Does Partisanship Have Its Place in Politics?

Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, and Donna Brazile, chair of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, discuss divisions between the political parties in front of a studio audience of college students.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: And as you can hear, we have an audience with us here in studio 4A to help us conclude our part of a special series that's been running in all the NPR News programs this week called Crossing the Divide. As that name suggests, this series is focused on bringing people together with different points of view. But for much of this hour, we'll take a different tack and talk about the value of partisanship.

With us are Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, and Ed Gillespie, former Republican Party chairman. In the audience are students from universities in the Washington, D.C. area: Howard, George Washington, Catholic, Georgetown, American and the George Mason School of Public Policy. They include college Republicans and Democrats, and if they reflect opinion polls, they also include the growing segment of young people registered as independents, people who say that partisan bickering is one of the things they don't like about the political parties.

Later in the program, Donna Brazile and Ed Gillespie will stay with us to talk about the 2008 presidential campaign with the Political Junkie. If you have questions about the candidates dropping out or signing up, the effect of earlier primaries or politics of Iraq, you can send us e-mail now. The address is talk@npr.org. And use that same address if you want to praise of bury partisanship. We surely want to hear competitive ideas, but maybe not schoolyard taunts. The e-mail address again is talk@npr.org. Our phone number is 800-989-8255 - that's 800-989-TALK. We'll also take questions from the audience here in the studio.

And we'll begin with Ed Gillespie. Why is partisanship important?

Mr. ED GILLESPIE (Chairman, Republican Party of Virginia): Well, partisanship is important because parties are based on political philosophy, and there are different philosophies how should we approach the proper role of government or how those in government should approach governing. And if it weren't for that difference, we wouldn't have political parties, obviously. We'd just flip a coin on election day and Donna could call heads and I'd call tails and whoever won could claim the election. But the fact is the policies are different that are pursued by the two parties largely, and they're important. And they're very important, obviously, in a country as big and as diverse as one like the United States of America.

CONAN: Donna Brazile, the competition of ideas, that's what it's all about?

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Chairperson, Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute): Absolutely. It's also about allowing the American people to see the array - an array of ideas and solutions and perhaps ways that we can, you know, work together behind some common goal. But like Ed, I believe that partisanship at times is a good thing, especially when your party is guided by principles -when your party has a unique vision that they would like to offer the American people.

And I believe it's important that we have leaders that are able to offer those principles without compromising. But if there are challenges that force us to look at some alternatives, our leaders should be willing and flexible enough to come up with alternatives.

CONAN: Of course, you're party is guided by principles. The other guys are low-down rats.

Ms. BRAZILE: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRAZILE: Snakes in the grass.

CONAN: Ed Gillespie, does it come down at some points to just winning? Going out to win?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well, sure. I mean, that's what campaigns are about - winning. But the fact is I would rather be right and lose than be wrong and win.

CONAN: Really?

Mr. GILLESPIE: And I think the fact is, you know, when a majority of voters aren't with you on a issue, you - if you don't believe in it, you shouldn't espouse it. And I always say it's better - the best thing in politics is to run as you who you are and things that you believe in and win. And the worst thing in politics is to run as who you're not and things you don't believe in and lose. So I guess somewhere in there is running on things you don't believe in and somebody you're not and winning.

But the fact is, I think most politicians, most of the people that I know of are on both sides of the aisle do espouse what they believe in. Sometimes you trim yourselves a little bit depending on your voters, but the fact is I know a lot of folks - I know lot more than I used to - who've run and lost but feel good about it because they, you know, they've said what they believed in and stood up for principle.

CONAN: Yet, Donna Brazile, we've seen endless examples of - for example, in the run up to this most recent congressional election - parties on both sides - I'm not trying to get after either one - but trying to stage votes in Congress on issues that they knew they would lose, but they'd rather have the issue than the bill. We've had endless examples of name-calling, for example. Where does that fit in?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, look. That's part of the political process today, and many voters, of course, are rejecting it because they believe it's like poison in the well. And then as a result of it, I think voters have been turned off to our two major political parties. As you've mentioned, a large numbers of our young people and some others are now, you know, becoming independent. But look, I think it's important that parties establish their priorities, that they go out there and they defend, you know, their values, that they vote in a manner that reflects their conscience. And ultimately, the voters will decide whether or not the parties are just playing games or offering real solutions.

And I keep going back to Terri Schiavo and that vote that was called in the middle of the night on a weekend. And I had kept saying to myself I cannot believe with all of the problems that our great country face today the lawmakers are coming back tonight to do something that they know they have no business of doing, but yet they did it because it was good politics. And that was wrong.

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well, let me just say, I think a lot of the members who cast their vote on principle. Frankly, I'm not sure if it was good politics. I think that they did it because they felt there was a moral issue at stake. That's said, I think to the point, Neal, that you made about holding votes to score points as opposed to solve problems - you know, both parties have paid the price for that.

I say, you know, the Democrats ran on their need for prescription drug benefit one too many times instead of getting it done. And, you know, we had votes in the last Congress that we brought up that we knew at the end of the day weren't going to, you know, become law. And the voters, I think they see that. And you can do that some. I mean, it is important to highlight the differences, too, sometimes between the two parties. But if you do it too much, the voters are going to call your hand on it.

CONAN: All right. Let's get some questions in from listeners, including listeners here in the audience. If you are out there listening on the radio, 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. Our guests are Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican Party, Donna Brazile, who ran Al Gore's campaign in the year 2000. And let's get a question in from the audience here in studio 4A.

Mr. CHRIS URBAN(ph) (Student, George Mason University): Yes sir, thank you very much. My name is Chris Urban, and I'm a public policy major at George Mason University. And my question to the panel is with respect to the medium, the other day after the president's State of the Union address, I was driving to work and I happen to have satellite radio. And on one channel there was TalkLeft - the channel is actually called TalkLeft - and then the other, it's TalkRight. So I listen for about 5 minutes to TalkLeft, listened for about five to 10 minutes to TalkRight, and…

CONAN: I was hoping it wasn't stereo.

Mr. URBAN: Well, absolutely. So then after that, I formed my own opinion based on, you know, both sides of the aisle, more or less in terms of what they were talking about with respect to the president's State of the Union speech. Now, when you look at the networks, you have Fox News, you have MSNBC, and I just think because of their partisan viewpoints that they've really exacerbated the issue in terms of partisanship to the point that people are really kind of getting disgusted and formulating more independent views. And I just wonder to what extent you would agree with that fact?

CONAN: So how much is satellite television news and the 24-hour news cycle affected this, Donna Brazile?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, as a pundit…

CONAN: Working for CNN from time to time.

Ms. BRAZILE: …and then Vice President Cheney yesterday called us a bunch of talking heads. Let me say this. I think on one hand, it's been very healthy to have the kind of debates that we've had in this country over the last couple of years with the invention of the 24-hour news cycle, the net roots, the blog community.

I think it's healthy in a democracy that we are able to communicate, to talk, to differ. But, you know, the way I draw the line - and this is why I have so much respect for Ed Gillespie and many other Republican leaders, not all; and I'm sure Ed could say the same on my side, Al - is that I draw the line when people somehow or another confuse your disagreement with their policies as somehow or another being weak on national security, questioning our patriotism, saying to the American people that we're flawed. I mean, basically, you know, all that personal criticism - I would like a healthy debate. I love the boxing match.

You know, many nights I go home at night and I am so wounded from the conversations that I've had on TV that my dog Chip(ph) has to help me lick them up. But often it's good, it's spirited because I learn something when I debate. I learn something when I go back and forth. And I say to myself at the end of the day: The baby (unintelligible) made a good point. Did Bill Bennett say something I, perhaps, should go home and think about. You know, did Ed say something that, you know, make me - you know, go back and perhaps take a class at Catholic. No. But the truth of the matter is is that it's healthy and it's vibrant and it's good, and this is what we do in America. We talk, we discuss, we debate and then we come together.

CONAN: Ed Gillespie?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Yeah, I agree with that and - but I do - to the 24/7 news cycle had had a big impact. I think the blogs have had a big impact. I think the fact is that there is a polarizing effect from a lot of that. And I - you know, I agree with Donna. It's evident Donna - I'm sure it's evident to the folks in this room, Donna and I are friends, and we don't agree. There are some things we do agree on, but most we don't agree on. But I do think we have to start with a premise in the political arena that the person on the other side is in it for the right reasons.

And Donna Brazile loves this country and it's evident every day. I think she's wrong on the policy. I don't think her policies that she promotes - most of them are good for the country. She don't think mine are either. We have to at least start with that premise and then have the debate. But the media, I think, tends to - because they're driven by ratings and numbers and they like the personality clashes and they exacerbate those - and they do make it more personal, I think it has a negative impact in the debate.

But the fact is, the media in this country - we're kind of going full circle. You know, the newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut is the Waterbury Republican. In Little Rock it's the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and that reflects where they were when they were founded and which party they were aligned with. And you're seeing now, I think, in the media, especially in the blogs and talk radio, and even some of the cable networks, you know, a more of an alignment with the philosophy, and it does have an effect of, I think, polarizing the political debate sometimes.

CONAN: I have to say, does CNN like it when MSNBC and Fox get into a spat because they're in the middle, or do they not like it because they're not getting any attention? I don't know. But the one that came up lately, Donna Brazile, was the allegation about Barack Obama attending a madrassa in Indonesia that was supposedly leaked by the Hillary Clinton campaign. It wasn't a madrassa. The Hillary Clinton campaign denies that they leaked anything. This stuff just bounces around and somehow that allegation is never going to go away.

Ms. BRAZILE: And it was a smear on both candidates. It was a smear - it was an attempt to smear Barack Obama and an attempt to smear Hillary Clinton. And thank god CNN had the foresight to go and get a report to track down the story and it was an outright lie. It's too bad that Insight Magazine has not retracted its story and Fox has not also apologized to Senator Obama.

CONAN: We're going to take a short break. We're talking with Ed Gillespie and Donna Brazile about the value of partisanship. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And today we're continuing the NPR special series Crossing the Divide.

Unidentified Man #1: I think of myself as a middle-of-the-road Methodist.

Unidentified Man #2: This is an Afro-American congregation.

Unidentified Man #3: I don't fall into either of those categories.

CONAN: All this week, we've talked about how to bring people with different viewpoints together, including Democrats and Republicans. Today we're talking about the value of partisanship. Our guests are Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman back in 2000. With us in the audience in Studio 4A are students from universities in the Washington, D.C. area: Howard, George Washington, Catholic, Georgetown and American, and the George Mason School of Public Policy. They include college Republicans and Democrats and independents. We'll hear questions from them this hour.

And we welcome hour calls and e-mails as well. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And this is Mike. Mike is with us from Polkville, North Carolina.

MIKE (Caller): Well, I'm in Columbia, South Carolina at the moment, but that's correct, Neal. Just a comment about the partisanship struggle. The partisanship struggle to me is about - one is about power and the power to implement your policy. But I also reflect back 30 years ago. I worked for a Democratic Party at a state level in the Midwest. And one of the things that drove many of the people that I worked with was the notion that there was some patronage involved when all things were settled. And we wanted our guy to win because maybe I'd be an AA in Washington or something like that.

And I think the patronage component is something that's missing here because the power to implement policy also brings with it the power, it seems to me, to dispense patronage.

CONAN: How much is patronage an element of the partisanship, Donna Brazile?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, it is a small part of it. Look, there's no question that when you win an election you hope not only to put your person in office, but you also hope to surround him or her with people who share their values and share their convictions and share their values, I mean their ideas. And so there's no question that patronage plays a large roll. But by and large, what drives partisanship in this country is not just a desire to win but the desire to govern and govern in a way that hopefully, you know, will bring the country together and keep the country strong and prosperous.

CONAN: Ed Gillespie, is it the desire to foment your ideas or prevent the other sides' ideas from taking hold, do you think, that (unintelligible) partisanship?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Both. That is - the fact is that, like I say, I mean, I think, you know, our party has the right ideas and their party has the wrong ideas. That's what it's about. But I think most people are driven by ideas. Some people do want to, you know, get a job at the end of a campaign. That's understandable, especially the younger folks who are involved. And it's also true that personnel is policy. You have to have people who share your views if you're going to implement the polices that you want to enact. So, you know, I guess one person's patronage is another person's, you know, policy agenda.

CONAN: Mike, thanks for the call.

MIKE: Yeah, Neal, just real quick. Not taking away from anything your guests say - the thing that's driven me from being a Democrat to a Republican and being disappointed with both of the conventional parties and the standard parties, is the consistent ad hominem attacks that have been so much part of the discussion in recent years. And I'm now registered Independent, and I look at the people and what they do, trying to ignore so much of what they say because for me, partisanship is appropriate and right on, but the ad hominem attacks - they've got to clean up their act because they're not gaining respect - of this guy, anyway.

CONAN: All right. Mike, thanks very much.

MIKE: You bet.

CONAN: Let's go back to the studio here in Washington, 4A - this mic to my left.

GARY (Student, George Washington University): Hi, my name is Gary Lavocker(ph). I'm the chairman of the College Republicans of the George Washington University, and my question for the guests - and probably best directed at Chairman Gillespie - do we think there's a double standard in the way - in the media's discussion of this excessive partisanship? More specifically, are Republicans constantly told that they need to water down their principles and be more conciliatory, where as it's okay for Democrats to be partisan? Your thoughts, sir. Thank you.

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well I - you know, I, like many Republicans, do have a concern about bias in the media. I always say, you know, like most Republicans, I hate the media. I happen to like reporters. But I do have some concerns. You know, I tried to make this point when I was chairman of the RNC during the '04 cycle. I mean, there was a lot of vitriolic comments directed toward President Bush. And, you know, Howard Dean, I think, has some pretty incendiary and personal rhetoric as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Again, you know, one of the reasons I respect Donna is she doesn't engage in that. I mean, she'll take you head-on on issues, but she is not one who engages in ad hominem attacks, you know. But I do think the media needs to be more balanced in calling the hand. They are - I always call them the referees, and they swallow their whistles sometimes when Democrats are personal in their attacks against President Bush. Look, some of our folks were personal in their attacks against President Clinton. And there's a legitimate point in calling their hand on that. But the hand needs to be called, too, when people call the President of the United States, you know, some of the - I'm not even going to repeat some of the things that he has been called by Democratic officials.

Ms. BRAZILE: And let me just say that, look, I don't walk into any room with clean hands. I've been involved in politics too long. But I have engaged in mud fests, mudslinging. I've thrown a lot of spitballs in my day. In fact, some of my - in my youth, I had my time.

Mr. GILLESPIE: Youthful discretion.

CONAN: Youthful discretion.

Ms. BRAZILE: Oh my God. I can't even start the list. That's why I'm Catholic. I'll just confess. But the truth of that matter is, is that yes, I have - I've done some slimy things in my day and I'm not proud of it. But I do believe that it's time that we all act like adults, that we conduct ourselves in the - in a manner that allow us to have a real genuine dialogue, even when we disagree. That's what's good about America. And I enjoy debating the issues and how we come up with solutions that work. On the other hand, these attacks - whether they're on President Bush or former President Clinton or Mrs. Clinton or Barack Obama - it's distasteful.

I try to find something good in everybody. I listen to Senator Brownback this weekend - his announcement. Now you know, I don't agree with Senator Brownback on anything, perhaps other than the clothes he wears - because, you know, the man is a nice dresser. But I tell you, when I heard him speak and the tone and what he was saying about his values and God and his beliefs, I had to listen to him. Now, I'm not going to sign up for the campaign, and God knows he will never get my vote, but I have to tell you this - I was impressed by him.

I think - some days I ask my Republican friends - I say, you know, have you sat down and listened to Hillary lately? I mean, have you met her? Do you know her? I mean, it's important that we get to know people. And often we don't do that. We just attack, attack, attack.

CONAN: Would you say that, Donna Brazile, if you were in somebody's campaign now?

Ms. BRAZILE: Oh yes.

CONAN: Mm hmm?

Ms. BRAZILE: Oh yes. I'm a free thinker now. Oh yeah, I've come full circle. I've learned from my mistakes. I've been burned, too, and I've been rebuked. But most importantly, I've learned some important lessons. And I tell you, one of these lessons I learned - and it was just a recent lesson, but it was a painful lesson. I learned during Hurricane Katrina that I couldn't just attack the Bush Administration, or for that, you know, the governor of Louisiana or the mayor. I had to work with them. I had to talk to them. I had to find ways to ensure that they were going to do the right thing by my hometown and my family. And I tell you, that was a humbling lesson, but it was a good lesson.

CONAN: If you're calling them incompetent…

Ms. BRAZILE: Or racist, or stupid, or stuff like that. That didn't make sense. I wanted their help. I wanted their support. And I wanted to try to bring my city back together so that my people could go back home.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Bob in Sparks, Nevada: I'd be interested in hearing your guests comment on this observation that politicians aren't allowed to change their minds once they've made a statement. It seems we don't allow anyone to say I was wrong to hold that position, now I hold this one. People who make perfectly valid decisions to reverse themselves are marked as wishy-washy, indecisive, when all they're doing is expressing a perfectly natural learning process. Ed Gillespie?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well there is - I think there are times when you learn new information or change your position because circumstances have changed. And I think voters accept that. I think if there's a pattern - if you see in a politician somebody who is over here one day because the polls show this and then over here the next day because the polls have changed. People make - you know, the American people are very, I think, smart in assessing character and determining, you know, whether or not people are qualified. Not just in terms of their policy, especially at the presidential level. You know, the American people make an assessment: Is this person qualified to be the president of the United States? Do they have what it takes?

And if they see that in a candidate or - if they see that in a candidate, that kind of pattern of it, then they'll see wishy-washy. But if they see someone who has thought through something and come - you know, come to a different conclusion, I think they'll accept that.

CONAN: Donna?

Ms. BELIZE: Look, if you change your mind on a fundamental principle that most people believe is, you know, a bottom line of right versus wrong. Yeah, I can understand people calling you out and saying you're a flip-flopper. But if it's - you know, looking at the nuances of public policy - I mean, it's like making sausage. All of ya'll know that.

And if you need to add another ingredient or you need to figure out a way to fry it up differently or spice it up, you know, why not? You know, that's what politics should be about. But instead, if you change your mind, you get, you know, hit with flip-flopper.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get a question in, from the microphone on my right.

Mr. KEVIN WALLING (President, College Democrats of the Catholic University): Good afternoon, Neal and panel. My name is Kevin Walling. I'm the president of the College Democrats of the Catholic U. In the spirit of bipartisanship, it's great to be in the presence of Ed Gillespie, former alumni of Catholic U. My question is last Tuesday I watched, with great interest, the State of the Union. And I was really struck by the bipartisanship at the beginning, at least, between the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the president.

It was really neat to see the president really reach out to her, and especially, in mentioning her father - who is a congressman - and really kind of create that bridge between the two of them. I wonder - panel - if you could talk about their relationship as the leader in the Congress and as the president of the United States. And how is it different from the relationship that the president had with Speaker of the House Denny Hastert?

CONAN: Ed, why don't you start?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Yeah. I don't know much about the nature of the relationship between the president and the speaker. I thought it was a nice grace note from the president, the beginning of that, you know, to the high honor and distinct privilege to being the first president to say Madam Speaker, was nice. And look, as an American, I was - it was - I know a lot of Republicans, in the House Republicans, they're proud that a woman is the speaker of the House. They wish it was a Republican woman.

But it's nice. I mean, it's a great historical moment, and it was nice for the country. But I think that obviously, they're going to have to find some common ground on some things. The Speaker Hastert, former Speaker Hastert, was really the bulwark of the Republican policy apparatus. I mean, was a real workhorse, is a real workhorse speaker, I think. You know, the longest serving Republican speaker. And the president counted heavily on Speaker Hastert.

I don't think it's a big secret that the speaker was inclined to leave Congress before the last election, and the president really wanted him to stay because he count on him so heavily. So we'll see how it goes with Nancy Pelosi. Interestingly enough, when Newt Gingrich became speaker, he and Bill Clinton actually had a pretty good working relationship. Sometimes frustrating, but they managed to get a lot of things done. I think you may see that with Nancy Pelosi and President Bush.

Ms. BRAZILE: President Bush started off his presidency back in 2001 by inviting Ted Kennedy over for a movie and had some popcorn. I suggest he, you know, get out the kettle and pop some popcorn, and call Pelosi over and invite her over, and to talk, and to develop that relationship.

CONAN: We're talking about the value of partisanship as part of NPR's special series, Crossing the Divide. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Donna Brazile, I just wanted to follow up on that just a moment. It's been noted by many that in that generous recognition of Nancy Pelosi, the president also referred to her political party as the Democrat Party, which is a, for decades, Republicans have been getting under Democrat skin by using that term. And a lot of people interpret it as, you know, yes, I'm being nice but here's a wink to my base.

Ms. BRAZILE: Yeah, I saw that, because I had a text of the speech and I kept saying, Democratic, Democratic. And the president, and I'd say, well, you know, the president has a reputation for being a stubborn person. And I'm willing to show a flexibility, but we're the Democratic Party and we're proud of it.

CONAN: Now let's get a question over here at the mic to my left.

Ms. SHELPA JOSHUE(ph) (Student, American University): Hello. My name is Shelpa Joshue. I'm a student at American University. And reflecting back on 2004 presidential elections, I feel and a lot of my peers, I think, were turned off by the fact that during the course of the elections, there are many issues that needed to be addressed by the two candidates - as health care, education, the war. But instead, there was these divertive tactics, instead, to polarize the voting public into maybe the swift boat incident that occurred, or you know, asking the presidential candidates on their opinions on topics that were maybe not of such national imminent importance. What is your feeling on this?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Donna, why don't you start first?

Ms. BRAZILE: You know, I think presidential campaigns these days - I mean, I know and Ed can tell you, we spend a lot of time in campaigns trying to figure out how to have a conversation with the American people, talk about all the grid issues, to engage the American people in a dialogue. And then, of course, the media will come up and say, well, who wrote the speech? Did your focus group? Did you pay for a poll? And then, we get into the process, we get into the, you know, who wrote it, how did it come about, you know.

We need to find a way for a presidential candidate, as Mrs. Clinton said the other day, to have that dialogue, to go talk to the voters. I mean, one of the things that Al Gore want to do in 2000, and I think to a large degree, I'm sure John Kerry want - he want to talk about the environment. He wanted to talk about house, and he want to talk about health care. And yet, people wanted to talk about does he invent the Internet? No, but, you know, he had a role in it. So that's life.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. You know, with respect - and this to you both, and this not to one party or the other, but, or one campaign or the other - candidates want to stay on message, the media and the audiences they represent don't necessarily want to hear just what the candidate has to say that day. Ed, go ahead.

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well, there's no doubt about that, and that agenda setting is one of the priorities of any campaign. But I do think, I think issues were talked about in the presidential campaign, and they'll be talked about in '08. I think healthcare will be probably the defining domestic policy issue of the 2008 presidential campaign. But the fact is you talk about the swift boats. Swift boats, I had no control over what the swift boats did, as chairman of the Republican National Committee. And in fact, if I - somebody said why don't you tell them to take it down.

It's a violation of federal law for me to tell them to run an ad, or not to run an ad under the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, the McCain-Feingold Bill. And the fact is that, you know, moveon.org and the things that they injected into the debate, you know, that wasn't the Democrat Party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILLESPIE: I didn't say that.

Ms. BRAZILE: You will not be invited for any gumbo.

Mr. GILLESPIE: You know, these 527s under the new, current campaign finance law, can also drive the debate and they create a lot of distractions.

CONAN: Our guests are Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican Party and Donna Brazile, the former campaign manager for Gore-Lieberman 2000. She was the first African-American ever to lead a major presidential campaign. We need to take a short break, and we're going to ask our listeners out there with us on the radio to bear with us. When we come back, we're going to be taking questions with our Political Junkie Ken Rudin. Ed Gillespie and Donna Brazile have kindly agreed to stay with us.

If you have questions about the race for '08, the effect of earlier primaries where the politics of Iraq - big vote the other day - in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Give us a call. 800-989-82555, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan, we'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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