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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Tea Party Politics
Aired March 29, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN: Something's not quite right when Fidel Castro comes out and says he likes Obamacare, but we don't like Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Are Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement revitalizing, revolutionizing the GOP or sowing seeds of hate? Hijacking the Republican Party to further their own goals? Can John McCain's former running mate save his senate seat?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I think this go around when all the votes are tallied, I think he's going to win this one.
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KING: He called on the party's biggest star to rally the troops. McCain and Palin together again. Politics is king next on LARRY KING LIVE.
First, very, very happy Passover to all of our Jewish friends. And a program note, Sinead O'Connor is here tomorrow night. We'll talk about the sex scandal rocking the Catholic Church.
Tonight, we welcome Nancy Pfotenhauer, Republican strategist, senior adviser to the McCain campaign, Stephanie Miller, the talk radio host and star formerly in L.A., now in New York, and John Avlon, senior political correspondent for "The Daily Beast," author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America." John is also a CNN contributor. The Tea Party bus tour is heading to Washington. The LARRY KING LIVE crew was there for the weekend's kickoff rally in Searchlight, Nevada. The star that gathering, Sarah Palin. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like to see Sarah Palin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just need the courage to do what we know is morally right. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seeing her firsthand, it's really exciting. She excites the people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These not a politician like the rest of them. You know, she says it like it is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't ever let anybody tell you to sit down and shut up, Americans. You stand up and you stand tall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish she was my momma.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know what she intends to do. I want to know who we can really count on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama-Pelosi-Reid spending spree is over, you're fired.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad she's getting out and she's spreading the news. What if she would actually run again, I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she would make a great president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether to be a Republican or an independent party, she'll have my vote, for sure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's get it together Tea Party America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: All right. Let's start with Nancy Pfotenhauer. Outstanding panel tonight. Is this a phenomena, a passing fancy or what?
NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think it is a passing fancy. I've never seen this level of engagement in the American people. I mean, this is really phenomenal. We've seen such tremendous intensity and that's translated into turnout, higher turnout numbers than we expected at the polls and races that have occurred -- that occurred last year whether you're looking at Virginia, New Jersey, or of course, Massachusetts. So, there is definitely an engagement. And it's not just on the right side of the Republican Party, if you will. There are independents who are engaged, and frankly, the Democrats have pretty much been hemorrhaging them for quite some time.
The poll just out this morning in Florida, 65 percent of elderly are against the health care proposal, for example. But 62 percent of independents are. So, I think it's a real problem for the Democrats.
KING: John, is Sarah Palin, a serious, major candidate for high office?
JOHN AVLON, SR. POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: I think she's certainly beloved by the far right of the Republican Party. But, she is one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. She is queen of the conservative populous. But, she is political kryptonite to many voters in the center let alone those on the left. So, her ability to be -- to have crossover appeal in the general election would be nil. But nobody should underestimate her appeal at the Republican base. And I think if she did run, she would be a very competitive candidate and cause a lot of fissures in the Republican Party.
KING: Stephanie Miller, as a liberal, do you -- do you fear her candidacy?
STEPHANIE MILLER, HOST, THE STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW: No, I welcome it. And I'm always thrilled when she speaks, Larry, because I enjoy her soothing tone of voice. I use it to sand blast my pool and scare the raccoons out of my yard. But, she -- you know -- I guess I have to disagree with Nancy, because I'm like, here's the last vice- presidential candidate that lost in a landslide. They just lost the health care debate, and this is a political winner somehow.
And then and then she goes off and uses this dangerous violent rhetoric. She puts, you know, cross hairs on Democratic candidates. She tells people to reload in this fight. And then she says, that's crazy that -- what does she call us, Larry? The lame stream media. Let me wipe my eyes. She says that we're getting it all wrong. That's any kind of, you know, dangerous rhetoric.
KING: Nancy, does she go a little too far for your taste?
PFOTENHAUER: You know, I think that she definitely does not speak just to folks who are not politically engaged. She speaks to folks who are politically engaged, and by and large --
KING: I'm asking about you.
PFOTENHAUER: I think she hits a lot of points that I agree with. I don't agree with everything that she says, but I think particularly when she talks about the strength of America, the fact that we shouldn't apologize for being engaged and having an opinion that no one should tell us to sit down and shut up. And, frankly, the primary political down side, the reason why I think that this could be a one- term presidency rather than a two-term presidency, although we're looking way out, is that, you know, one-term presidents from either party are really their hallmark is that they do not listen to the American people.
And I think that they've overwhelmingly showed that they did not want this, for example, this health care legislation. They didn't want the bailouts. They didn't want the stimulus package.
MILLER: Nancy, can I jump in? Who is telling anybody to sit down and shut up? This debate has been going on for a year. The president has invited everybody to the table on health care. Who is telling anyone to sit down and shut up?
PFOTENHAUER: My goodness, we had -- if you want to turn back the clock and look at everything whether it was Pelosi saying that these -- somehow these folks who were showing up at town hall weren't real. They weren't reflective of the American people, I'm sorry, but they are. Look at the poll numbers. The poll numbers show that the American people were not in support of this legislation, and they weren't sort of a bailout.
MILLER: It's about half and half, Nancy. I think there's been a lot of misinformation out there. I think some people won.
KING: Hold on, guys. Hold on. I'm going to take a break and we'll let Mr. Avlon come in.
President Obama's trip to Afghanistan, was it to boost morale or his approval ratings? That's ahead.
KING: That, the day before Sarah Palin fired up the faithful in Searchlight to stumbling for her former running mate John McCain who is now a Tea Party target. Watch.
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PALIN: It was such a privilege to be asked to run alongside him in 2008. It's an honor to stand beside him now and ask that you, Arizona, for the sake of your state and the sake of our country that you send the maverick back to the United States Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: John Avlon, someone said today that she would be more inclined politically to support John McCain's opponent in that primary. What do you make of this?
AVLON: She may have more in common with J.D. Hayworth, but clearly, she owes John McCain big time. And I think between the two of them, they do cover certainly the center right of the Republican Party.
What's extraordinary is that John McCain won reelection last time around with 74 percent of the vote. This is someone who has demonstrated an appeal across the aisle in Arizona and before the election really across the political spectrum.
But he's coming under intense fire from the far right of the party who consider him too centrist. And so he's bringing Sarah Palin essentially, as reinforcements. It shows very interesting dynamic in the Republican right now were folks on the far right are turning on their most recent nominee.
KING: Nancy, you worked for McCain. Are you surprised that he's taken some of the views he's taken in this race?
PFOTENHAUER: Not really, given the way the debate has evolved. I mean, I think that in a different -- in a different context, for example, on issues like immigration reform, clearly, he was someone who was willing to take on very, very difficult issues that were controversial. A lot of the debate this year has been centered on spending and out of control spending. And McCain has had a consistent record of whether it was Republicans who were out of control spenders or Democrats who were out of control spenders coming down pretty hard on them.
KING: He's backed off on immigration. He's back off on McCain- Feingold. Don't you think he's gone far right? You don't think so on this way?
PFOTENHAUER: I think that, again, I would have to sit down and really look at the specific statements, because he was very, very clear when he supported certain things on immigration reform and not others. He supported certain things about campaign finance reform and not others. And so you'd have to really look and see whether people were comparing apples to apples.
But he clearly is someone while he is a small-C conservative has taken some very independent views. And the one consistent thing throughout his entire career has been anti-spending, anti-big spending. And that's what people are reacting to now.
KING: Stephanie, do you think -- are you surprised that the Tea Party is so against him?
MILLER: No. I mean, Larry, I think you raise a good point. The fact that he's against things that his name are on is probably a sign that he has flip-flopped to the right. I mean he did this during the 2008 race, Larry. I mean this guy, you don't know what he stands for anymore. He is against everything he's ever been for. He is running so far to the right. And you're exactly right.
This horrible Supreme Court decision comes down and here's the guy on the McCain-Feingold and he barely says a peep. Like this is fine now to just have, you know, campaign is a wash in corporate money. It's ridiculous. And Sarah Palin, of course -- the only reason -- you know, John is right. The only reason she's for him is the reason we're on Larry King talking about Sarah Palin is because John McCain picked her.
AVLON: Yes, but John McCain --
KING: John, you want to get --
AVLON: Yes, because one of the things that's extraordinary, he has been a principled critic of overspending even when the Republicans were in control of Congress. He was one of the few voices to criticize that pork barrel spending that went on during Tom DeLay's control of Congress. And I don't see that it's created the kind of love or loyalty from folks on the right, who are ostensibly very fiscally conservative that it should.
And it's one of the things that you know -- no question in this Congress, he has been less a figure of bipartisanship than in congresses past, but he has been a consistent principled figure in American politics. And I'd hate to see the base of his own party start to turn on him. KING: Why are they turning on him, Nancy?
PFOTENHAUER: I think it's because -- I'm not even sure I would say they're turning on him. But there is certainly a significant challenge. And this is happening because you've got a lot that's being worked out through the primary process that, you know, that's basically going to be an arm wrestling match for who's going to --
KING: Why? Why should he be in trouble?
PFOTENHAUER: I think that they don't agree with some of the things that he's done in the past and then --
MILLER: Oh, please.
PFOTENHAUER: And so there is this very robust engagement. But it's going to (inaudible) eventually to the benefit of the Republican Party, the same way it did in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, because eventually, once the primary part is worked out, these folks will support the Republican candidate. And that's what we've seen. We've also seen independents who matter crucially in the 2010 elections --
MILLER: Nancy --
PFOTENHAUER: And they have been abandoning the Democratic party.
MILLER: Somebody should tell John McCain that videotape has been invented, because my favorite thing lately, Larry, is he's at the don't ask don't tell hearing and he's on tape saying when the generals on the ground tell me that, you know, that it's okay, then that's what we'll do. And the general is sitting right in front of him telling it's time to return don't ask don't tell and he's against it now, because he's running --
KING: All right. Let me get a break, group. When we'll come back and talk about Obama in Afghanistan. don't go away.
KING: President Obama is just back from a surprise visit to Afghanistan. His first since he was on since becoming commander in chief. He met again with Afghan President Karzai and spoke to U.S. troops about the fight against al Qaeda. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies. That is our mission. To accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear. We're going to deny al Qaeda safe haven. We're going to reverse the Taliban's momentum. We're going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Polls are very close. American about 49 percent now oppose this war. 51 percent favor it. John, what did you make of the trip?
AVLON: I think it was a great move, because it shows the commitment to Afghanistan and the person that he's had in policy. President Obama deserves a great deal of credit in my mind for doubling down in Afghanistan, difficult situation.
But when he campaigned on and he is followed through, he's increased our commitment. He offered a tough message to President Karzai about the corruption and allegations of corruption going on inside his government.
But it's interesting. It's an area -- his foreign policy is an area where he gets among his highest marks among centers and independent voters, because he followed through on his commitment to appint a team of rivals. He kept on Secretary Gates and met a great deal of criticism from the far left of his own party. He's done the right thing. He showed us commitment, and it was a great way to give an extra boost to the troops fighting so hard over there.
KING: Nancy, is this an area where you would agree with him?
PFOTENHAUER: I think it's always a good thing for the president and commander-in-chief to go and support the troops who are particularly were there in harm's way. And so I can't think of a situation where I wouldn't believe it was a good idea for him to do such. So, I think it's a net plus for him.
KING: Do you. Stephanie? What do you think?
MILLER: Larry, I got to say, you know, part of me questions why we're there when there's less than 100 al Qaeda still in Afghanistan.
But I have to say, I was reading a "Time" magazine article that I think is yet another giant mess that he's cleaning up from the Bush administration. We have spent $6 billion, Larry, trying to train Afghani policemen, and it's been a disaster. You know, the president recently found out that we just gave them uniforms. We haven't even trained them. I mean, it has been an enormous debacle. And, you know, he just now is trying to address. So, you know --
KING: Are you saying that's -- doesn't that fall in his per view and not Bush's --
MILLER: No, he's talking about what he has inherited. He's now learning what the process has been there and how badly it's been. I think it's criminally mismanaged in Afghanistan by the Bush administration. I just think it's another huge mess that he's cleaning up. So, I do want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
KING: Nancy, you want to comment?
PFOTENHAUER: An overarching comment. And that is, you know, I think the American people are tired of hearing that problems that we're facing are based on someone else's behavior. I mean, at this point, he owns the economy. He owns the foreign policy decisions. I agree with some of his decisions.
MILLER: He doesn't own Afghanistan.
PFOTENHAUER: And I disagree with others.
KING: Let her finish.
PFOTENHAUER: But the American people at this point deserve to have a president who is -- who is saying I'm in control. I'm responsible for what goes on from here.
MILLER: He is, Nancy. I'm just saying if you read the "Time" magazine article --
PFOTENHAUER: I did.
MILLER: He's been really bundled by the Bush administration. I mean, it's a lot of money we spent and have really bungled the job of that and the president is very --
AVLON: We are past blaming the Bush administration.
AVLON: We're 15 months into a new administration. What the president deserves is credit for going over there, reinforcing the troops and reminding the American people that we are still at war against terrorism. And we are on the ground in Afghanistan fighting a fight against al Qaeda. This is an ongoing struggle. We are a long way from being over and that kind of commitment is important for the commander-in-chief to show.
KING: Nancy and Stephanie, thanks. John will come back with us later when David Frum will join us. We're just getting warmed up. More on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement next.
KING: External beauty fades. It's food for thought for all of us. It's the subject of an article on our blog. Go to CNN.com/larryking and read it. You will find it interesting.
Joining us to talk Tea Party is Dana Loesch, co-founder of St. Louis Tea Party, talk radio show of "The Dana Show." She blogs at danaradio.com and Wayne Allyn Root, 2008 libertarian, vice presidential nominee, the author of "The Conscious of a Libertarian" empowering the citizen revolution with god, guns, gambling, and tax cuts, and he spoke at the kickoff of that Tea Party Express on Saturday.
As we mentioned, we sent our "King Cam" to the Tea Party Express kickoff in Nevada this weekend. Here are some of the sights and sounds.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never seen -- or been a part of anything like this. I've seen Republicans, Democrats, Liberals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People see all these people coming together and coming from all different places in United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm really worried about the current government and as a lot of people are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't care what the people say, no matter what the polls say and no matter how much the people are against it, they just go ahead and do what they want to do. Ram (ph) them through.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of us think this bill went too far. Socialize medicine isn't the answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is ridiculous. And you are going to tax me to death. What about my social security? What about these other people's social security? what are they going to do? Tore us on the grave?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't vote for Obama. I wouldn't have voted for Obama if he was the last person or the only one running.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's a terrorist, myself, and I really believe that. Because why would he do the kind of things that he's doing if he didn't really want the country to fall?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's traded on us already and he's going to pay for it. Yes, everybody going to be kicked out. Everything's been against all the people of middle America for so long. We're going to make a change.
KING: Dana, what's the aim of the Tea Party?
DANA LOESCH, CO-FOUNDER, ST. LOUIS TEA PARTY: Hi, Larry. Thanks for having me on.
The aim of the Tea Party is just to get our government back to its original intent when created by the Founding Fathers. We're supposed to have limited government individual liberty.
It's not a Republican or Democrat or any kind of shill or shadow party. It's just a grassroots movement by people who are tired of seeing their government take excessive taxes, take their money, throw it away.
That's what the Tea Party is about.
KING: But, Wayne, as last time I checked, Obama won the election. He ran on campaign platform, and he won on it. That goes back to the Founding Fathers.
WAYNE ALLYN ROOT, LIBERTARIAN: You know, when I wrote my book, it was right after Obama had won the election and that title, you know, "Empowering The Citizen Revolution With God, Guns, Gambling and Tax Cuts," my book was about what I predicted -- a citizen revolution from Obama's victory. I felt there'd be a coalition of conservatives, of disgruntled Republicans, of libertarians like me of blue dog Democrats, of taxpayers, small business people, of Christians, and most importantly of taxpayers and home schooled parents.
I think these are the groups that I found at the Tea Party rally. I speak at rallies all over the country. And those groups are angry. We want to take back our country, Larry. We believe there is an entitlement class.
KING: I know.
ROOT: And there's a taxpayer class, and we're standing up for the people that pay the taxes and the people that create the jobs. You can't keep raping us to give it to the entitlement class and think that the country will go on. It just can't go on, Larry.
KING: Dana, are you a little concerned about tea partiers who use the word terrorism when talking about the president?
LOESCH: I think perhaps that went -- that's maybe an adjective that is a little bit egregious. But there are things that they --
KING: A little bit?
LOESCH: I mean they do -- I mean they do have some valid concerns, though. I mean, we just saw this health care legislation go through. And I've mentioned it before. it's -- it completely disregarded the original intent of the commerce clause and the welfare clause and the constitution. I mean for the first time ever in American history just to exist in this country you have to purchase the product now. You have to purchase the insurance. And they can try to make it --
KING: No. Wait a minute. We have -- we had to pay social security. That was a socialist concept. Republicans voted against it.
LOESCH: I agree.
KING: Would anyone turn away social security now? Would you do away with it?
LOESCH: I would, yes.
KING: You would?
LOESCH: Yes, absolutely.
KING: Would do you away with it, Wayne?
ROOT: I'd certainly like to. At best, I do away with it because I could find better ways to spend and save my own $15,000 a year.
KING: If you would put it up for a vote in America, what do you think the vote would be on social security in America? Referenda.
ROOT: I think if you put it up for a vote, I think, a majority of people today would want to keep it. But they certainly would want to privatize a small portion of it.
I personally think I could do better with my own $15,000 a year any day of the week and I'd like it to be mine. It's mine. So, I'd like to leave it to my kids and grandkids the way it stands now --
KING: That wasn't the purpose. When it began, the purpose was you are your brother's keeper, right?
ROOT: But, Larry, you got to realize that money is not there. Do you realize they said it was going to be in a lock box. But there is nothing there in the lock box but a bunch of IOUs from a bankrupt government. So that money is being like --
LOESCH: And it was established as a temporary program.
KING: Maybe tea partiers will turn it back.
ROOT: Interestingly enough, if you want to save social security, Larry, if you want to save it, the best way to save it is to make sure America doesn't go bankrupt. Universal health care is the best way to make sure that social security will not be there years from now.
KING: We'll be right back with more in the Tea Party. Don't go away.
KING: By the way, we fully realize this Tea Party story is a big one and we're going to follow it a lot on LARRY KING LIVE. Dana, the Tea Partiers say they're taking back the country. Taking it back how?
LOESCH: Taking it away from big government that is abusing its constitutional authority. And that's one of the things --
KING: How do you do it?
LOESCH: We need to get involved more locally. And I think that's one of the things that we haven't seen from conservatives. We haven't seen from independents. We haven't seen them getting involved locally as needed in the past four years. I think a lot of people were kind of asleep. Then they started waking up before this election. And that's where it needs to start.
All politics is local. People have to start locally. They have to get involved, whether it be in their precincts as committee men, whether it is in school boards, what have you. People have to go out there and get involved. They can't warm their hands by somebody else's fire. They actually have to practice what they preach and enact it in their own communities. KING: Do you -- is it a problem, Wayne, when -- is it a problem when you question the patriotism of leaders who happen to have different political opinions than you?
ROOT: Well, I don't question patriotism. I actually question the legality of violating the Constitution. I question -- as an example, today was a great story in the newspaper that the 11 congressmen who claimed they were holding out against universal health care over abortion rights, Bart Stupak and his group, now suddenly got 3.4 billion dollars in earmarks suddenly after voting for universal health care.
Is this a game? Are we trading favors for billions of dollars? It's obvious to me that things go on every day, Larry, in the United States Congress that appear to me to be fraud. You're playing with the taxpayers' money. It's not their money to be giving away.
And the other thing I saw in the paper today is another reason why I think Tea Party is so popular, is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we're on the hook for as much as 300 billion dollars in more losses, in addition to the 120 billion they already lost. And I don't think capitalism means that government should give away the taxpayers' money to corporations. I think it's fraudulent to do that.
KING: Dana, are you concerned Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida said today that the Tea Party is principles based on anger and hatred.
LOESCH: I find it ironic coming from a man who made a television career for himself going on talk shows and going after women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and anyone else that doesn't fit in his stereotype of what a conservative woman should be.
KING: Philadelphia, hello? Philadelphia -- not anger?
CALLER: Yeah. It's not anger.
KING: Philadelphia, you're on.
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: I can't believe what I'm seeing right now. OK?
CALLER: I think it's next to a conspiracy to overthrow the United States government. OK? That's what these people are trying to do. The election was made. Obama is our president.
KING: Do you have a question?
CALLER: Yes, why are they doing this? Who put them up to it? It's crazy. OK? I'm 87 years old. I served my country, OK? And when I watch this, I can't believe it. OK? KING: All right. Wayne, how do you respond to that?
ROOT: I respond that Greece -- the country of Greece is the canary in the coal mine. It's pretty obvious to me that it's coming to America very soon. We've got an economic Armageddon on the way, Larry.
And I'm trying to save my kids. I got four kids, all home schooled, ranging in age from two years old to 17 years old. And my daughter just got accepted at Stanford a couple days ago. That's the future of America.
And the kind of debt Barack Obama is putting on her generation will kill the quality of life. You cannot give away the taxpayers' money the way that Obama's been doing it or that George Bush did it, and expect our economy to survive.
KING: But we are a government of representation, right? We elect representatives and they serve us in Congress. We can elect them. We can vote them out if we want. But we're not a pure democracy. We have representation who represent us.
KING: Would you agree with that, Dana?
KING: We are a republic.
LOESCH: We're all equal before the law.
ROOT: And no one is looking to overthrow the republic. We're just looking to throw the bums out.
LOESCH: Yes, we're just looking to uphold the Constitution. If you want to talk about, like the gentleman who called in, someone trying to overthrow the government, we're trying to uphold the Constitution against people who would try to abuse it via the examples that I gave earlier.
KING: The Constitution is interpreted by people. That's what we have a Supreme Court for, to interpret the Constitution. We do it all the time.
LOESCH: Yes. But it's not an -- it's not a living document. I mean the things that are --
KING: It's not?
LOESCH: The things in the Constitution don't ever go out of style. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion --
KING: Then how come it is amended?
LOESCH: It can be amended through process. But like with the Commerce Clause, it's been so butchered by people over the years, even back during the New Deal Era. That language has been so unbelievably butchered. The government is not supposed to oppressively regulate everything between states, as it's interpreted rights now with this legislation.
KING: OK. We just skimmed the surface. We'll have you both back. We're running out of time. You'll be back, Wayne. I guarantee you. Dana and Wayne, thank you. A conservative journalist whose comments and criticism of Republicans cost him a job, he's next.
KING: We're back. David Frum served as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He was terminated as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, last week. His books include "Come Back: Conservatism That Can Win Again." He's the editor of FrumForum.com and a CNN contributor. John Avlon is back us with. He, too, is a CNN contributor. And Scott McClellan -- good to see Scott again -- he served as White House press secretary for President George W. Bush and he's the author of "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." He endorsed Barack Obama for president.
We'll start with David. First, you called passage of the health care reform GOP waterloo. Then you told ABC that while Republicans originally thought Fox News worked for them, they're now discovered they're working for Fox. Are you a heretic?
DAVID FRUM, FMR. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: No.
KING: Where are you coming from, David?
FRUM: Look, we're facing now the threat of the largest expansion of government since the New Deal. And if you're a conservative and a Republican, you want to restrain. But at exactly this moment, we have to use our heads. We have to keep our wits about us. And there is a mood of emotionalism, of reliance on pretend information that is absolutely detrimental to effective politics.
And what we're hearing right now from a lot of people are our fantasies, delusions, things that can't work. And that means -- that opens the way to an easy run for Democratic and liberal success to expand government. We saw the catastrophic result of that with passage of this health care bill. I think that is not an effective way to proceed. I'm a competitor. I want to win.
KING: You think your fellow Republicans are taking the wrong task?
FRUM: On this health care bill, they took a terribly wrong path. They made a gamble that they could break the president. So there would be no dealing. There were opportunities to deal in the Senate Finance Committee. There were a lot of people who didn't want to deal. Senator Baucus did and I think -- I have reason to believe the president did. We didn't want to deal with them because we wanted to break him. We lost. He won. And the result is we have a bill that is neither shaped by Republicans, doesn't reflect Republican and conservative values, and also is a tremendous political success for the president. There has to be an accountability moment after a failure of that scale.
KING: You are surprised that the American Enterprise Institute dropped you?
FRUM: I was surprised at the time. But, look, think-tanks have no obligation to employ everybody. I have no complaints.
KING: Here's what they said. We asked them for a comment. Their president, Arthur Brooks, issued this statement for us: "while AEI makes it a practice not to discuss personnel matters, I can say that David Frum is an original thinker and a friend of many at AEI. We're pleased to have welcomed him as a colleague for seven years. And his decision to leave in no way diminishes our respect for him." You quit?
FRUM: Well, I quit after I was offered the option to continue to work at no salary. So I did quit. But, look, I feel about Arthur Brooks and AEI in the same way. I have great respect for them. They have no obligation to employ anybody. I have no complaints.
I have great anxieties about the direction in which the larger Republican Party is going. I don't think we are behaving in very successful, practical thinking ways these days. And we need to be more effective.
KING: We'll take a break and come back and discuss those thoughts with John Avlon, Scott McClellan and David Frum.
KING: OK. Scott McClellan is David Frum right, in a sense that the Republicans, in this attack on Obama, have hurt themselves?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think he has some valid points to make.
Certainly, when it comes to health care, the Republican strategy was to try to defeat President Obama from getting anything passed, and therefore make him look as weak and ineffective as a leader. That didn't happen. Obama got it passed.
You're going to see the administration go out and try to educate the American people about exactly what's in it, do the outreach like we did when we passed the Medication Prescription Drug Benefit, President Bush did in 2003. The difference is that many of these provisions don't set in for quite some time. And there are also some unpopular provisions in there as well.
With that said, I think that several months from now, as we get closer to the midterm elections this fall, the focus is going to be much more on the economy and where the state of the economy is, rather than health care per se.
KING: John? What are your thoughts on Mr. Frum?
AVLON: My thoughts on Mr. Frum are positive. About David, you know, he is a courageous thinker at a time when the polarization of our politics has forced a lot of people into conformity and defensive postures.
The problem is that when David puts forward ideas that are constructive and independent, and they break with the party line, you got this whole hunt for heretics that is occurring. And the larger problem is, for the Republican Party and for national politics, is that elections work best in America and parties are more successful when they appeal to centrist, when they appeal to independent voters, who are now 42 percent of the electorate, according to recent polls.
And when you focus on hunting and chasing out centrists of your party, people who are committed thinkers on the center right, that only narrows your base. That kind of play to the base thinking ends up distorting our politics. And it leads -- it's part of this whole cycle of demonizing disagreement that we've seen, that I think really distorts and degrades our whole politics.
KING: David Frum, are the Tea Partiers a threat to the conservative movement?
FRUM: When you bring on two people on to an important show like this, and they represent themselves as leading a conservative and libertarian uprising against the president, and you say what you would really like to do, and they say, we would like to abolish Social Security, if given half a chance, is that helpful to the Republican Party? There probably aren't even two percent of the members of the Republican Party who think that way. But that -- those are the people on television. That's not helpful.
John and I worked together on the Rudy Giuliani campaign, which I think we both felt that represented the center of gravity of American politics, strong on national defense, fiscally conservative, socially modern. There are things that could be done now with -- even now with the passage of this health care bill to make it better.
It contains all kinds of destructive new taxes. Republicans can focus on those. It over-regulates within the exchanges and stifles competition. It dumps a lot of Medicaid responsibilities on states that are fiscally strapped. If you talk practically about actual concerns, you can orient the Republican Party also to be a party that's committed to caring not about the politics of health, but health care itself.
KING: Scott, what do you make of the Tea Partiers?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I agree with what David was just saying, in terms of coming on here and talking about abolishing Social Security. And then you also had the comments from the one Tea Party activist that was at the rally over the weekend in Searchlight, referring to President Obama as a terrorist. I mean, that's just outrageous. You know, I think that there are probably many decent people in the Tea Party movement that have some legitimate concerns about their economic security, and they're looking for a villain. And the villain is the government. The villain is the Democrats, who are in control in Washington, as well as incumbent Republicans that they're not too happy with either.
But this is a divisive protest movement that plays too much to people's fears and hatred. And it's got limited appeal. I think that after the 2010 elections, you're going to see this party or the Tea Party movement dissipate to a great degree.
It's not going to be even as strong as it is now, and I would say that the strength of it right now is pretty marginal. It has limited influence. It really hasn't shown itself to be a strong, powerful force, even within the Republican Party.
However, it is pushing Republicans too far to the right. And as John talked about earlier, this is what -- politics is about inclusion, not exclusion. It's about reaching out to the center and bringing that vital center into your governing philosophy.
KING: So, John, where's the Tea Party going? Do you agree with Scott? It's going to go away?
AVLON: Well, extremists are always, ultimately, their own side's worst enemy. But I think it's important to understand the Tea Party movement in its totality. The irony is, in the core message of fiscal conservatism -- and I take them at their word, this began as a fiscal conservative protest -- there are bridges that can be built with independent voters, with many members of the Republican Party, in terms of core philosophy.
The problem comes when we need to confront the fact that there's a lot of Obama derangement syndrome that's been baked in this cake. That's ultimately alienating to the vast majority of Americans in the middle. That's a courting of extremism that's ultimately their own side's worst enemy.
KING: Do you agree, David?
FRUM: Look, Americans have gone through over the past year and a half an economic ordeal worse than anything since the war. So, obviously, that has got people under a lot of pressure and they're looking for answers.
And as John and Scott said, that, I think, is what is true of almost the overwhelming majority of people who attend these things. There are people who are in distress. They are looking for answers. They want government to work better for them. And that is the kind of alternative leadership that politics is about.
And Republicans can provide that if they stick to practical themes that are directly related to people's economic grievances. There is just -- what has happened -- I mean the jobless situation is just horrific. The impact on incomes -- the impact on people's assets. Stock markets have recovered, but if you sold your portfolio when the market crashed, it doesn't do you any good that the stock market has recovered.
KING: We'll be back with more after with David Frum, John Avlon, Scott McClellan right after this.
KING: Let's take a call. St. Augustine, Florida, hello.
CALLER: Hey, Larry, how you doing?
CALLER: Thanks for taking my call.
CALLER: I was just curious, where were all these tax concerned, hate-filled, hypocritical Tea people when Bush was putting this country in huge debt with wars and his bank bailouts?
MCCLELLAN: Well, you know, there are some questions there. When we went to war, and at the same time we were cutting taxes -- you know, I happen to think that the tax cuts were good at the time, before we -- before 9/11 hit and before we went into Iraq. But there are some legitimate complaints to be had there, in terms of we weren't committing to sacrifice for those wars that we were entering and committing the American people to sacrifice for it as well. And I think that's a legitimate question to raise.
KING: Detroit, hello.
CALLER: Hi. As a disillusioned Reaganite in Detroit, I have to say, I congratulate David Frum on his courage in speaking up for the centrist Republicans. I would ask to have, with your perspective, what would you think Ronald Reagan would feel and think about the Republican Party today?
FRUM: Well, I thank the caller for his kind words. Reagan had both a message and a method. His message was one of opportunity and liberty and freedom. And that remains eternally relevant. But the thing probably he has most to teach us right now is his method of inclusion. He had the 1980 convention in Detroit, the city the caller is calling from, to send a message that the Republican Party was for everybody, yes, including Detroit too.
And the kind of sunny optimism and basic confidence in the country as it is. You sometimes hear from some voices in the conservative world that they don't like America the way it is now. They liked the way they imagined it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. But America now, they're not so sure about. Ronald Reagan liked America the way it is. And that, I think, is an important message for any conservative party.
KING: What do you think, John?
AVLON: I agree with David. I think politics in America works best when you practice the politics of addition, not division. And when parties become obsessed with dividing in order to conquer, when they become totally focused on playing to the base rather than reaching out, you lose something. You know, Reagan remembered that the essence of evangelism is reaching out and winning converts. That is an idea which has come under attack. The very idea of the big tent has come under serious attack. That's a problem.
That should be a wake-up call for Republicans, because Reagan won 49 states by reaching out and winning Democrats and independent voters, as well as conservative Republicans.
KING: What do you think, Scott, he'd have thought of the Tea Partiers?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't know. I don't want to try to speak for him. But I think the two others, John and David, hit on something that's very important. To be a successful political leader, to be a successful party, you have to outline a positive vision for governing that is based on inclusion, that is based on reaching out to the center, and not taking, necessarily, an uncompromising hard-line position that is based on exclusion or subtraction, as John was touching on.
KING: David, we only have about 30 seconds. What do you make of the Palin phenomenon?
FRUM: Well, she's just a tremendous gift for the Democrats. You cannot imagine a candidate who's going to do more to galvanize the other side. I hope that the Republican Party in 2012 understands the importance of confidence, expertise, and excellence in its presidential nomination. This is a job of enormous responsibility. Nothing but the most able person will do.
KING: Thank you all very much.
FRUM: Thank you.
KING: Always great talking with all of you. David Frum, John Avlon, Scott McClellan. By the way, a reminder, Sinead O'Connor will be with us tomorrow night. We're going to have a major discussion on the problems going on inside the Catholic church right now. And right now, it's time for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?