How Will Bachmann's Departure Affect Politics?

Tea Party favorite Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has announced she's won't run for re-election. But what does the news mean for the Tea Party movement, and the rest of the GOP? Host Michel Martin discusses this and other political news with Republican strategist Lenny McAllister and The Root's Keli Goff.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Later in the program, we will meet with actress and producer Rita Wilson. She says passing the big 5-0 has liberated her from her creative rut and is editor-at-large of the Huff/Post50 website. She's now launching a new literary section and inviting other 50-somethings to get those creative juices flowing. She'll tell you more about that in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to start with the week's political news. There's been a lot going on. Minnesota representative and Tea Party favorite and one-time presidential candidate Michele Bachmann announced that she will not run again for Congress. And South Carolina's Governor Nikki Haley is in hot water there over a former volunteer's ties with what's been labeled a hate group.

We wanted to talk about that and other news of the week, so with us now are two of trusted analysts. Lenny McAllister is a Republican. He's a one-time candidate for Congress himself. He's author of the book "Diary of a Mad Black PYC: Proud Young Conservative." Also with us, once again, Keli Goff. She's a political correspondent for The Root.com. Welcome back to you both. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

KELI GOFF: Great to be back.

LENNY MCALLISTER: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: So let's start with Michele Bachmann's announcement that she won't seek reelection next year. We don't have time for all nine minutes of the video announcement. We'll just play it - just a little bit. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: I've considered it to be both an honor and a privilege, but most importantly, a significant responsibility. And even when it means resisting the policy positions of many in my own political party, I've always strived to be, first and foremost, a public servant and do what is best for the people and never acquiesce to being a political servant.

MARTIN: So, you know, Lenny, we're reminded that she won the Iowa Straw Poll less than two years ago. So what do you make of her announcement? And what do you think it means for the Tea Party, in particular?

MCALLISTER: I think that the Sarah Palin from Minnesota has run her course, and she will go find work in the media and make a good living. I think that's basically what she was going to do. She, even as a presidential candidate, was one that did a better job at picking off her competitors than she did leading from the front.

If you remember, she really got Rick Perry into trouble. She's the one that said when you flip 999 upside down, the devil's in the details. She did a good job of doing that, but when she was the quote-unquote "frontrunner" for a very brief period of time, she did not handle that role very well. She rode the crest of the Tea Party when it was at its height.

It is no longer at its height. It's starting to crescendo back up. But with the controversies that have come up and the fact that she barely won in 2012, she was going to have her own devil-in-the-details time going through an investigation in 2013 and trying to win in 2014. Like I said, this is a good time for her to sunset, go get a media job. And I think that she will ride the conservative wave for the next five to 10 years in that capacity.

MARTIN: You know, Keli, some people are saying, you know, to the point that Lenny just made, that this might not be unalloyed joy for the Democrats, because with her kind of moving off the stage, as Sarah Palin has moved, you know, off the stage from actually being a player, that this gives - you know what I mean? It's kind of like the forest fire. It lets kind of the underbrush rise. What do you think about that?

GOFF: Darn it, Michel, you stole my first talking points.

MARTIN: Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Sorry.

GOFF: No. I actually was going to say this is a huge loss - and I say this without a hint of sarcasm - for the Democrats. Bah-dum-pa. That was going to be my little take on this. And you're right, because it is. It's a huge loss, because it makes it harder to sort of categorize the entire party as crazy, frankly, when the person who was sort of most identified with that - because, you know, there are so many wacky things that she said.

But I will actually say that one of the things that the Republican Party has had the toughest time shedding in the Obama era is the label of racist. And I know plenty of Republicans who are not racist. Lenny would be one of them. But there are...

MCALLISTER: Thank you.

GOFF: ...plenty more who are not people of color who are not racist. But that's a hard image to shake when you have one of your most high-profile leaders in the party saying things like let's investigate Huma Abedin, a long-term aide to Senator Clinton, because she's Muslim and her family's Muslim, and we have to check out those Muslims.

And you have people like John McCain trying to say no, no, no, this does not belong in our party. This is abominable. We don't want that rhetoric. He was backed up by a lot of members of the party. But that got days and days and days of press coverage, and that's not the kind of press coverage the GOP wants in this new America, multicultural America.

MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end, let's talk about another story that you've actually reported on, Keli, yourself: the reelection campaign for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who's also been cast as a rising star within the party, kind of an exciting new face for the Republican Party.

I mean, this in South Carolina, the fact that she was elected governor in a state which, before she was elected, had the lowest percentage of women in statewide office anywhere in the country. Now she had to ask one of her steering committee members to resign this week. His name is Roan Garcia-Quintana. He sits on the board of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which has been classified as a white nationalist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

And in a statement, the Haley campaign said, quote, "There's no place for racially divisive rhetoric in the politics or governance of South Carolina, and Governor Haley has no tolerance for it." But this was three days of coverage before they said this. And, Keli, you spoke to Gordon Baum, the head of the CCC last fall. Tell us a little bit more about this group, and why is it that people characterize it as a hate group or as a white supremacist group?

GOFF: Well, because they have things on their website, like their core principles are things like no race-mixing. So, I mean, that's kind of a hard sell to say that you're not - you know, you have nothing against other races when you're, like, but I don't want them mixing or touching us. And, you know, during my interview, I actually was talking to him about the growing population, that census data that showed that white babies were no longer the majority.

And I was specifically asking him if he had any concerns about that, and his answer was a resounding yes, in a pretty lengthy interview. He talked about their fears of us looking like Mexico or Brazil - which, for the record, is part of why I found this Nikki Haley story so shocking and surprising. I had to read it three times to make sure the person in question, I had his name correct: Roan Garcia-Quintana, because that does not sound like an Anglo name.

And I have to say that the Council of Conservative Citizens doesn't have pretty favorable things to say about any person who's brown, regardless of, you know, what their background is. And they've been pretty hard on Latin American countries. I mean, it sort of reminded me, Michel, in all seriousness, when I interviewed him, I asked him if he had members who were not white, and he said yes.

And I thought he was joking. And he repeated and said, no, you know, we have a couple of members who are not white who just, you know, agree with our ideals of racial purity. And my thinking was, OK, maybe there are a couple of journalists who are of color who have joined to just get inside information. Maybe there are people who joined on a dare, to be funny.

Maybe it's sort of like that Dave Chappelle skit where you have the black, blind racist, because he doesn't know he's black because he's blind. And it's, you know, this whole thing. But then when I read this, I was so shocked that here you have a governor of color, since she's Indian, a man of color, since he sounds Latino.

MARTIN: He's Cuban-American.

GOFF: Who's Cuban-American, who would...

MARTIN: He's Cuban-American.

GOFF: ...identify with this, you know, with this organization.

MARTIN: Well, he was actually interviewed by one of the papers there, The State. And he was interviewed by The State last Friday, and he dismissed the accusations of racism, saying that the group supports Caucasian heritage. He says it's not racist to be proud of your heritage, to want to keep your heritage pure.

GOFF: They talk about worrying about being out-bred by brown people. That's - you know?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, Lenny, you worked in North Carolina for a while. You were active in North Carolina politics for a while, too. Tell us a little bit about what - how do you read the situation, and why do you think Nikki Haley reacted as she did?

MCALLISTER: I think she reacted the way she did because she had to. If she wants to get reelected, she had to distance herself from this in a very strong and firm manner. In regards to the CCC, they're prevalent specifically in the South, specifically with poorer rural areas. I had my own run-in with the CCC, and you would think that they would support black conservatives. But black conservatives that are not willing to espouse some of the values that they have on the CCC, they will not support.

As a matter of fact, they attended one of the Tea Party speeches I gave in Ocala, Florida in 2010. So I'm very well aware that they will look for minorities that will support their points of view, whether it comes to quote-unquote "black flash mobs" - which an article came out about that this past week that I had to stand against - or other types of incidences.

That they look for minorities that will help propagate their message. And to Keli's point and other folks out there throughout the national political realm, this is why people look at some black and brown conservatives with a jaundiced eye, because they say you also get in bed with these types of individuals, you know what their policies and their positions are. This no longer just talks about conservative solutions to help resolve and improve American problems; this goes back to just pure racism, and you're being used as a tool and it's unfortunate.

And I think that Nikki Haley understand that as an Indian-American, a rising star that's a minority and a governor looking to be a two-term governor and perhaps more moving forward, she had to distance herself in a very firm fashion immediately.

MARTIN: But why - no, it took three days before these issues surfaced. I mean...

GOFF: Michel, can I - I'm sorry.

MARTIN: No, let Lenny finish the point, please, OK.

MCALLISTER: Well, I think that yes, it could have come - it could have and should have come out a lot sooner, but they also had to make sure that they got their arms around all the facts, that nothing else came out and surprised them, so that when they came out with the hammer(ph), they did it the right way.

Now, if it were me, if I were the governor of South Carolina, it would have come out probably in 15 minutes.

MARTIN: OK.

MCALLISTER: So I do - I think there's something wrong with the tendency(ph) that they had at first, but once it came out, she tried to do it as firm as possible, I believe.

Lenny?

MARTIN: Keli, briefly?

GOFF: I've got to disagree briefly. The reason it took her three days is because the CCC is a force to be reckoned with. Major senators from Trent Lott to Roger Wicker, who is the current senator from Mississippi, have all had ties to this group over the years. And Mr. Baum(ph) told me very bluntly that they still have elected officials, particularly on the local level, who are hoping to go national someday, who maintain ties because they do have a constituency.

So it wasn't something she could take lightly to say I'm going to, you know, cut someone off at the knees who does have a constituency, even if we don't care for it, the rest of us don't care for it.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Lenny, I'll give this question to you because moving to Rhode Island, former Republican Governor Lincoln Chafee joined Team Democrat yesterday, and he spoke to MSNBC's Chris Matthews about his decision. I'll just play that very briefly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MSNBC BROADCAST)

GOVERNOR LINCOLN CHAFEE: The Southerners were taking over the party. They just had a different view of where the Republican Party should be, and I was wondering, is the party ever going to come back to my way of thinking? And I just made the decision, it's not coming back.

MARTIN: Important to mention he made the switch to the Democratic Party via being an independent. So Lenny, what do you make of his point, as briefly as you can?

MCALLISTER: I think that he understands that if he's going to get re-elected, he probably needs to be a Democrat in Rhode Island. But it's unfortunate because if you don't have leaders that stand their ground as moderates and people that can work with the other side, of course the Republican Party's not going to come back.

MARTIN: Keli, very brief thought from you?

GOFF: It's probably not going to work. I mean, ask - you know, Arlen Specter tried to do the same thing. It didn't work for him. Bloomberg has billions of dollars, so he's been three different parties and it works. So if Lincoln Chafee can find a billion dollars, it might work. I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

GOFF: Win the lottery.

MARTIN: All right, we'll keep an eye on that one. Keli Goff is a political correspondent for theroot.com. She was with us from NPR New York. Lenny McAllister is a Republican strategist, author of the book "Diary of a Mad PYC, Proud Young Conservative." He was with us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thank you both so much.

GOFF: Thanks, Michel.

MCALLISTER: God bless.

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