Borg: Rebuilding on the run. Out of power Republicans in Iowa and nationally are redesigning for regaining voter appeal. A conversation with former GOP National Chair Haley Barbour now Mississippi's Governor and the new chair of the Republican Governor's Association on this addition of Iowa Press.
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On statewide Iowa Public Television this Friday June 26th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.
Borg: Haley Barbour is a familiar political name for the last five years he's been Mississippi's Governor. Before that he chaired the Republican National Committee. In fact, he was the man in charge in 1994 when for the first time in 40 years Republicans took control of both houses of Congress because of Mississippi's term limits Governor Barbour can't run for re-election when his current term ends in 2011, and some are speculating that he maybe seeking the parties 2012 presidential nomination. And this week Governor Barbour took over as head of the National Republican Governor's Association following the abrupt resignation of South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford. Governor Barbour welcome to Iowa and to Iowa Press.
Barbour: Thank you Dean and I'm glad to be back here.
Borg: Across the table Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Governor Dean mention an introduction, the resignation of Mark Sanford the Republican Governor's Association. He was one of the brightest stars in the Republican Party often mentioned as a 2012 candidate as well. Has he affectively destroyed that future?
Barbour: You know, Mike, I'll just say to you in my career I made a point that I don't talk about people's personal problems. I don't think it's polite.
Glover: But this is a political problem.
Barbour: I don't think it's appropriate and I don't think it advances the ball down the field. People of South Carolina have got to decide and he's got to decide whether he ever wants to try to run for anything, and I'm not going to pre-judge that based on what I think is a personal tragedy for his family.
Glover: Should he resign as Governor? There's a lot of calls for that.
Barbour: I don't think he should.
Glover: And what should he do to rehabilitate himself?
Barbour: Well, like I say I think what we need to do in the Republican Governor's Association as Republican Governors is we need to be focused on our business at hand which is the two governor's races that are happening this year New Jersey and Virginia they're very very important both to the two states but also the future of the Republican Party.
Henderson: But as an old political hand you worked in the Reagan White House as someone who is a tactician. How do you answer what's happened to your party lately? You had Senator Enson admit to an affair. You had Governor Sanford admit to an affair. How do you in your words 'move the ball down the field' when everyone is talking about those two gentleman and their affairs?
Barbour: Actually I've spent the last few days in Virginia and New Jersey and what they're talking about is the Governor's Races in Virginia and New Jersey because they're very important. They are competitive races. Governor Corzine's job approval is down in the low 30s and our candidate Chris Christy, former U.S. Attorney, is ahead by several points in almost every -- well, in every poll for the last six weeks, but that's going to be a very competitive race. New Jersey is a very very competitive state and then Virginia polls have shown Republicans was ahead a couple points -- the Democrats ahead. Very close race and so we're trying to be focused on what is the business at hand which is elect a Republican Governor.
Glover: One of the business at hand and to go back to the Sanford thing is it's not just having an affair. I mean politicians have survived having an affair. Lying to his staff, lying to voters, deceiving people about where he was, erratic behavior, how can he repair himself after that?
Barbour: Well, let me just say obviously he lied to somebody or lied to somebody else. I don't know what he said to different people. Didn't say anything to me. So, I'm not going to pre-judge that, but look the Sanford’s have got something they got to work through. I think they're trying to work through it and what that means politically I think right now for them it's probably a whole lot less important than what it means for their family.
Borg: Let's broaden it then. Yes, you're saying this is an individual indiscretion and they have to work it out, but it's undeniable that it has broader implications. And I'm asking what, Governor Barber, do you see as the effect more broadly on the Republican Party?
Barbour: I actually don't think there will be any effect. When I say any I mean literally any effect. If he were to -- well, I'm not going to speculated on what he might or might not do. I don't think it will change how one person is going to vote in November of 2009 or of November of 2010. I think it's a terrible thing. I hate it for him, but if you ask what I think the effect will be at the ballot box, I don't think there will be any effect at the ballot box.
Glover: I'd like to get you to deal with what I think is a pragmatic political issue as a tactician. The fact is these disclosures in recent months have people talking about peccadilloes of Republican Presidential Candidates and not the ideas that they're putting forth. Isn't that a problem?
Barbour: I can tell you this Mike, it's always good for Republicans when campaigns are about ideas. Campaigns are about public policy. That's good for Republicans because most people in the country agree with Republicans about limited government. They don't want to see trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars being spent. They don't want to see trillions and trillions and trillions being run up in debt for their children. So, one thing I guarantee and I agree on this, it's better for Republicans when campaigns are about public policy and about ideas. There's no question about that.
Glover: This hurts the party just from that perspective. Discussions about something else.
Barbour: You know you presume from that that Bob McDonald running for Governor of Virginia is going to have to talk about something different than what he would have talked about. Would've talked about job creation. Would've talked about education. Would've talked about transportation. Would've talked about keeping taxes low in Virginia, and I think Bob McDonald running for Governor of Virginia is not going to talk about one thing different for one minute because of this.
Henderson: Governor, you were in New Hampshire this week. You were in Iowa --
Barbour: Last night.
Henderson: You are in Iowa this week as well. People who have that kind of travel schedule and who happen to be a Governor of a state and happen to be a Republican might be assumed to be laying the ground work for Presidential Campaign. Are you?
Barbour: Not really. You know John Sununu who is the Republican State Chairman in New Hampshire used to be Governor in New Hampshire, and a friend of mine of long standing called me about two months ago and he said 'Hey, I want somebody to come up here to New Hampshire to talk about party building who isn't running for President.' And I said 'Well John, I'm the answer to your prayers.' And so I went up there. Again the National Committee man from my home state Mississippi came to me and said that the Iowa State Chairman has asked would I be willing to come out there and talk to about party building, and of course I think the reason they did that is sixteen years ago the last time Republicans were in the position of having just lost the White House, I became chairman of the party and we had some pretty good success and that's what I'm going to talk about tonight. I don't know what presidential candidates come out here and talk about.
Glover: Well, let's go there, what is your message to Republicans you're going to be talking to?
Barbour: You got to rebuild a party from the bottom up. When you're in the White House for a long time you become a top down party. I don't care if your Democrats or Republicans you go to rebuild from the bottom up and give people a chance to participate. The national party has got to make sure we have strong, resilient, self-reliant state parties, and the state parties got to do the same thing to counties. Coalition building -- rebuilding our small donor fundraising base, getting on the cutting edge of communications technology, you know there's been a lot written and for good reason about how the Obama Campaign did some great stuff on the internet. You may not realize it but every time a party has the White House for eight or twelve years the other party gets ahead of them on communications because why? Because the White House doesn't want anybody else out getting on the cutting edge of anything because they want the whole message to be controlled by the White House. I was political director of the White House on the Ronald Reagan. It wasn't any different when I was there, but we now are liberated if you will, to rebuild our party the way it's the strongest, and our party is much stronger as a bottom up party.
Glover: There some who suggest that one of the dangers facing Republicans nationally is they could become a regional part that essentially appeals strongly to southern whites. Yet many of the candidates, who we talk about as running for president in 2012, are white southern governors. What does a white southern governor do to expand the party?
Barbour: Well, I will tell you this, I think it's very important for Republicans to recognize that there are some that would like to cast us as a regional party. I said publicly in January when we were electing a new party chairman that I thought all of the things being equal it would be better if the new chairman won from the South because that makes it easier for people to characterize us. Same time when people vote for somebody for President, they vote for what they see is their leadership ability, their character, their positions on the issues, you know, is it a disadvantage to have an accent exactly like mine. I suspect it is, but I don't think it's the end of the world. Not that I'm thinking about running but one of the things we Republican have to guard against is the idea that we are a regional party. You look, Kay, when I got involved in the Republican Party in 1968, Republicans weren't a national party because we couldn't compete in much of the South. Now we're ahead of the Democrats of the South though we're not as dominate as they were back before the 60s, but we've got to make sure that people understand yes, it's true there are no House Republicans from New England, but three of New England's six governors are Republicans. And the most popular governor in New England is the Republican Governor of Connecticut. The Chairman of the National Governor's Association is the Republican Governor of Vermont. Rhode Island, one of the most liberal states in the country, had a Republican Governor for sixteen consecutive years. So, while right now there are not any House members, half of and most of the population, well I guess about half the population and half of the states in New England have Republican Governors.
Borg: I'm intrigued by the comment you made rebuilding from the bottom up-- listening to the people. That implies to me that you're trying to broaden the base of the Republican Party and that gets to a problem that some perceive here in Iowa that the party has become philosophically too narrowly focused and overly conservative not tolerating moderation within the party. Even to the fact that that might affect the caucuses leading up the 2012 election, and that is that some Republicans, possible Presidential Candidates, may choose to bypass Iowa because the party here in Republicans too narrowly focused and it may damage their campaigns nationally if they run in Iowa.
Barbour: Dean, this is something that's talked about a lot particularly by the news media, but in a two party system like we have in America both parties necessarily are coalitions. Yeah the Republican Party is the conservative party of the United States. The Democrat Party is the liberal party of the United States, but in our party and in the way we operate and manage our party we've got to understand that there are millions and millions--- tens of millions of Republicans who don't agree with Haley Barbour on everything, and the good news is you don't have to. I'll tell you a little example, my first year as governor Mississippi passed six abortion laws that lead one of the National Right to Life Organizations to say Mississippi was the safest state in America for an unborn child, and I'm very proud of that. But I'm going to tell you something else -- there are tens of millions of pro-choice Republicans who are just as good of Republicans as I am who is just as much able to lead our party who got just as much voice. When I was chairman of our party that's how we ran our party, and that's how we should always run our party. You know Dean, since I've been alive, since I've been voting Republican Candidates for President have gotten about 60% of the vote for President of the United States -- '72 and '84, and we've got to run our party in a way that anybody who might be in that 60% feels comfortable being in the Republican Party. Now we're not ever going to get Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank's supporters, but the 60% that might vote for a Republican Candidate for Governor of Iowa or for President of the United States, we've got to make sure not only that they are welcome in our party but they know they work for the right party because as I say both parties are coalitions.
Henderson: But Governor there are some in the Republican Party who don't wish to include people who have, as you labeled, pro-choice views. They don't want them to be part of the party. They don't want them to represent the party. What do you say to those folks?
Barbour: I would say that my experience is that every election you have millions of Pro-Choice Republicans voting for Pro-Life Republicans. You have millions of Pro-Life Republicans voting for Pro-Choice Republicans. The best example I can think of, Kay, in my own experience in your neighboring state of Minnesota in 1994 Arnie Carlson was the most liberal Republican Governor in the United States. He was pro-choice, he got challenged in the party convention and lost the convention before he won the primary. Yet in the general election Arnie Carlson had more to do with our electing a Pro-Life Republican Senator in Minnesota than any other person. It was the perfect example of a Pro-Choice Republican leader saying 'Hey, this guy and I agree on 80% of the things, I'm not going to let the fact that we disagree on abortion keep me from helping him get elected Senator of Minnesota.'
Henderson: There are also those who point to the demographics of the Obama win and demographics in the country and suggest that there's no way statistically that Republicans could win in future elections. How do you stitch together a coalition? How do you defeat, if you will, those demographics?
Barbour: Well, I think you'll look back in American political history and with the sole exception of African-Americans demographic trends in voting move around. You know, don't forget the last guy who got a highly disproportionate share of the youth vote was Ronald Reagan. The oldest president in American history and he outperformed most groups among young people. Young people move around. They are clearly have been part of the liberal media elite swoon for Obama. What I call the longest wet kiss in American political history, but that doesn't mean that they're not going to be Tim Pawlenty. It doesn't mean that they're not going to be for you know Linda Lingal or somebody else. Demographic voting patterns are not steady, never have been except as I say the one outlier there is African-American vote has gone up since the 1930s and particularly since 1964.
Glover: Mike Murphy one of the shrewdest Republican strategists I've ever run into wrote a column recently where the advice he had for Republicans was build an ark because the demographics are running against you and demographic trends take decades to reverse is wrong?
Barbour: What I took Mike's point to be is open the doors for everybody who wants to come in and I believe absolutely, and we were talking about it earlier in terms of issues, in terms of social issues, or maybe in terms of National Security issues. But in the same way you need to keep your doors open for people by ethnicity or age. Look when I was -- ran a State Republican Party in the 70s, by the way the first time I ever saw a political poll in 1968 six or seven Mississippians identified themselves as Republicans. Six but our motto was we were the party of the open door that you didn't have to pass some litmus test to be a Republican in Mississippi. That will always be our party and that's when I took Mike's idea that you ought to let the doors down on the ark.
Glover: The purpose of all this exercise that Republicans will be going through for the next two/three years is to find a way to defeat Barrack Obama which is hard right now. The last numbers I saw his approval ratings were in the 60s. Give me a Republican road map of beating Barrack Obama in 2012. What do you have to do?
Barbour: The Republican road map for 2012 again is in 2009. When I was chairman of the party and Bill Clinton's numbers looked very similar to this the first few months and we elected Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Special Election Senator from Texas. We elected Mike Huckabee, Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas to take the place of the guy who succeeded Clinton, Dick Reardon, Mayor of Los Angeles, Rudy Giuliani, but the big two wins that really made a difference for us in '93 were Christie Todd Whitman in New Jersey, George Allen of Virginia. Today we have two very competitive races there. I'm not going to say the Republicans are going to win them both, but if you want to figure out where we're headed that's where we start in terms of elections.
Glover: Bill Clinton won a second term after that.
Barbour: Well he sure did. He was a Reignite President after 1994. I can remember well when he said their big government is over, and in fact, I have to say, I publicly supported President Clinton when I was Chairman of the Republican Committee because he stayed stuck on free trade, open markets and free trade. NAFTA was particularly the issue. President Clinton in many ways kept the policies that Reagan started. Obama on the other had, this is the farthest left shift ever, the most left wing President in history, and the farthest left shift in public policy in history. I think if you look a little closer at those polls the American people are starting to get concerned about trillions and trillions of spending. They're starting to get concerned about trillions and trillions of debt. Starting to get concerned about the government takeover of American whether it's the car companies or whether it's the health care system.
Borg: That maybe true but how do you say that without being the party of 'no' because that is the labelist being hung on you.
Barbour: I'll tell you Dean, I notice it didn't hurt the Democrats in 2006 when their message in the mid-term election was we ain't the Republicans. That was the only message they had. We're not them. We're against Bush. There is a different way to do it which is the way we did it in 1994. When Republicans won the greatest mid-term majority sweep of the 20th century, we didn't just say here's what is wrong with Clinton. We said here are ten things if you elect us we'll do called a contract with America. We gave something to vote for, and I think that's very important. But the fact of the matter is President Obama's policies are far less popular than President Obama.
Glover: Well, how do you tag him then? If his policies are unpopular but the person remains high? A lot of Reagan's policies if you polled them weren't terribly popular, but the President himself was because of his personal appeal and he was a very successful politician.
Barbour: As I said earlier in response to your question, it's good for Republicans when campaigns are about ideas. When they're about public policies that helps Republicans. In President Obama's case, you know, we will see what happens in time, but it's already clear that his policies are not popular and a lot of people are afraid that his policies are going to bring bad outcomes. High interest rates, high inflation, a return to the late 1970s when President Carter gave us something we named stagflation. American people are scared of that. They've been there. They don't want to go there again.
Henderson: So, back to this contract for America thing from 1994. Just re-play? Hit re-play on that or do you have a different set of ten proposals that you think your party should pursue in 2010?
Barbour: I wouldn't say that I'm advocating having a ten issue contract, but what I meant to Dean is I think you should in addition to oppose the incumbents, you should be for something and tell people what you're for. I've had people like that. If you go back though to the contract with America those were things American people agreed with, but didn't-- Republicans didn't stay with long enough in my opinion.
Henderson: You are part of this re-branding. I've heard along with former Governor Romney, Governor Jindal and others. How are you doing to re-brand the party and when does that brand need to start being sold to the American people? Now?
Barbour: We need to do a couple things at the same time and the good thing is I can chew gum and walk at the same time.
Barbour: Thank you ma'am, I appreciate it. It's not a universal trait. The truth is that we need to rebuild from the bottom up. We need to give people a chance to participate. In doing so we need to give them a chance to participate in the public policy debate. Republicans don't have to look around and try to figure out what are our principle and what are our values. The issue is how do you apply our principles and values to today's issue set? It is a different issue set from when I was in the Reagan White House. It's a different set of issues from when Ronald Reagan was getting ready to run for President in 1980. It's a different set of issues from even 1994 when we did a contract with America, but people don't vote for Republicans and Democrats because they -- generally because they prefer r's and d's. They vote for people who they think agree with them on the issues that matter to them.
Glover: You touched on them earlier. There are governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey.
Barbour: Yes sir.
Glover: Which one do you win? Which one do you loose?
Barbour: Well, we're well ahead in New Jersey today, but Governor Corzine twice in the past has spend what totaled more than a hundred million dollars of his own money to win his election. A hundred million dollars goes a long way in a state-wide election.The last time a race looked like this was when Christie Todd Whitman won and the Republicans not only won the governorship in '93, but kept it for eight years. That's going to be a competitive race just because of the money and just because the labor unions are so strongly Democratic in New Jersey and they are very potent force in New Jersey.
Glover: How about Virginia?
Barbour: Virginia, Bob McDonald, the former Attorney General resigned from being Attorney General to run for Governor under their law has been ahead, has been behind, the polling has been two/three points apart the whole time and I think it will be a close race down to the wire. The Democrats nominated their most conservative candidate. The most conservative candidate in the primary. However he has a record of flip-flopping on issues, he has a record of being strongly pro-gun, then in the Democratic Primary this year he flip-flopped and now people who are 2nd amendment advocates feel like he's betrayed them. Again though it will be a close race.
Glover: You talked about some of the places that you've been traveling. You're all over the country. Are you ignoring your base back in Mississippi? Barbour: Not ignoring my base. I spend most of my time in Mississippi but I do try to spend about a week a month out helping the Republicans get elected in the other states in the country because I know that critical to rebuild in our party and keep our country on the right track. You know believe it or not Mississippi is not immune to the national economy, and when the federal government is out spending trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars when the federal government is telling car companies you have to close car dealerships. Some of those car dealerships are in Mississippi. Some of those suppliers are in Mississippi. It has a great affect on us. So, I am very concerned that the federal government's policies not be antagonistic to Mississippi.
Borg: Mike wasn't implying that you shouldn't have traveled to Iowa to be on 'Iowa Press.' And we thank you for being here.
Barbour: Thank you Dean.
Borg: As we close this edition of Iowa Press we're also closing this season. We're talking a two month hiatus now returning in mid-September and at that time beginning our 38th season on Iowa Public Television. Best wishes to all of you for a pleasant summer. I'm Dean Borg and thanks for joining us today.
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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation, the Iowa Bankers Association for personal, business, and commercial needs. Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa. The public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge, and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's private colleges and universities. Enrolling 25% of the total Iowa higher education enrollment and conferring 44% of the baccalaureate and 40% of the graduate degrees in the state. More information is available at www.thinkindependently.com. The Iowa Hospital Association supporting the missions and visions of Iowa's 117 community hospitals. The Iowa Hospital Association we care about Iowa's health.