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What Message Does Cantor Ouster Send?; Can GOP Keep Expanding?

Aired June 11, 2014 - 18:28   ET


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Wolf, it's an historic day. The Republican Party in the middle of taking yet another giant step out of the American mainstream.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is one district in one state. The debate starts right now.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the takedown of Eric Cantor.

DAVID BRAT, REPRESENTATIVE ELECT: This is a miracle from God that just happened.

ANNOUNCER: Is the Tea Party winning the Republican civil war?

On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Kiki McLean, a Democratic strategist, and Tim Phillips, a Republican strategist.

Will the Republican establishment crumble? What message does it send to Democrats? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


CUPP: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

CUTTER: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, top Democratic and Republican strategists.

Eric Cantor is the first majority leader ever defeated in a primary. But it's hard to feel sorry for him. This is the man who contributed to the first ever downgrade of America's credit rating, helped orchestrate the government shutdown and has been a thorn in Speaker Boehner's side any time he tried to compromise with the president.

But here's the scariest news. Apparently, he wasn't conservative enough for today's Republican Party. The Tea Party's purity tests are changing the very definition of what it means to be a Republican, and now with Cantor's defeat, Republicans have moved so far to the mainstream they are in danger of making themselves a permanent minority party, incapable of winning back the White House.

As a Democratic operative, I might think that's good news. But as an American, it's not, because it means Washington's dysfunction and Republican obstruction will only get worse.

CUPP: Well, I'm going to agree with you on one thing, that Eric Cantor was plenty of conservative. But I wouldn't write off a Republican White House just yet.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic strategist Kiki McLean and Republican strategist Tim Phillips.

Kiki, let me start with you. I'm sensing a little giddiness on the left over Cantor's defeat. Take a look at this e-mail that I got from the DCCC today. It was actually one of a couple I got. "Good-bye, Eric Cantor, (and good riddance)!"

I would caution against getting a little too excited. The people who ousted Eric Cantor are the very people who will turn out in November times ten to bring Republicans into the Senate. I mean, aren't you -- isn't this kind of just more bad news for Democrats?

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Times ten is sort of pushing it. Let's take a look at what this -- what happened in this race. I've heard people talk about this unbelievable final push over immigration is what really put it over the edge for Cantor and for Brat. That at the end, that the mailer that supposedly went out and the defense and that it all happened in the last four or five days.

You and I both know that's not how these things go. That only happens if somebody is within striking distance. Well, Brat only got within striking distance because of something that Cantor was doing wrong all along, and that is I think taking a position. Either be the guy who's going to deliver on solving a problem, or be the guy who draws the line on what he thinks.

And the reality is Cantor was doing neither but only fomenting his own attempted personal again, and as a result he didn't have a relationship with his district. He didn't have a relationship with the people who were going to show up at the primary.

CUPP: Sure, sure. Fair enough. But turnout and enthusiasm on our side, not yours.

MCLEAN: No, turnout in this case, remember, primary. Virginia has a history of low primary turnout. These are not numbers that demonstrate what happens across the nation. These are numbers that demonstrate when a few extremists get themselves organized and take over a party, like has happened with Tea Partiers in the Republican Party.

TIM PHILLIPS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thirty-four-thousand Virginians are extremist?

CUPP: That's more than he's gotten in any other primary.

CUTTER: Let's talk about who is an extremist.

PHILLIPS: Finally about President Obama. It's about time, Stephanie. Let's get started here about the president. CUTTER: Now, Tim, Kiki had a good point, that Cantor was trying to

have it both ways. He was trying to be Mr. New Republican Party in Washington, but then go back home to the district and be Mr. Obstruction. Now, he allowed himself to be defined by talk radio. Let's listen to some of this.


GLENN BECK, CONSERVATIVE TV HOST: If Eric Cantor gets in and is re- elected, we are going to have amnesty.

MARK LEVIN, TALK RADIO HOST: Cantor reversed himself over and over and over again on the issue of amnesty.

LAURA INGRAHAM, TALK RADIO HOST: How do you think Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi want to win this primary? They want Eric Cantor to win, because Eric Cantor is an ally in the biggest fight that will occur in the next six months to maybe even sooner in Washington, which is a fight for immigration amnesty.


CUTTER: Now, those people are giddy today.

PHILLIPS: They're not in the district. The district...


CUTTER: But they basically drove the election in the district. And if there was anybody the Democrats would call an obstructionist, it would actually be Eric Cantor. So they were lying about Eric Cantor's position on immigration reform.

But there's a bigger question here. Are you worried about how talk radio is basically driving a wedge in your party?

PHILLIPS: Not at all. It's -- it's helpful in building a vibrant conservative movement.

CUTTER; That was helpful? What happened last night was helpful?

PHILLIPS: I did not say -- I did not say it had an actual impact on the race with regard to immigration. This race was about one thing. People are sick and tired of Washington, D.C. And 34,000-plus Virginia Republicans and conservatives were able to register their complaint with what's happening in Washington.

And I know you've talked about this a little bit, but I'll tell you something. There's a whole bunch of Democrats. If you're Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, so many people are looking at Washington, D.C., going, "I'm sick of the V.A. scandals, Obamacare and everything else. I can't wait to register my frustration."

MCLEAN: You know what? Let me tell you what people are sick of. People are sick of people not doing their jobs. A Congress that gets something done, all right? So now we know we're going to -- now we know...

PHILLIPS: That's crazy. Shows a complete lack of knowledge of the folks voting yesterday.

MCLEAN: Maybe the folks voting yesterday, but most of -- most of the country.

PHILLIPS: Like Obamacare, that's a good thing?

MCLEAN: Come on, have manners. Let me tell you how it goes.

PHILLIPS: Go ahead.

MCLEAN: All right. So the reality is that most people want to see Congress do their job and be at work, right? So what happens is now the Republican Party in Virginia has now nominated a guy who's going to be even more obstructionist.

CUTTER: That's right.

MCLEAN: Than Eric Cantor. Right? Now, hopefully my team is going to beat him. I don't know. That's kind of a borderline district. But we're going to -- you know what? But we're going to fight for him. I think last night proved upsets happen every day.

CUTTER: They do.

MCLEAN: In politics you don't give up. That's why some of us love being in politics, because you can really make change when you show up at the party.

But at the end of the day the reason Republicans will begin to lose on this curve and already have is because they continue to obstruct and obstruct and obstruct. And this challenger in a primary was able to move where he was, because there is a vacuum in leadership and vision in the Republican Party. And to his credit...

PHILLIPS: I agree with you on that.

MCLEAN: ... to his credit, he showed a vision. But my question is, did the people -- did the people of Virginia nominate Laura Ingraham? Did they nominate Brat? Who did they nominate? They're tired of Washington, but Laura...

CUPP: Republicans are going to do pretty well in 2014. They're slated to do pretty well. And Democrats are on defense right now.

But Tim, I have a question for you. I want you to take a listen to what Eric Cantor said just a few hours ago about who might succeed him.

Oh, sorry. We don't have it, but basically he was talking up Kevin McCarthy, who is the majority whip. And look, I like Kevin McCarthy. I'm a big fan of the majority whip. But I'm wondering if you think that would be in the spirit of, if we just sort of ushered the next guy in line along, if that would be in the spirit of what happened with Dave Brat yesterday in Virginia?

PHILLIPS: I think it's the most fluid situation within a Republican caucus in more than a generation. I don't think anyone has a clear path to this leadership position. McCarthy...

CUPP: Is it up for grabs?

PHILLIPS: I think it is. And I think it's good for the party and good for the movement. Have a good, vigorous, healthy debate. I honestly hope there are some new faces.

I do. Because I think in the old days you might have one or two blocs within a caucus that were fighting each other. This -- this Republican caucus is fragmented dramatically. And I think that's a good thing. I do. I think it's healthy to get some bubbling and movement going on in this.

And one thing back to -- we keep mentioning or some folks keep mentioning immigration. To pretend that this race is about immigration is to ignore what really happened. Come on, guys. Let's have an honest discussion.

CUTTER: How many people were lying about immigration?

MCLEAN: I want to say -- I want to say two things. The sad part...

PHILLIPS: Very quickly, let me wrap this thought up. It was a registering of disgust and irritation with Washington, D.C., in this case a chance to show the Republican leadership that they don't like what's going on. That's what this race was about. To pretend it's one issue like immigration or any other issue is someone trying to build a ...

MCLEAN: I have to say, one of the saddest thing about this loss, to me, his family may feel there are sadder things of it than this, he lost because he didn't stand for anything. Right?

He -- you know, when I look back in history at those surprise elections, Mike Steiner (ph), a great Democrat in the House back in the '90s who lost in a primary long before primaries were challenges to an incumbent, he lost in the primary because of the vote he took on the Brady bill. Congressman from Tulsa, Oklahoma. And he knew the vote he was taking. It was principled. He believed in it. He knew he had to go fight his way back in to win the nomination. He didn't.

But he did it because he fought for something he believed in; it was right for the country. Right?

When you look at Eric Cantor; Eric Cantor, you know, take a position. If you're going to be an obstructionist, have a reason for doing it. This guy was an obstructionist for no reason and guess what? He lost over it.

PHILLIPS: I think that's too harsh. I think that's too harsh on Eric Cantor. I think in the end...

MCLEAN: What did you just say? You don't think his loss was about him?

PHILLIPS: I think it was about him, but it's also about Washington, D.C., that people felt he's a part of, and that's what's going to hurt Democrats this fall in the United States Senate. You can chuckle if you want.

MCLEAN: I'm not chuckling.

PHILLIPS: Wait and see. A whole bunch of Democrats, when they're looking at data, they're going to go, "My God, there's a lot of anger about Washington, D.C. The V.A. scandals, and Obamacare, and so much more. And this is a symptom of that from the right.

MCLEAN: I'd like to see Congress work.

CUPP: All right, well, I actually know Eric Cantor, and he was deeply concerned about something I don't think the Republican Party should walk away from. I'll tell you about that next.

In today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz," what was the voter turnout in Eric Cantor's primary? Was it 13 percent, 24 percent, or 47 percent? We'll have the answer after the break.


CUPP: Welcome back. A couple hours ago, Republican Eric Cantor announced he'll be stepping down as House majority leader after a stunning loss, which brings us to the answer of our "CROSSFIRE Quiz." Thirteen percent of the voters turned out for yesterday's primary.

Now, there is some valid criticism of Eric Cantor, that he might not have taken his challenger seriously enough. "Boogering," I call it. But the criticism that he was too focused on national politics is a little unfair. His job as majority leader was to expand the party.

Now, I had the pleasure of working with him on some of that, in some capacity. And he was deeply committed to reaching younger voters, women voters, middle class voters. It was a priority of his and it should have been.

Now, Eric Cantor is moving on and new blood is coming in. And that's part of politics and a good thing. But I fear the takeaway will be a narrowing of the party.

Republicans shouldn't lose sight of Cantor's important mission which is expanding the party.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, strategist Kiki McLean and Tim Phillips.

Kiki, someone else who wants to expand the Republican Party maybe to his peril is Jeb Bush. And I know you probably appreciate his position on immigration, but as a Hillary supporter, aren't Republicans like him who are open to immigration reform and pushing it, kind of your worst nightmare?

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, not necessarily. Now, I'm from south Texas, so live looked at immigration and heard about immigration issues my entire life. And the fact of the matter is that as the map moves forward from the cycle of '14 to '16, to'18, the makeup, two, three, four cycles into redistricting of these districts will change dramatically.

The fact you may have a Republican running for president that believes in immigration, I say bring that on. That's good for the country because there's also going to be a right way and a wrong way to do immigration and that's going to be what the debate is. I'd love to have immigration in the debate at that level.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: But, Tim, Jeb Bush may never make it through the Republican primary. And there are many Republicans who are actually concerned about what happened last night.

Listen to Congressman Pete King.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: We can't allow Eric's defeat last night allow the Ted Cruzes and the Rand Pauls to take over the party, or their disciples have take over the party, because this is not conservatism.


CUPP: According to Pete King.


CUTTER: Well, Ted Cruz was rejoicing this morning about it, and said, it was -- you know, finally the people speaking back, taking back their government and that type of thing. You know, I do think this is going to -- I'm not an expert in the Republican Party. You and I both know that.

PHILLIPS: You're pretty good.


PHILLIPS: You dissected it a couple of times.

CUTTER: I read a little data. And I do believe that --

PHILLIPS: Dissected it a couple of times.

CUTTER: -- Republican primaries under normal circumstances move everybody to the right. But under current circumstances, they're going to move so far to the right they're going to fall off the cliff.

PHILLIPS: I think that's horrifically overblown, hyperventilating rhetoric, Stephanie. Seriously, it really is. When you think about --

CUTTER: How do you really feel? (CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: Your majority leader just got knocked off last night.

PHILLIPS: It's not my majority leader.

MCLEAN: Not now, not today.

PHILLIPS: Think about Governor Martinez in New Mexico. She wins elections and nominations just fine. Governor Sandoval in Nevada, Governor Jindal in Louisiana, Governor Haley in South Carolina. They win nominations routinely. Tim Scott last night.

CUTTER: So, can Ted Cruz win a national election?

PHILLIPS: He could. Absolutely.

CUTTER: Rand Paul can win a national election? Tim, come on. Would you put money behind them?

PHILLIPS: I think the --


CUTTER: You guys put a lot of money in these races.

PHILLIPS: I'm not a betting man. I think the 2016 field shaping up for the Republican Party is the best since 1980 when it produced Ronald Reagan, and think it's going to be a deep and strong field with a lot of accomplished governors. I think governors, candidly, are a better way forward.

MCLEAN: Can we have your cell phone number to talk to you on Iowa caucus night?

PHILLIPS: Absolutely.

MCLEAN: I just want to be able to -- at 10:30 that night, I want to be able to talk to you.

PHILLIPS: Well, we'll see how Hillary Clinton, some of these other folks do once the spotlights --


PHILLIPS: But it's a good Republican field shaping up in 2016.

CUPP: The crazy Republican primaries that produced Mitt Romney and John McCain. I mean, let's just --

CUTTER: It forced Mitt Romney to take positions --


CUPP: But, Kiki, let me put this another way. I don't think that -- no, I'm on to something else. I don't think this is anti-Republican establishment, alone. The mood of the nation is anti-establishment.

MCLEAN: I think you're right about that.

CUPP: And folks on the left are facing that same kind of discord as well. And I can't think of anyone more establishment than Hillary Clinton. And just ask Brian Schweitzer. He is happy to tell you how establishment folks like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are.

MCLEAN: Sure, he is.

CUPP: And there's going to be a challenge from the left on some of those candidates.

MCLEAN: Listen, should Hillary Clinton decide to run for president, let me be very clear, as far as I know, she hasn't. Should she decide to run for president? That's what happens in open season, in an open primary. Lots of people get in and run, you know?

Look at the -- it's really funny, the best way to learn about what can happen in a field is to go back in history. You know, people think Bill Clinton walked into the nomination.

Well, I was his press secretary at the Democratic Leadership Council. He didn't walk into that nomination. There was a big field. The field mattered. The field is what will drive the debate and how the debate goes.

But I will tell you if she chooses to run for president, she will work hard, she will make her case and any predictions today about where that debate is two years from now won't have anything to do with what happens two years from now.

CUPP: What about sort of her Wall Street ties, the --

MCLEAN: What about one person's allegations versus a lifetime of working for the middle class, a lifetime of fighting for the poor, a lifetime of helping support, create jobs, I can give you a list of accomplishments. Anybody can throw out one line. But that's what a campaign does.

CUPP: Well, she threw it out.

PHILLIPS: She does.


MCLEAN: But the -- but the point of the campaign is that's a conversation.


MCLEAN: And voters will make decisions after a conversation, not a one-line stand.

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: OK. We can't have this conversation about Eric Cantor's loss of his seat without actually talking about the guy who defeated him.

Listen to what David Brat, an economist who defeated Eric Cantor last night, said about the minimum wage today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should there be a minimum wage in your opinion?

DAVE BRAT (R-VA), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I don't have a well- crafted response on that one. All I know is if you take the long-run graph over 200 years of the wage rate, it cannot differ from your nation's productivity, right? So you can't make up wage rates, right?


CUTTER: So, by his logic, he is basically saying that we shouldn't raise the minimum wage because productivity is at an all-time high. But that's not the position I'm sure of your organization or your party. Is this guy -- he is an economics professor, and doesn't have a position on the minimum wage.

PHILLIPS: Right. Well, he is a brand-new candidate who just won a nomination that most folks didn't think he was going to win, probably including himself.

CUTTER: Is he ready for primetime?

PHILLIPS: So, I think he gets a little slack cutting for a few weeks there.

Furthermore, when we're talking about -- oh, I think we do, especially in this district. And I also think that, well, in this district --


MCLEAN: I think if you want to be in Congress, you ought to think you're ready for Congress and have a point of view --


PHILLIPS: When you're having a give and take interview. He's not a professional politician.

CUTTER: On an issue like the minimum wage?

PHILLIPS: He is not a professional politician. And I know the left wants to go out and kill a half million jobs according to the CBO by raising minimum wage.


PHILLIPS: Are you kidding me? Half a million jobs, gone.


CUPP: I agree with my friends on the left. He should have been ready for that question.


CUPP: All right. Stay here. We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Will Eric Cantor's loss make the Republican Party stronger or weaker? Tweet stronger or weaker using #Crossfire.

We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrages of the day. I'm outraged about what Planned Parenthood's version of sex ed is.


CUPP: Welcome back now.

It's time for outrages of the day. Planned Parenthood talks up the services it provides millions of women every year, things like mammograms and family planning. They're also proud of the sex education programs they provide, programs that teach, quote, "teens how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and then some."

A shocking new video by live action shows a Planned Parenthood counselor in Indianapolis encouraging an actress posing as a 15-year- old girl to engage in S&M, watch porn, try graphic sex acts, have older friends buy her sex toys, and lie to her parents.

If you're outraged like I am that young women are getting that kind of sex ed from Planned Parenthood, I'm sorry to add insult to injury, your tax dollars are paying for it. Planned Parenthood got $500 million just last year. Money well spent.

CUTTER: Well, before I go into my outrage, I just want to show a little outrage over that.

CUPP: Bring it on.

CUTTER: I do some work for Planned Parenthood. And I think the millions of women across this country who rely on Planned Parenthood for their basic health care would have a big problem with that description. We don't have any context behind that video or the high jinks that went into making it. But --

CUPP: I'm sure we'll get the story behind it.

CUTTER: I'm sure we will.

Barely a day goes by without images like these, kids with their hands over their heads surrounded by police cars and ambulances. I'm outraged because gun violence has become so common, we're desensitized. Yet, we're still doing nothing about it. Why? Because fear-mongering by groups like the NRA have shut down legislative action. Too few elected officials have the courage to stand up to them, and too few Americans are acting to hold those elected officials accountable.

These are -- there are common sense solutions like simply keeping guns out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. Yet any actions on these no-brainers are stymied by lies like claiming the Second Amendment is being abolished or the government wants to take your gun away. Obviously, neither of those things are true.

As the president said yesterday, we're the only industrialized nation who suffers from this much gun violence. We should all be outraged and do something about it.

CUPP: Let me take a little outrage with your outrage.

CUTTER: Go ahead.

CUPP: And just agree, fear-mongering is the problem and getting in the way of solving gun violence and gun crime. And unfortunately, it's the fear-mongering of anti-gun groups like Every Town that muddies the conversation and stops the debate.

Let's check back on our "Fireback" results. Will Cantor's loss make the Republican Party stronger or weaker? Right now, 37 percent of you say stronger, 63 percent say weaker.

Tim, I'm curious for your take on that. What's your reaction?

PHILLIPS: I don't think it has any impact either way for the long- term. I think, though, that it registers the initial sense of where the country is heading this November. Americans are sick of what they see in Washington, more government, more spending, V.A. outrages, Obamacare, and they're going to take it out on the Democrats and the Senate this fall in the same way that Obama nemesis Cantor was last fall.

MCLEAN: I think they're probably right. It's weaker because nobody knows what the Republican Party stands for, what they want to do for this country. And frankly, it shows that there is no real vision or backbone in the party.

CUTTER: Thanks to Kiki McLean and Tim Phillips.

The debate continues online at, as well as Facebook and Twitter. From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.