluded and being fooled. They don't believe their lying eyes. They are being sort of ensorcelled by Fox News. And this has been his shtick for a long time. And it's not true that his politics are all that popular. Obamacare, which is his signature policy, has never been popular.

BAIER: So those two elements today, Mara, suggest -- that Nancy Pelosi re- election and Barack Obama saying Fox News and the messaging is wrong, don't suggest the Democrats are going to be restructuring.

LIASSON: Not any time soon. But this is going to a long process. They're in the political wilderness. They're going to have to find their way back. They're going to have to get a message that speaks to their base and to the white working class at the same time, a real message on the economy about growth and fairness, not just about fairness. And they need to do that and they need to replenish their farm team. That's going to take a long time. But that's their task. And I think many Democrats understand that. It's just that right now we can't see the path.

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