Moderate GOP Group Targets Tea Party Candidates For Defeat

In the wake of the partial government shutdown, many establishment Republicans argued that the hardliners in the GOP, backed by the Tea Party, needed to be reigned in. Former Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio tells David Greene about his efforts to put millions of dollars toward that goal in the 2014 mid-term elections.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, one thing the government shutdown revealed is a Republican Party that seems bitterly divided. Steve LaTourette is hoping to change that. The former Ohio congressman is leading a moderate GOP group called Main Street Advocacy. He believes that if it weren't for the tactics of hardliners in the party, Republicans would have a lot more power right now, maybe even majority in the Senate.

LaTourette's group is putting money, a total of $8 million, into helping moderate Republicans defeat Tea Party candidates in upcoming congressional primaries. They produced an ad with a, quote, hall of shame that includes failed Tea Party-backed candidates for the Senate like Todd Akin and Christine O'Donnell.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

TODD AKIN: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: I'm not a witch.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What were they thinking?

GREENE: We got Steve LaTourette on the line and asked him if there's a danger in being so tough on his fellow Republicans.

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE LATOURETTE: It's really not a harsh ad. I use their own words against them. I didn't say that Christine O'Donnell wasn't a witch. I didn't say that Todd Akin wanted to chat about legitimate rape.

GREENE: But you slam a big stamp that says lost in front of their faces.

LATOURETTE: Well, they did. I mean, you know, that's also a fact. And it's not a warm and fuzzy ad, but here's the deal. My experience - I went to a lot of Tea Party meetings in my district; 99.9 percent of the folks that belong to the Tea Party belong to it for the right reason. But what happens is, you have some folks who are really libertarians, you have some folks that find the availability of the microphone that is the Tea Party and they advance government shutdown agendas that are just not realistic.

GREENE: You feel like many of the Tea Party candidates who actually run do not necessarily reflect the views of people out in America who consider themselves part of the Tea Party.

LATOURETTE: Well, some do and some don't. That's really what this fight in the Republican Party is about. I mean all our argument is, is that there needs to be room in the Republican Party for everybody and we can't have these litmus tests where you determine that you're a good Republican, you're not a good Republican.

For crying out loud, to gain the White House in 2016, we need all hands on deck. We don't need a bunch of litmus tests weeding out the good from the bad.

GREENE: But with all due respect, isn't that, in some ways, the message you're sending with an ad like this, telling people that they are not good Republicans and not the candidates that you want?

LATOURETTE: No. I'm not saying they're not good Republicans. I'm saying that they're failed candidates and they are failed candidates.

GREENE: Let me ask you about the message you take from the results of the elections this week.

LATOURETTE: Uh-huh, yep.

GREENE: Let me ask you about Virginia. I mean Ken Cuccinelli was the Republican candidate backed by the Tea Party and lost a pretty close race to the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. Some Cuccinelli supporters say it was so close that if the more moderate Republican establishment had thrown more support behind Cuccinelli, the Republican Party could have the governor's mansion in Virginia right now.

LATOURETTE: No. I think that's a ridiculous argument. What it shows to me is that even though Terry McAuliffe was a very flawed Democratic candidate and in most years would not have prevailed, if the Republicans had handled the Affordable Care Act debate in a different way, other than saying defund it, repeal it or else, he can blame the money all he wants, but I think Ken Cuccinelli could be the governor-elect in Virginia today if Ted Cruz hadn't shut down the government.

GREENE: Congressman, there's been a lot of money driven by a whole lot of passion in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Do you feel like you can catch up with the Tea Party on either score?

LATOURETTE: Well, that's the goal. I mean I don't profess to be able to change the world by the time we get to the 2014 elections, and that's why our goals are modest. What I would like to come out of this election cycle is that a truce is declared and people say, you know what? Maybe if we'd all work together and rather than defunding the president's healthcare initiative, we talked about delaying the individual mandate, finding what you can get in this split system of government, we could become a national party again.

GREENE: You say become a national party again, which makes me wonder, do you feel like this is a low point for your party right now?

LATOURETTE: Well, it's a low point in terms of being a national party. I mean if you think about it, there's not one Republican representative in all of New England. When I was elected in 1994, I think we had 12 or 14 Republican members from the New York State delegation. I think it's down to five. At one point it was just down to Peter King and Chris Lee and we used to call them the king and I.

All of the great Republican leaders that these guys point to when they - Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan understood that to govern you had to make compromises, use common sense, and there had to be some cooperation. And in those days the strength of the Republican Party, if you will, was in a lot of those what are now totally blue states.

So we can control the majority in the House of Representatives, because of redistricting, through the end of the decade and we can be a regional party, but we're not going to win Senate races and we're not going to elect a president of the Republican Party in 2016 until we can carry states that we're not carrying today.

GREENE: Congressman LaTourette, it is always a pleasure to have you on the program. Thanks for taking the time.

LATOURETTE: Thank you so much.

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