Teeing Off on the Tea Party: Democrats Try Tapping Into Their Motivation Problem

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 23, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: You know, the Tea Party must have lots of power! If they didn't, you know, no one would even bother with them. And some big- time Democrats -- well, they just can't stop talking about the Tea Party! First Vice President Biden waxed the Tea Party, saying they acted like terrorists over the debt ceiling debate. Then Senator John Kerry and others using the same term, "extremists," to describe the Tea Party in every interview, sounding like a broken record. Next Representative Maxine Waters comes out swinging, blasting the Tea Party, telling them to "go straight to hell."

Well, now another member of the House of Representatives is fired up. Representative Frederica Wilson is unleashing her Tea Party fury.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON, D-FLA.: Let's all remember who the real enemy is. And the real enemy is the Tea Party!


WILSON: There is no compromising with them. They have one goal in mind, and that's to make President Obama a one-term president.



VAN SUSTEREN: So what's up? Rick Klein, senior Washington editor for "ABC World News," joins us. Rick, is it fear of them or have they done polling and determined that these words and these attacks is good political rhetoric?

RICK KLEIN, "ABC WORLD NEWS": Well, I -- rarely do these kind of -- this kind of rhetoric mean anything in terms of the good side for a politician. I want to make a list of the things that you shouldn't call the other side, and "enemy" is high on it.

VAN SUSTEREN: "Treason" is another one.

KLEIN: Treason, Nazi references, those are all bad. You shouldn't do it at all. But I do think the serious side to this is that Democrats have a motivation problem. They have an issue going into 2012 they know about. A lot of them were just sort of caught napping in 2010. They didn't realize the power of the Tea Party until it was too late. When they finally got ready to go, they got beat in the elections pretty badly. So there's a big segment of the Democratic base that needs to get energized and a lot of members of Congress, among others, that want to get that energy out there, and they're using, obviously, various techniques to make that happen.

VAN SUSTEREN: What I don't get, though, is some of them have been in Congress in the year -- in the 2000s, when all these things happened, like when they didn't have oversight over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and they let the S&P give AAA ratings to those toxic credit swaps. I mean, they were all sleep at the wheel when they were supposed to be supervising the SEC and supervising. And I will say, though, Congresswoman Wilson just got in in 2010...

KLEIN: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... so she can't be blamed for this. But they have a lot of gall when the Tea Party is just saying, Wake up!

KLEIN: Yes, look, and the Tea Party clearly tapped into something. Mostly, it was Republicans out there, but a lot of them independents, as well, a lot of conservatives who woke up and decided to do something about it. And that's the same kind of power that the other side would like to energize this time around. But you're exactly right, it's easy to just say, look, all these things that should be happening -- they were in power for a good amount of time, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it seems that the Democratic Party, at least right now, because they keep using the same code words so it almost sounds silly to turn on the TV and they're always...

KLEIN: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the same words -- the Republicans, on the other hand, are having a hard time because they're trying to embrace them a little bit and trying to make sure they don't get mad at them.

KLEIN: Right. This has never been an easy marriage for Republicans. The Tea Party -- they'd love to have them in the tent. They really can't survive as a party next year if they decide to go elsewhere. They need to be Republicans.

From the other side, though, Democrats would love to make this election about Barack Obama, Democrats, versus the Tea Party. If that's what the election is, then the polling has been pretty clear that's going to be a very tough road for Republicans. If independents associate all Republicans as Tea Partiers, they're not going to want to go on that route.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, if you actually go out and talk to these people, they're not -- I mean -- I mean, you may not agree with them, but the way they're demonized as though they're these horrible, bad, scary people -- I mean, it's so different. I mean, a lot of them are just, like, you know, regular American people who just happen, you know, for -- to have some passion about politics right now.

KLEIN: Right. And that was the genesis of the movement, such as it is, this taxed enough already. This is an idea that could cross party lines. It has become associated over time with different factions, different elements. There certainly are extremist elements inside the Tea Party, just like there are on the left, as well. But you're right, they -- that's not -- that's not something that can broadly define -- to cast them all as, quote, "the enemy" is not something that's generally productive for our discourse.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, if you -- you know, trade unions that are bigger, and no one's demonizing them. I mean (INAUDIBLE) I mean, like, Teamsters probably is a bigger group, or on the Republican side, you might have another big group. This is just -- this is almost like a union, but you know, we're not an economic one.

KLEIN: That's right. And look, Democrats would love to find something similar to get them going. It's not going to be unions that deliver on the election by themselves in 2012. They'd love to get something that can be a rough equivalent that gets people energized and motivated and excited about an election. A lot of times, a presidential cycle does that for you. It's harder to do in a midterm election. But they know that the Tea Party is going to be out there and maybe a movement that's just gaining steam, and if it's as strong as it was in 2010, it's going to be very tough in 2012.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who do you think is the -- the one that could really energize the Tea Party the most, what candidate or non-candidate, maybe candidate?

KLEIN: You mean...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, who could...

KLEIN: The Republican that would get them going?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, which Republican really would get the Tea Party going?

KLEIN: I think -- I think Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry among the current candidates are the folks that are most likely to tap into that and get them excited and energized. I think the Tea Party is largely going to be behind the Republican candidate, whoever it is. But the one who's been associated with them most closely has been Michele Bachmann, and I think Rick Perry and some of the things that he's done in Texas and the rhetoric that he has voiced I think makes him a better match than some of the others out there.

VAN SUSTEREN: And if Governor Palin should jump in -- nobody knows one way or the other -- what does that do?

KLEIN: I think -- I think she makes a play for that certainly. You know, a big question in my mind is whether the moment that she would have had maximum impact may have passed because others have come into the race and done a lot here. But there still is time. There's plenty of time get something done. And as we know, she's a force.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are they going to give money? I mean, you got -- money's important. Is the Tea Party opening wallets and sending in a dollar here, a dollar there?

KLEIN: Yes, it has done. And Michele Bachmann's a classic example of that. The record sums that she raised as a House candidate was in large part because she had this Tea Party support and she could turn it on at a moment's notice. That I think is out there. That's definitely -- they can be a force financially.

VAN SUSTEREN: Rick, thank you. And we look (ph) it'll be interesting to see what else is said about the Tea Party movement as the time marches on.


VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you.

KLEIN: And what hats they're wearing when they say it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, what hats, indeed.