GOP Remains Hopeful Ahead Of Mid-Term Elections

Ed Rollins, a Republican campaign consultant and advisor, discusses the GOP's chances of reclaiming the U.S. Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, as well as the impact of candidates from the tea party.

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: In 1983, 1984, he was national campaign director for the Reagan/Bush '84 campaign. And of course, recently, he was national campaign chairman for Mike Huckabee's campaign for president. He was listening in on our conversation with Democratic National Committee chairman, Tim Kaine. Welcome to the program.

ED ROLLINS: My pleasure, thank you.

: And so he says that the Democrats are in difficulty now because they're doing what's right, but not popular. What's your response?

ROLLINS: Well, the truth of the matter is you got to do what the country wants. And this country wants this economy to get moving again and wants jobs. And there's been a lot of rhetoric about a lot of things, but not jobs. The last month or two, they've tried to make the case that jobs are coming back. There's no evidence of that. Americans don't believe that. And I think to a certain extent two years in an administration, the public is very unhappy.

The reality is this president promised he was going to be different. And he was going to be above the partisan fray. And I can tell you, I've been in this business for four decades. I was the White House political director. I ran the congressional committee. I've been around a lot of different presidents. I've never seen a president more partisan and more shrill than this one has been the last several weeks out on the campaign trail.

And what he has done, I think, and his policies have done, is he's driven independents that are now a plurality of the voters, and more people identify themselves as Independents than they do Democrats or Republicans, he's basically driven them to our side. His policies have driven them to our side. And they don't like the partisanship going on. And at the end of the day, I'm not saying this is going to be a pro-Republican vote, this is going to be an anti-Democrat leadership vote and certainly an anti-Obama vote.

: Could you parse that out for me a little bit though? Because, I mean, you remember, of course, Election Day in 2008, Republicans very dispirited having lost both houses and the White House. And from there to where we are now, is this a referendum on the president's policies? Which, after all, he campaigned on and which presumably voters elected him to do. Is this a referendum on the results or is this a referendum on style? What do you think?

ROLLINS: Part of it's style. Part of is things that the people are not focused on today. People, as I say, there's no question he came in under tough times. He ran for the job. He won. I think what people haven't particularly liked is the inability to bring sides together. He may blame it on the Republicans. But at the end of the day, not getting a single Republican vote for these multi-trillion dollar spending and health care programs and all the rest of it shows an unwillingness to participate.

I think at this point in time this is an election where certainly I think we're very confident. And every Democrat strategist or any Republican strategist will argue, pollsters and others, that we're going to win the House. We're going to do very well in the Senate. You know, at the end of the day, Republicans are going to be in the room. Are they going to yell and scream at each other or are they basically going to try and fix the country?

I think they now have a place at the table. They have to basically make sure this government works. In 2006, independents, 2008, independents in both elections voted majority Democrat. That gave them the margin of victory.

: And that is true. My next question then, if the Republicans win the House as has been, you know, predicted by many people, what then should be their first priority? Particularly given that the Republicans feel that a number of candidates who made a point of saying that part of the reason they're going to Washington is they are not going to compromise.

ROLLINS: Well, I think question of compromising or sitting at the table and seeing what the issues are. I think at the end of the game, the rhetoric has to be very careful. The American public doesn't want the two sides to be yelling and screaming at each other. They want you to sit down and try and resolve it. The differences are I think the Democrats sort of believe in a redistribution of wealth. They believe that we ought to take a lot of the resources, and you hear the rhetoric, you know, from businesses and more will to do Americans and give it to poverty programs and other things that are new programs.

At the end of the day, what we have to do is instead of yelling and screaming at the Chamber of Commerce, as the president has for the last three or four months, he should be sitting down with the Chamber of Commerce, who basically represent American business, small and large, and say how do we collectively get jobs created? How do we get people back to work?

When you sit here with unemployment close to 10 percent, when you sit here with another 10 percent underemployed, and on top of that, a quarter and a gallop, you've got another 25 percent who are worried about losing their job. When you've got 45 percent of America worried about losing jobs, that's what they want their focus to be.

: Well, didn't Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell suggest in an interview that the party's top goal would be ensuring that President Obama is not reelected in 2012? Doesn't that suggest that the goal is different than that?

ROLLINS: Yeah. Well, I wish he hadn't said that. I don't advise the senator and obviously he doesn't need my advice. But I don't think that's the goal. The president has two more years in this term. Obviously, to choose to run for reelection, there'll be a Republican running against him. I can't tell you who that is going to be, because I don't know. I don't think any other Republican does.

But I think for the next two years, collectively, we have to basically get this economy moving again. There needs to be debates in the room between the two ideologies. And there's very significant difference in ideologies.

: And, finally, I'm sorry we don't have more time to discuss this last question I wanted to raise to you, that we had asked Tim Kaine - Governor Kaine about President Clinton approaching Kendrick Meek apparently, or they talked about his dropping out of the race. RNC, Republican National Committee chair, Michael Steele, talked about - sent a message saying that this sends a chilling signal to all voters, but especially African-Americans. Was that so terrible?

ROLLINS: Well, first of all, Michael Steele shouldn't be commenting about what's going on there. He's got a task to get out there and try and help Republicans win. You know, it was heavy handed. It was a foolish tactic. It didn't work. You know, at the end of the day, I don't think many Democrats want to go vote for a Republican governor, even though he may be running as an independent today. He's been the Republican governor. I think the Republicans chose someone else to be their Senate nominee and obviously Charlie is going to come in a distant second in this race no matter what happens.

: All right, to be continued. Ed Rollins, longtime Republican consultant and strategist. He was with us on the phone from New York. Thank you so much for joining us.

ROLLINS: Bye.

: The Barbershop guys are next. They give their take on politics, including the president's appearance on "The Daily Show," and that LeBron James' minute-and-a-half Nike ad. Wow, let's hear about that.

That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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