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GOP's Immigration Problem; Can Donald Trump Ever Go Too Far?; Racially Divisive Cartoon?; Obama's Failure to Bring Parties Together. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired February 13, 2016 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. You know, this week the former chair of the South Carolina GOP noted that in Iowa voter expect candidates to trudge through the snow and hold small meetings in diners. In New Hampshire, they expected to come into the living room and have coffee but in South Carolina, they want to see how you can take a punch and so, Donald Trump has called Jeb Bush a mama's boy and a lightweight and Ted Cruz a liar.
Now he's even ripping the pope. And then there is Ted Cruz' ad bashing Hillary Clinton by showing her bashing a hard drive. And speaking of Hillary, she's continuing her attack on Bernie Sanders for his lack of support of President Obama as she seeks to solidify her standing among African Americans.
But first, the Republican field is engaged in a new round of attacks over immigration just ahead of tonight's critical debate in South Carolina and the important primaries that are around the corner. The latest punch, Donald Trump is knocking Ted Cruz in a tweet where he says "if Ted Cruz doesn't clean up his act, stop cheating and doing negative ads, I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen."
But it wasn't just Cruz, candidates have been working hard to out do one another with who can be more hard lined on building a border wall, nasty deportations and banning Syrian refugees. A front-page story in today's "New York Times" reports that GOP party leaders had hoped some of the most provocative speech could have calmed down by now.
The party's self-examination of how they failed to win the last election very clearly said it had to embrace comprehensive immigration reform or it was doomed to continue defeat. I want to talk about this and more with Sean Spicer. He is the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National committee.
Sean, thank you for being here. Did the "Times" get it correct today when they said that party leaders like yourself had hoped there would be more of a calm tone to the rhetoric by now?
SEAN SPICER, RNC CHIEF STRATEGIST & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I think it's all relative. I think we all recognize as party leaders, you and I have talked about this before. Chairman (INAUDIBLE) previously said it before that we would love as Republicans for everyone to follow Reagan's 11th commandment to be focused on what their personal vision is for leading America forward and for focusing their attacks on Hillary Clinton.
That being said, we recognized that politics as a contact sport. You commented earlier that folks in South Carolina are used to at this stage of the contest to have candidates kind of showing their might, showing that they are ready to take on not just their primary opponents but can handle a general election.
So we get that this is part of the process. I'd rather have it focused but look, politics is tough. If you think that this is tough, taking on the Clinton machine is going to be even tougher and so we want a candidate that comes out of the primary having had a couple contests showing their metal and ready to go on to a general election.
But look, Michael, I think that we have to also keep this in context, hold on - we have to keep this in context, having some barbs thrown back and forth amongst some candidate is nothing beyond what the other party is facing where you have their leading candidate or what was their leading candidate now under what is admitted and confirmed FBI investigation.
So I will take some twitter attacks on our party any day of the week over if I were at the DNC having to say what happens if we have a candidate that is now under FBI investigation or worse under indictment? I will take the twitter tweets back and forth any day of the week.
SMERCONISH: I'm going to get to that issue not with you but in a segment to follow because I said here on CNN Thursday night, I was pretty surprised that on the day "The Washington Post" broke a story that a subpoena had arrived at the Clinton Foundation from the State Department that question wasn't asked in the Thursday night debate.
SPICER: Absolutely. I mean, it was appalling that you have not only that. So number one, you have the FBI confirming that there is an FBI investigation going into what was the leading candidate up until New Hampshire, the former secretary of state, a former senator, not one question but further and even is also equally appalling that the Clinton Foundation has allegations coming against it and again, neither of those issues are being brought up and I think that that's not just sad if you're a Republican but as a Democrat because if you allow your supposed front runner to get through the primary without facing tough questions like that and you end up as a party post July with a candidate that's under indictment, that's a big problem.
Now, as a Republican, I don't have a problem with that but I think if you're a democratic voter and knowing that your top candidate wasn't even questioned about that, giving them a pass is a problem.
SMERCONISH: All right. You're being too effective at your objective which is taking me off my game. So let me get back to your need to expand the tent. You remember when George Will wrote this column last year and he pointed out that "Papa Bush and Mitt Romney got the same percentage of the white vote, 59 percent but where in 1988 that got you 426 electoral votes, now only worth about 206." So are you concerned that if the rhetoric continues relative to the border, you're going to lose the very people you need to build the coalition from the fall.
SPICER: Right. As you've noted at the outset, Chairman Priebus after 2012 shifted all of the resources of the party into two things, data and people. We have spent a majority of our funds putting people into the field year around into communities we haven't been to and African American communities, Hispanic community, in Asian communities. Further out reach to the evangelical community in places that we didn't do as well.
So we have as a party put our money where our mouth is and gone out and created relationships. Look, Michael, we lost black women 97-3. We have to do better and part of that is just through relationship building, going out there and talking about how our party aligns with their values and believe in faith, how we believe in entrepreneurial ship and the free enterprise and when you come to this country legally that you want to do things that will allow you to flourish as individually and as a family, how to grow a business and so I think that we put our money where our mouth is as a party. I think our candidates in varying degrees and different ways have -
SMERCONISH: I think I just lost Sean Spicer. I lost him. Sugar. I had more I wanted to question him about.
Well, let's continue in this same vein in terms of what is going on in the Republican party relative to immigration and how that issue is being handled.
Loser, liar, low energy, those are just a couple names that Donald Trump has called his political opponents since announcing his candidacy but now Trump is calling out a higher authority, he's taking on Pope Francis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that the Pope is a very political person. I think he doesn't understand the problems our country has. I don't think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Joining now me is Bill Donohue, the president and CEO of the Catholic League. He just wrote an article for "Newsmax" titled "The Elite Don't Get Trump's Appeal." Bill, thanks for being back here. Is that fair criticism of the pontiff by Donald Trump? I know that you're often the arbiter of what is fair and what's unfair when it comes to the Pope.
BILL DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: There is no question what Trump said is not bigoted, it's not insulting, it's not a matter of disdain and disparagement, that's when I get involved. If people want to criticize the Catholic Church, the Pope on any public policy issue, as long as they hit above the belt, that's all free speech. What do I care? I don't like it when non-Catholics try to tell Catholics about whether or not we should have women priests. That's an internal matter.
Now if Trump got insulting, I would be the first one to lash out at him but he has every right to disagree with the pope. Lots of Catholics disagree with the Pope on this issue. Indeed a number of priests and I would dare say bishops and cardinals may not be in line with him.
SMERCONISH: Do you agree with Donald Trump when he says that Pope Francis just "doesn't understand our open border issues"?
DONOHUE: Well, no, I think - look, I think Donald Trump doesn't understand that the teaching of the Catholic Church is this, we believe in borders. There is nobody in the Catholic Church who has ever said that you can't have borders. What they have said is this, once a person is in this country, even if he came in here illegally, we have a moral obligation to tend to that person's needs. That part of it I don't that Trump and a lot of other people get.
SMERCONISH: You have said previously - I think you have written previously that relative to the general election and I know the Catholic League will not formally endorse but you, Bill Donohue, have said and you correct me, if I'm wrong, anybody but her and I think we know who you're talking about.
Do you therefore worry about the issue I was raising with Sean Spicer that the Republican Party might now be ruining its opportunity in the fall because they are not engaging properly Hispanics?
DONOHUE: Well, there is no question - listen, first of all, as you rightly know I'm not a Republican so they can go figure that out themselves but to the extent there is a course language involved, yes, the Republicans are very much involved in that but look, the thing that's been bothering me about some of these conservatives ganging up on Trump, this man speaks to the blue collar people, to the lunch bucket people, these other conservatives don't and a lot of the talking ads on TV don't get it. And a lot of the guys who run - are on the radio, don't get it.
Donald Trump speaks to people because he speaks to them, he doesn't speak above them. He doesn't speak past them and he has something refreshing about him. He's authentic. He's not measured. He's not controlled. He's not run by the handlers, the manipulators and the lobbyists and that's why he can go directly to the people even if they disagree with him on the issues, even if they say flip flop -
SMERCONISH: Bill -
DONOHUE: There is something about him that makes him different from the other people.
SMERCONISH: Hey, you earned a PhD in sociology from NYU, which is pretty impressive, so I should call you Dr. Donohue. So you need to analyze this for me because you're talking about his appeal. Listen to part of Trump's appeal thus far, roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's political bull [ bleep ].
It's all bull [ bleep ]. OK? All bull [ bleep ].
Tell them to go [ bleep ] themselves.
Whoever the hell bought this mic system the son of the bitch to put it in.
I would bomb the [ bleep ] out of them.
We'd beat the [ bleep ] out of them. If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them. She said she's a [bleep]. Terrible. That's terrible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Bill, you would be saying the rosaries if you went to confession tomorrow and had to acknowledge that you had done all of that.
DONOHUE: Well, I'm not going to sanction that at all but you know what is rather amazing, we for the last 20, 30 years in our music, anybody ever watch BET or MTV? We have been doing out of Hollywood, what's been going on in radio and television and movies, the coarsety of the language, the fact that we are so crude in the way we hit people and then all of a sudden when a politician says something like this or a guy who claims not a politician, we get upset about it.
The vulgarity in our culture is central, it is disgusting and Trump contributes to it and to that extent I'm against him. All of a sudden, we can't act like little virgins. OK. We've been allowing this kind of language to go on for a very long time and if I speak up about it, I'm a prude. Now all of a sudden it's cool to say that this is wrong.
SMERCONISH: You were analyzing for "Newsmax" Trump's appeal and you wrote something that I want you to expand upon. You said "The working class also resonates with Trump's no non-sense approach to Mexico and China when conservative pundits tout the virtues of immigration saying nothing about the free ride that illegal aliens are getting, they are treating workers with contempt." Explain to me.
DONOHUE: Well, when you talk to the working class and this is the problem with a lot of these other guys running for president and talking head conservatives, what if they actually do something meaningful in life and drop into an Irish pub. All right. Talk to the working class.
They are sick and tired to pay for somebody else's free ride. Nobody speaks to their alienation not ever and they are not anti immigration, they're simply saying how come nobody speaks up for me, how come I have to pay for some other kids' college education here in New York City. They want free rides for everybody.
These people are barely making it and nobody speaks to them. And the same thing with so many different other issues. Free trade, what a joke. All these guys, these conservatives in their Ivy League pinheads, they're talking about free trade. There is no free trade unless it's a two-way street. All right. So one way street and the workers are getting screwed to this country. Trump knows it and he's speaking their language. These guys are up in their ivory towers, in their library cowell (ph) saying that ideas are the only things that matter. Ideas are not the only thing that matter. You've got to be able to touch the people in a visceral manner and then they'll listen to your ideas.
But if you come across as measured and handled, they're not going to listen to you at all. The Reagan Democrats are critical to Republicans and the Republicans have never figured out how to get them back because they don't speak to the people.
SMERCONISH: I'm Bill Donohue and I approve this message. Thank you for being here.
DONOHUE: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Now I want to hear from all of you, tweet me @smerconish and maybe I'll retweet you out loud later in the program.
Coming up, we'll deal with a banning of a cartoon meant to teach school kids racial understanding. Some parents say it actually reinforces white guilt.
And Bernie Sanders dominated Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire practically tied her in Iowa but so far has 468 convention delegates and he has just 53. How is that possible?
And you might not, you might not want to hear the vulgar word Donald Trump used recently to describe Ted Cruz but his supporters like Bill Donohue perhaps can't get enough of it.
Donald Trump insulted prisoners of war, disabled and immigrants and so far his supporters, they have eaten it up. This week, his opponents had hoped he hit bottom after using a vulgar word to describe Ted Cruz but not so fast. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Political hacks. We have hacks. I know some of them.
SMERCONISH: Donald Trump has insulted prisoners of war, the disabled, immigrants among others and so far his supporters, they've eaten it up. This week, his opponents had hoped that he hit bottom after using a vulgar word to describe Ted Cruz but no so fast.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Political hacks. We have hacks. I know some of them. Their political hacks. They get their job - I won't use foul language. I'm just not going to do it. I'm not going to do it. They are saying do it, do it. No. I'm not.
That's better, right? Instead of - right? A woman here on my side. You're right. She said don't do it. Right? Don't do it. Because they always have - even if it's not a bad word, if it's a little bit off, they kill me so I won't do it. I'll never do it again, actually.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: That was Baton Rouge, 10,000 people pack into that arena and many of them begging him to use a word that rhymes with wussy. Can he do anything that is over the line? Let us turn to our political panel. Former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis and Roger Stone who worked for Trump, he worked for Reagan, George W. Bush, even Richard Nixon. He's got a brand-new book out next week "Jeb, the Bush Crime Family." He recently published the "Clinton's War on Women." You never want to have Stone writing a book about you.
Roger, it's a sad commentary, isn't when you got thousands of people jammed in an arena, many of whom are begging a guy to use a vulgarity?
ROGER STONE, FORMER POLITICAL ADVISER TO DONALD TRUMP: Actually, it's our pop culture. Donald Trump is the greatest show on earth. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke. He's had a phenomenal career. He's unscripted as Bill Donohue said he's unhandled, he's unmanaged and the American voters find it refreshing.
Does anyone really think that our political leaders don't speak like this behind the scenes when they are not on camera? Of course they do. Harry Truman did. Richard Nixon did. Dwight Eisenhower did. It is a reality, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Lanny, when you see footage like that, are you saying "great, keep it up, this is exactly what Hillary wants to face in the fall or is there part of you, be honest, that says this is frightening because he's really energized his base"?
LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOSUE SPECIAL COUNSEL, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: I say keep it up, Mr. Trump. I hope you're the Republican Party nominee. His negatives among the general population not the Republican base is higher than any other person running for president. So as a general election candidate we extrapolate at this time of season from what the base of each party is doing as opposed to the general election which is much different. I think even Mr. Stone would agree with me that when you're in a general election, you have to appeal to center left, center right voters who are the swing voters. Your base is going to be with you no matter what you do. Having said that, I think that Mr. Donohue is correct and Mr. Stone probably would agree with me if there is a large segment of the general electorate that is alienated and angry with government, promising and not delivering, the problem with both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and others is that the rhetoric can be inspiring emotional, even the insults appeal to a certain part of the brain but when they are actually telling people how they will solve the problems that Mr. Donohue rightly talked about, the solutions and the ability to get things done are lacking. That will come through in the general election more than the primary season.
SMERCONISH: Roger Stone, a subject near and dear to your heart dirty tricks. I noted at the outset, the reputation that South Carolina has and yet, thus far in South Carolina humor is a card that Ted Cruz is playing. Take a look at a piece of this commercial run by Ted Cruz already.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Look, I got the Trump action figure.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: No, way, it's huge.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: What does he do?
UNIDENTIFED MALE: He pretends to be a Republican.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: He pretends, he pretends to be a Republican. Here is my question, Roger, for you, what is more effective, dirty tricks or humor?
STONE: Well, I saw that entire ad and frankly, I think it was most ineffective because it hit on eminent domain. Any time when we have Americans being beheaded abroad, when our illegal immigrants are murdering and raping people, when our economy is in the toilet, when there are no jobs, I don't think anyone is voting on imminent domain. In fact, most voters don't even know what it is. So, you're going to have a slug fest in South Carolina.
Reports I heard last night of phone banks calling voters, telling them that Donald Trump is pro-abortion, a lie, Ted Cruz says he knows nothing about it yet the phone calls are conducted by a company founded by his campaign manager, this is part and parcel of South Carolina politics. I frankly think that anyone who knows Donald Trump should not take lightly his threat to sue Ted Cruz over the question of his constitutional eligibility. Don't hold your breath. I think that lawsuit is coming.
SMERCONISH: I want to switch to the democratic side of the isle. Lanny, the math, the delegate math, I must be missing something. Bernie Sanders tied your candidate in Iowa. He beat her in New Hampshire. Look at this tally. How does she have 468 to his 53 delegates at this stage? DAVIS: Well, there is something called superdelegates who are the
elected officials, members of Congress, members of the Democratic National Committee that are automatically entitled to vote as delegates in the National Convention. But as we discovered in the '08 campaign while many of those superdelegates were for Hillary Clinton, by the end of the process when Barack Obama was the clear leader, enough to capture the nomination, the superdelegates followed the lead of the voters.
So it's premature to draw conclusions about those numbers but what it does say if it's Senator Sanders working in the U.S. Senate has never had a single member of the Senate endorse him for a president and he described Ted Kennedy's immigration reform measure of 2007 as a pathway to slavery of people who are of the working class or some such reference to slavery about Ted Kennedy's immigration reform bill, he will have to be accountable for that in Nevada.
So the superdelegates will ultimately at the end of the process, Michael, reflect the popular and delegate. A little too early to jump to conclusions after just two caucus in an election.
SMERCONISH: Lanny, I said something to Sean Spicer that I would like to repeat to you. There was a debate Thursday night, Thursday as the debate was unfolding, there was a story emblazened on the home page of the "Washington Post," a revelation that a subpoena had arrived at the Clinton Foundation and that it came from the Inspector General's Office of the State Department.
It didn't even warrant a question. I don't understand that. I don't think Hillary Clinton is benefitting when it doesn't get discussed because you know the internals show that she's got a problem of honesty and trustworthiness among even Democrats. Would you have liked questions to have been asked about that?
DAVIS: I said this to you on a program where you had the former attorney general of the United States that to suggest the slightest bit of wrongdoing is inferred from a subpoena from one individual much less no evidence of wrongdoing and much less nothing else and that should be bought up at a national debate, sure she should say exactly what I just said. A subpoena, you're a lawyer and you're going to infer what from a subpoena.
So the fact that the innuendo about a subpoena, about a foundation that's done so much good all over the world has nothing but innuendo behind it, no facts and if you think that is an issue that should be brought up in a national debate, I would respectfully disagree. But in terms of my responding, I would say no conclusion whatsoever from the fact of a subpoena, none.
SMERCONISH: Roger Stone, when "The Washington Post" has a front page story saying that the Inspector General's Office of the State Department has issued a subpoena to the Clinton Foundation, I'm sure you agree with me that it warrants some discussion. STONE: There is only one candidate for president who currently under
federal investigation. She has erased her e-mails which I suspect show the nexus between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department and the play for play that is going on. The latest state filings and federal fillings by the Clinton Foundation are permeated with fraud. You haven't heard the end of this issue.
I actually think Hillary Clinton would be stronger for having confronted this, for having softball debates in which these issues are not raised is not beneficial to her because you can bet these issues will be raised in the fall.
SMERCONISH: That was my point. That was my point. Listen, you get the final word, Lanny, 30 seconds and I have to roll.
DAVIS: I am laughing in pain, not at you, Mr. Stone, I can only respect your opinion but I'm laughing at the notion that the false statement that someone is under investigation, which is false, "The New York Times" withdrew that headline and the fact that we're inferring anything with the use of fraud, (INAUDIBLE) and words without facts is what demi (INAUDIBLE) Republicans would say about White Water for seven years after an investigation ended up zero.
So to your viewers, not one fact, not one fact under lies the innuendo you just heard from Roger Stone.
SMERCONISH: Lanny Davis and Roger Stone -
STONE: Let's revisit - let's revisit this after the FBI director recommends her indictment.
DAVIS: Speculation and wishful thinking isn't a fact, Roger Stone. You're a hatchet man Republican --
SMERCONISH: OK. Can't we all just get along?
Thank you Lanny, thank you, Roger.
Keep your tweets coming to me @smerconish. We'll get to the best later in the program.
Just ahead, a non-political cartoon meant to bring black and white students together threatens to pull a Virginia town apart.
[09:32:50] SMERCONISH: I'm about to show you part of a four-minute animation, a cartoon that was recently banned in a Virginia school district after some parents complained. It uses race as a metaphor, and the purpose of the video was to highlight of the history racial inequality. It's been shown hundreds of thousands of times to school children in the last decade.
But after an assembly at the Glen Allen High School near Richmond, some parents complain. They said that it promotes white guilt. Take a look. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
SMERCONISH: So that's about a quarter of the video. The question is, should it be banned?
Joining me is Carol Swain, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, and Benjamin Dixon, host of the political podcast, "The Benjamin Dixon Program".
Hey, Benjamin, should it be shown?
BENJAMIN DIXON, HOST OF POLITICAL PODCAST, THE BENJAMIN DIXON SHOW: Yes, absolutely. I can't imagine why it would be banned, just because we label it controversial doesn't take away from the fact that there are significant truths being spoken in the video. So, absolutely, it should be played. I don't understand why it would be banned.
SMERCONISH: Benjamin, I talked about this on my radio program on Friday. And I had a number of calls from African American who said, "I wouldn't want my son or daughter in a close room where this was being shown because I worry that they would be ostracized."
[09:35:04] DIXON: Yes, that's an interesting perspective. They don't want their children to face the fallout from the conversation like this, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have these types of conversations. You know, I think we do more apologizing in America for having conversations about race than we apologize for racism in America.
So, it's kind of an intentional obtuse time in America where you can be called racist or face racist backlash because you're unpacking problems actually true. There is nothing untrue in this video, so labeling it controversial really is just a means of silencing the conversation.
SMERCONISH: Carol Swain, what do you think? Should this be shown to school kids across the country?
CAROL SWAIN, LAW PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: I'm never in favor of censorship or banning anything. My problem with the video is that it's very misleading, it's dated.
I would not want my children to be exposed to that video unless they were in a situation where you had a teacher that understood history and would be able to discuss the biases because it's clearly bias.
There is no way you can attribute everything that happened in America tragic to one group of people. That's problematic. It presents all blacks as being poor or disadvantaged and whites as being privileged. We know that's not true.
It also doesn't convey the fact that we have had a black president for the last eight years. We've had two black attorney generals. America is not the same as it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago. We've also had more than 40 years of affirmative action.
We cannot attribute all of the problems of black people to white people or to America.
SMERCONISH: So, Carol, let me give you the perspective of a white guy that lives in suburbia. I have four children. I would be thrilled if my four children had seen a video like this if it were part of a larger conversation.
And then I said to myself, if I were an African American parent, would I be concerned they would look at this as an explanation or justification as to why -- I'll take the race metaphor, I'm in second place and therefore instead of striving for first place, I'm going to settle into that position.
I hope I expressed that clearly, Carol, respond to it.
SWAIN: I mean, it's clearly a problem. It sends the wrong message to black children. It says you can't because there are all these barriers and roadblocks.
And I don't believe that's true of America. I think if you work hard, you can still be successful in America.
And it also presents a false image for whites. There are a lot of poor whites, and white men are not as privileged as they may have been at one point in history. There is new data to show that middle-aged white men are dying at a faster rate than any other group, and it's through suicide and stress caused factors, but they are the ones now that have a death rate that's very unusual.
SMERCONISH: Benjamin, take my final 30 seconds and respond.
DIXON: I think we may be missing the mark simply because we think it's saying all black people and all white people. We actually look at averages in America and these are some average experiences that African-Americans face.
Now, I agree this video misses the mark because it casts an economic conversation about generational wealth and leaves it at the conversation about race. In fact, it would have done itself a much greater service if it unpacked the realities that there are some commonalities, albeit differences but there are commonalities between poor white Americans and poor black Americans, where we need to have a conversation about generational wealth, institutional factors that contribute to the fact that poor people born in poverty are more likely to stay in poverty. That's true for white people and as well as African Americans.
SMERCONISH: I would like to think we contributed to the conversation by airing part of it and welcoming the two of you.
Benjamin, Carol, thank you so much.
SWAIN: Thank you.
DIXON: Thanks so much for having me. SMERCONISH: President Obama's passionate speech about his biggest failure, the inability to take the anger and polarization out of our popular and political culture is next.
[09:43:24] SMERCONISH: This weekend, a return to the Illinois general assembly, President Obama delivered when I consider to be one out most consequential speeches. He was speaking to former colleagues and he note that during his time in the state senate, they didn't call each other idiots or fascist or trying to destroy America, because then they would have to explain to constituents why they were playing poker or having a drink with an idiot or fascist who was trying to destroy America.
He also said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been noted often by pundits that the tone of our politics hasn't gotten better since I was inaugurated, in fact, it's gotten worse. I had to acknowledge that one of my few regrets is my inability to reduce the polarization and meanness in our politics. I was able to be part of that here and yet, couldn't translate it the way I wanted to, to our politics in Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Among the president's solutions, a constitutional amendment to set limits on donations, the professional drawing of congressional boundaries and increased voter participation.
My two guests spend much of their professional lives studying this issue. Larry Kramer is the former dean of the Stanford Law School, now the president of the Hewlett Foundation. They have $9 billion in assets, they have added polarization to the list of global problems that they try and solve. And Dr. Norman Ornstein is the resident scholar of the American Enterprise Institute.
[09:45:00] He's the co-author of what I think is the seminal book on this subject, "It's Even Worse Than It Seems", an updated version of that book is due next month.
Larry, why is Hewlett so concerned about polarization you're putting it on a list with poverty and climate change and education?
LARRY KRAMER, PRESIDENT, HEWLETT FOUNDATION: Well, you know, Michael, it's pretty straightforward at the end of the day. I mean, government may not be the answer to all of the problems but it's absolutely an essential partner for some of them and, you know, none of us will solve problems we're working at unless we can get government able to act one way or the other.
And that includes people who want government to do less. Whatever you want government to do, it's got to be able to act. SMERCONISH: Norman, it hasn't always been like this. In fact, there
is a graph I want to put on the screen that shows how the House Republican have moved in the last several years. It reminds me that John Meacham in his memoir, in his biography, pardon me, of George Herbert Walker Bush, Papa Bush, noted that when he was in Congress, he voted 53 percent of the time with the Johnson administration and when Nixon came in, he voted 55 percent of the time with the Nixon administration.
What's changed in the last 30 or 40 years?
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, POLITICAL SCHOLAR: Well, certainly as you can see from the graph, we've had dramatic changes in the parties as we've lost the center.
One of the things that President Obama pointed out in his speech was that we've had a regional sorting out of our politics and the conservative Democrats became Republicans in the South. The moderate Republicans became Democrats in the Northeast and the West Coast. That's a part of it.
But I would broaden it out, Michael -- it's not just polarization. It's a combination right now, a toxic one of tribalism and populism. Populism where nobody trusts leaders of any sort anymore. Tribalism where the people on the other side of the isle are not just worthy adversaries but the enemy.
And when you have that kind of atmosphere, when George Herbert Walker Bush became president, Dan Rostenkowski, the Democratic who was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was one of his dearest from Congress. They worked together, they collaborated, they tried to solve problems.
Now, if you do that, it's like sleeping with the enemy.
SMERCONISH: What can change, Larry, the president laid out some of his solutions. I know you're relatively pessimistic on whether it all can change. What would be a step in the right direction?
KRAMER: Well, I'm not pessimistic on whether it can change. I think it can. It just going to take time. It took us a long time to dig into this hole and it's going to take us some time to dig out. So, there is institutional changes that have to take place.
You know, I think one of the major, major contributors is just not enough people turn out in the primary elections that pick the candidate. So, you're getting candidates picked at the extremes of the parties and that is a huge problem and almost doesn't matter whether the district is competitive at that point.
Campaign finance is absolutely a problem. I mean, candidates are spending 70 percent of the time raising money they don't have time too govern or talk to each other or get to learn about the issues themselves and are dependant on lobbyists for most of their information. And then, you know, the things Norm pointed out are absolutely correct, you've layered on that top of that, kind of as a consequence of the fact they don't really know each other and know how to work.
So, we need to deal with the problems, you know, all of them either one at a time or all together but we definitely need to deal with them and if we do, I think it's certainly possible for politics to recover.
SMERCONISH: Norman, I think a lot of fault lies with the media, the president addressed this subject when he spoke in Illinois this week. Here is part of when he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You've got a fractured media. Some folks watch FOX News. Some folks read the "Huffington Post." And very often, what's profitable is the most sensational conflict and the most incendiary sound bytes.
And we can choose our own facts. We don't have a common basis for what's true and what's not. I mean, if I listen to some of these conservative pundits, I wouldn't vote for me, either. I sound like a scary guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Norman Ornstein, too many are conflicting news gathering and entertainment.
ORNSTEIN: It's infotainment, Michael. I think it's even worse than that. We have a tribal media, but the business models basically work if you scare people to death.
ORNSTEIN: You look at the shows and the commercials are about gold. Why do you have gold commercials? People think the apocalypse is coming, you're going to go out and buy gold.
So, pulling us part happens in the media, and it raises the larger point -- there are structural things we can do and some Larry has talked about, some the president was talking about but it's a cultural problem, as much as anything else. We need to change structures to change culture.
And we have a coarsen culture now when you have a presidential candidate that soars to the top by saying the foulest things imaginable. Maybe he hasn't reached all of the seven words that George Carlin said were forbidden, but he's reaching there or moving in that direction, it's not very good.
[09:50:06] And I think if we can do one thing, what Larry pointed out, enlarging the electorate at a time when we're fighting to keep voters from being suppressed, so we can keep more people engaged, including perhaps activating the center that is still partially there, it would help of a lot.
SMERCONISH: Forty-two percent of Americans told Gallup in January, they are I's, they are not R's or D's, which I take great comfort in.
Norman Ornstein and Larry Kramer, thank you both so, so much for being here.
ORNSTEIN: Absolutely. Thanks, Michael.
KRAMER: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Up ahead, the best and worst of some of your tweets. How about this one? Check it out.
SMERCONISH: I always say you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell "Smerconish."
Here are two that came in during the course of the hour, I love this, "Smerconish, you're talking about foul language. That's a reflection of how most people speak in their homes nowadays."
Well, first of all, I think that's a bunch of B.S. Even if that were true, I don't want to elect a president in our image. I want someone we can look up to.
Then there was this that came in, relative to Roger Stone, "Roger Stone must have a political sense of humor or he couldn't have worn that suit. Was it from the Bugsy Siegel line?"
Hey, you should know that Roger Stone was on the cover of "The New York Times" style section recently -- there he is. And he himself has succeed Mr. Blackwell in putting out a best dressed list and I made it last year. So, maybe that's a reflection of me as well.
Have a great week and I will see you next weekend.