MSNBC's Brewer: GOP Should Abandon ‘Morals and Values’

Contessa Brewer and John Harwood, MSNBC On Monday, MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer offered some advice to Republicans: "Until they change policies – I mean, that's what it took for conservatives in Great Britain to win – is a real change in focus away from morals and values into things that affect people's daily lives.’

Brewer made the comment during the 2PM ET hour while discussing the future of the GOP with New York Times reporter John Harwood, who completely agreed: "Well, bingo, Contessa, that's exactly right." Harwood added: "The question is what is the right mix? To what extent are they going to focus on economic issues...Or do they focus more on national security...Or those social issues which have repelled some voters. But still motivate a lot of people in the Republican base." Brewer replied: "The one’s who probably vote Republican anyway."

The segment began by Brewer asking Harwood about his latest article in the New York Times, entitled "Rethinking the Reagan Mystique," in which he argued that some Republicans are calling for the party to move beyond Ronald Reagan. Brewer observed: "While there may be disagreement in the Republican about the best way forward, you know, it's been in this sort of Republican mantra to invoke Ronald Reagan's name often and loudly. That could be changing though."

Harwood explained his argument by depicting Reagan-era principles as out-dated: "Ronald Reagan was elected almost 30 years ago and his constituency is certainly aging...John McCain got the same percentage of the white vote that Ronald Reagan did in 1980 in this past election, but the white vote had gotten a lot smaller, so Republicans need to reach out and they need to get some new messages."

Later, Harwood cited former Bush speech writer David Frum and argued that Republicans need a "smaller figure" than Reagan: "Ronald Reagan – his style worked in his time. He was sort of above the fray, he was larger than life in some ways, but he wasn't a detail guy. And [Frum’s] making the case that we need a detail guy...That is to say, a smaller figure, somebody who's competent, who is – projects humility and not – not the big movie actor persona."

Here is the full transcript of the exchange:

2:12PM TEASE:

CONTESSA BREWER: Coming up, Republicans rethinking the Reagan mystique, why some GOP leaders say the late president may not be the best example to use in their quest to re – to regain power in Washington.

2:16PM SEGMENT:

CONTESSA BREWER: While there may be disagreement in the Republican about the best way forward, you know, it's been in this sort of Republican mantra to invoke Ronald Reagan's name often and loudly. That could be changing though. John Harwood is CNBC’s chief Washington correspondent, wrote a feature piece on ‘Rethinking the Reagan Mystique’ for the New York Times. Why, when it worked so well, not only for the Republicans, but sometimes for the Democrats?

JOHN HARWOOD: Well, it did work well, Contessa, but remember, Ronald Reagan was elected almost 30 years ago and his constituency is certainly aging. Barack Obama dominated among voters, among minority voters, black and Hispanic voters. John McCain got the same percentage of the white vote that Ronald Reagan did in 1980 in this past election, but the white vote had gotten a lot smaller, so Republicans need to reach out and they need to get some new messages. I talked, Contessa, to Mitch Daniels, who was Ronald Reagan’s White House political director. He said ‘I’ve stopped using him as a public reference point because we need to make new arguments and turn the page.’

BREWER: Well, and also because the people to whom that might appeal, as you mentioned, are probably getting older and – but those are the people who vote, right?

HARWOOD: Well, some of them are, but of course, the electorate turns over, over time. There's also a question of style. You know, some people are making the argument, David Frum, who’s a former speech writer for George W. Bush, that Ronald Reagan – his style worked in his time. He was sort of above the fray, he was larger than life in some ways, but he wasn't a detail guy. And he’s making the case that we need a detail guy. One of the young authors, Reihan Salam, who's written a book about how to reinvent the Republican Party, says ‘we need an anti-Obama, anti-Reagan.’ That is to say, a smaller figure, somebody who's competent, who is – projects humility and not – not the big movie actor persona. And, you know, that’s part of this debate within the Republican Party.

BREWER: Okay. So we're talking about these personalities and who can be the leader of the Republican Party. What about their policies? Until they change policies – I mean, that's what it took for conservatives in Great Britain to win – is a real change in focus away from morals and values into things that affect people's daily lives.

HARWOOD: Well, bingo, Contessa, that's exactly right. The question is what is the right mix? To what extent are they going to focus on economic issues, in particular, the debt and deficits that Barack Obama may be presiding over. Which, by the way, is one of the shortcomings of the Reagan revolution, he ended with a larger deficit than he walked into office with. Or do they focus more on national security, that's the argument Dick Cheney's been making, and saying Barack Obama’s made us less safe. Or those social issues which have repelled some voters. But still motivate a lot of people in the Republican base.

BREWER: The one’s who probably vote Republican anyway.

HARWOOD: Yup.

BREWER: John, good to see you, thanks.

HARWOOD: You bet.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC