Piers Morgan Hosts Frank Rich to Bash Conservatives

CNN's Piers Morgan hosted New York Magazine columnist Frank Rich for a conservative-bashing session on Thursday. Morgan took the opportunity to ask his liberal guest if the Tea Party can even govern.

"But can they actually govern? Or does the rather intransigent streak that they bring to all that policy-making, is that always going to be the problem?" Morgan asked. Rich responded that the Tea Party's refusal to compromise on the debt ceiling was "temper tantrum-throwing and pure, you know, far right ideology."

On the day before the August jobs report showed no new jobs created, Rich praised Obama's stimulus bill. "I think the stimulus actually did do a lot of good for this country," he remarked.

After the White House received widespread criticism for scheduling the President's address to Congress on the same night as the Republican presidential debate, Rich noted Obama's desire to appear "above the fray."

"I think he regards being gentlemanly, trying to be above the fray, trying to be the adult in the room as a positive virtue in American politics," Rich remarked of Obama. "But, you know, he is entering a very tough reelection campaign. He's got to step up to the plate."

Morgan also tried to start a sympathy session for Obama. "How much of the criticism do you think, Frank, of President Obama is based on the ridiculously high expectation levels he came in with?" he asked Rich. "Could any President, coming in when Obama did, have done much different to have affected things in a more positive way, do you think? "

Rich also agreed with Morgan's claim that GOP candidate Rick Santorum's views on homosexuality "are bordering on bigotry." He added that Santorum is "demagoguing" gays and lesbians.

When giving the positive and negative consequences of 9/11, Rich replied that "no new taxes" was a negative.

"And one of the points I make in my piece for the 9/11 anniversary issue of 'New York Magazine' is of all the things that Bush did after 9/11 that defrayed that goodwill, the worst may have been not calling for any sacrifice, any shared sacrifice," said Rich. "He told people to go to Disneyworld, go shopping. There were no new taxes."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on September 1 at 9:04 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

[9:03]

PIERS MORGAN: I think the time has come for President Obama. You know, we're 15 months away from election now where people just want him to start doing a bit of chest-beating here and standing up for himself and for the Presidency, I think, and beginning to call the shots. I think they want proper leadership.

And a lot of Americans say to me you know the problem is we bought into this whole thing of hope and audacity and change, and instead we're seeing somebody who quite regularly appears to be – and it's all perception – appears to be being treated pretty roughly by the Tea Party, by Republicans, by Speaker Boehner, and he doesn't seem to be the one calling the shots.

FRANK RICH, New York Magazine columnist: I think he regards -- and there's something human about this and likable about it, I think he regards being gentlemanly, trying to be above the fray, trying to be the adult in the room as a positive virtue in American politics. But, you know, he is entering a very tough reelection campaign. He's got to step up to the plate. One thing I hope he does is actually watch that Republican debate the night before and respond to it. And that's now set up for – it's teed off for him to do that.

(...)

MORGAN: It seems that the Tea Party have definitely been gathering momentum and a lot more support as they have gone. And you're right. Rick Perry is very much a Tea Party supporter in many ways. The problem comes, as we saw over the whole debt ceiling crisis, is that people are concerned, do they have what it takes to actually govern? It's all very well opposing and making lots of noise and being very critical and standing up for the people. But can they actually govern? Or does the rather intransigent streak that they bring to all that policy-making, is that always going to be the problem?

RICH: It's always going to be the problem. And I think, again going back to that Republican establishment, the interest that actually financed and bankrolled the Republican Party, I don't think they like the idea that the country might have defaulted and that Michele Bachmann really didn't understand what the debt ceiling was or what the issues were and was willing to put the credit of America at stake for ideology.

So, no, that's not governance at all. That's temper tantrum-throwing and pure, you know, far right ideology.

MORGAN: How much of the criticism do you think, Frank, of President Obama is based on the ridiculously high expectation levels he came in with? Given the state of the economy when he arrived and given the fact it really hasn't improved at all -- if anything, probably got slightly worse. Could any President, coming in when Obama did, have done much different to have affected things in a more positive way, do you think? Has he been disappointing or simply was it that expectation levels were way too high?

RICH: Well, I think the answer is both. He was his own toughest act to follow. He is a very tough act to follow with himself, and he hasn't lived up to it.

But more substantially, I think he has made mistakes. The talk about pivoting to jobs, discussing unemployment, to discussing foreclosures, people losing their jobs and their homes has rarely been center stage. And they've threatened to pivot to it over and over again. And they're going to pivot to it again next week.

But I think that was a big mistake. I think the stimulus actually did do a lot of good for this country. And I do think they stabilized the banking system. But then we had a very protracted health care battle. And the job message and job action has never really been as much front and center as it should be. And now it's too late. All he can do is have a rhetorical victory because, of course, he is not going get anything through this Congress.

(...)

MORGAN: I mean, it's fascinating to me to see how various candidates now begin to handle what would have been not that contentious an issue before, but it becomes so. For instance, the issue of same-sex marriage. I've now had two quite lively encounters, one with Christine O'Donnell and one with Rick Santorum, where one walked off and the other one got quite heated.

RICH: I saw the Santorum, yeah.

MORGAN: Yeah, but what did you make of it? Because it seemed to be they're getting a little touchy about all this. As you get more and more American states signing up to same-sex marriage, it may be they're getting a little concerned that the form of very acceptable rhetoric of a Republican candidate no longer perhaps will resonate in the way it used to.

RICH: Well, I think in your Rick Santorum interview, you saw exactly that. You said, correctly, that what he was saying was quite possibly bigoted. He wanted to disown it. Oh, no, he's just – you know, I don't know, everyone should do what they want but not – he was talking. It was like gobbledygook rhetoric.

And here's why it doesn't play anymore. This country has turned the page very fast on this issue – shockingly fast to me as someone who has covered it for years. Santorum has no traction as a candidate. Demagoguing gay people and same-sex marriage or any sexual issue like that may arouse the hardest right of the base of the Republican Party, but it's going to drive away independent voters, drive away mainstream American voters. Everyone has gay people in their lives. The clock has run out on this.

So they're really I think playing with a loaded gun pointed at themselves. I don't think it's going to help them politically at all. I think when someone like Rick Santorum is squirming and realizes that, I think they all realize have a problem.

(...)

MORGAN: Frank, the War on Terror is now 10 years in. What's your assessment of where the spoils of victory and defeat have worked themselves out?

RICH: Well, a few good things can be said. The end of Osama bin Laden, for instance. And to some extent – although we don't know what to what extent after all these years, and in my view one unnecessary war in Iraq – a scattering of al Qaeda. But basically, in almost every conceivable way, America is worse off.

And the tragedy is that at the time Bush gave that speech, the country was really united. America was really united behind him. People were devastated by this attack on American soil, and they rallied around the President, a very new, green President who had won in a very contentious election. And then it was all squandered.

And one of the points I make in my piece for the 9/11 anniversary issue of "New York Magazine" is of all the things that Bush did after 9/11 that defrayed that goodwill, the worst may have been not calling for any sacrifice, any shared sacrifice. He told people to go to Disneyworld, go shopping. There were no new taxes.

And I feel this anti-government cancer that is loose in America today comes from that moment. He said basically, you can fight two wars and not pay for them. And if you don't pay taxes for two wars, then why pay taxes for anything in the common good? And that's the kind of ideology that's now at loose and is paralyzing this country.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014