Newsweek’s Wolffe: GOP ‘Lost Their Heart in the 1980s, Lost Their Mind in the 1990s’

As he appeared as a guest on Thursday’s Countdown show on MSNBC to discuss Joe the Plumber’s recent criticism of the Republican party, Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe started off by suggesting that Republicans had "lost their heart" in the 1980s and had "lost their mind" in the 1990s. Wolffe: "You know, if they lost their heart in the 1980s, and they lost their mind in the 1990s, what we've seen in the 2000s is Republicans losing their image, and they lost it on national security."

Wolffe later demeaned the intelligence of participants in the recent Tax Day Tea Parties, whom he referred to as "tea baggers," and charged that they want to "have their cake and eat it." Wolffe:

Joe the Plumber was never the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the party, but he is, on this libertarian wing, representative of, frankly, the tea baggers. And again, we try to avoid the puns here, but he represents this idea that you can have your cake and eat it. You can actually be a limited government party but also intervene in just about everything, whether it's in every possible war zone around the world, that's why you need such huge national defense spending, or where it comes to social conservatism that Sarah Palin represents. You cannot do both. You cannot be libertarian and also interfere in every part of the world and every part of people's lives, and that intellectual incoherence is represented by the great seminal figure of Joe the Plumber.

When the discussion turned to Newt Gingrich’s recent criticism of the Obama administration delivered on Fox News, Wolffe bizarrely suggested that kittens might have been "trodden" in the headquarters of Fox News. Wolffe:

[Newt Gingrich] also goes out on Fox News and says that, you know, the President isn't tough enough to take on the Somali pirates. He's obviously positioning himself for a presidential run. I just wonder what the situation was in the Fox News headquarters. I'm sure there were a couple of kittens who got trodden on today. He was with Al Sharpton, after all.

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Thursday, May 7, Countdown show on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN: The Republicans lost Congress, lost the White House, lost a can't-lose election to fill Senator Gillibrand's seat in the House, lost Senator Specter to the Democrats and now it looks like they've lost Joe the Plumber. And as inconsequential as he is as a person, as a symbol, does he represent some sort of tipping point?

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK: Well, all puns aside, there isn't a tipping point in this. It's more of a marker in the long-term decline of the party. You know, if they lost their heart in the 1980s, and they lost their mind in the 1990s, what we’ve seen in the 2000s is Republicans losing their image, and they lost it on national security. And here you have the epitome of image, really the only reason there was a Joe the Plumber or a Sarah Palin was because they were reaching out for that old electoral icon, the regular working Joe. And, of course, it didn’t matter that they hadn’t vetted him, that his name wasn't Joe, and that he wasn’t a plumber. They thought they could reach people just by throwing an image out there. And what you're seeing here is that Joe, if that's his name, was never really a Republican, he was really a libertarian, and that this is a party that has just run out of every last tactic. They ran out of ideas, and now they're out of strategy. And Joe doesn't represent anything more than the end of a very long decline.

OLBERMANN: I often quote my heroes Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, and they once made an observation before doing a satire of a man in the street interview, why do we ask the man in the street, the typical man in the street, for an interview? Why do we assume he could possibly know what he's talking about, or even that the odds are very good on a given topic, and yet, here he is, the man in the street if ever there was one, Wurzelbacher, says, to keep him, the Republicans would have to quit overspending without cutting defense or Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. Does that illustrate how impossible a position the GOP has maneuvered itself into? It has made not only promises to people, but it has made them believe that impossible promises can somehow become possible just by wishing.

WOLFFE: Right. And it's not just, look, Joe the Plumber was never the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the party, but he is, on this libertarian wing, representative of, frankly, the tea baggers. And again, we try to avoid the puns here, but he represents this idea that you can have your cake and eat it. You can actually be a limited government party but also intervene in just about everything, whether it's in every possible war zone around the world, that's why you need such huge national defense spending, or where it comes to social conservatism that Sarah Palin represents. You cannot do both. You cannot be libertarian and also interfere in every part of the world and every part of people’s lives, and that intellectual incoherence is represented by the great seminal figure of Joe the Plumber.

OLBERMANN: And now he's replaced by someone from the past, one assumes, Newt Gingrich here, representing the Republican viewpoint at the White House today and being very malleable in what he had to say about the Obama administration, but does that demonstrate the other huge problem for the GOP right now, there isn't somebody to turn to, to even replace a plumber?

WOLFFE: Well, Newt's positioning is interesting here. He first of all shows a soft underbelly. He does the education thing. He's been saying nice things about health care. And, of course, then he also goes out on Fox News and says that, you know, the President isn't tough enough to take on the Somali pirates. He's obviously positioning himself for a presidential run. I just wonder what the situation was in the Fox News headquarters. I'm sure there were a couple of kittens who got trodden on today. He was with Al Sharpton, after all.

OLBERMANN: That’s another one. One would have to be about 175 years old to have a distinct memory of a national political party in this country actually disintegrating, actually moving from part of the two-party system to outside of it. Yet, the Time magazine piece from which the Wurzelbacher news comes is titled, "Republicans in the Wilderness: Is the Party Over?" And it began with the use of the term, "The aura of endangered species." Is it that bad? I mean, could the presidential challenger of 2012 or 2016 not be a Republican?

WOLFFE: I think if the economy continues as it is, if it's stumbling along, then you're in a situation where an independent character does come in, maybe without a traditional party line, but let's not write them off too quickly here. Republicans will come back, and Democrats are going to have to be ready for that.