On Tuesday’s "Good Morning America," the ABC program once again demonstrated the template for GOP figures to receive air time: Trash your fellow Republicans. GMA featured former Congressman J.C. Watts questioning whether top 2008 GOP presidential candidates are racist for skipping a PBS debate on minority issues. Continuing the theme, co-host Robin Roberts asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "...Why are Republicans so reluctant to talk to minorities?"
In a piece setting up the Gingrich interview, Roberts intoned that the absence of Republican front-runners at the event is "raising questions about the message it sends to some voters." GMA co-host Diane Sawyer teased the segment by not-so-subtlety asking, "...Are the Republican candidates snubbing minority events?" Roberts and Sawyer never bothered to mention that Thursday’s PBS debate will be moderated by liberal host Tavis Smiley who, for instance, wondered in May, "Why shouldn’t we be outraged" at George Bush. Perhaps the Republican front-runners simply don’t want to go into a hostile, left-wing event. Would "Good Morning America" insist that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton attend a forum hosted by the NRA?
CORRECTION: 2007-09-25 14:20:00 -0400 [An earlier version misidentified Jake Tapper as saying the event is "raising questions about the message it sends to some voters." This was actually said by co-host Robin Roberts.]
Gingrich and Watts certainly seemed to know what the GMA reporters were looking for. The former House Speaker lauded Smiley as "a very responsible, very clear-cut commentator and analyst." He then criticized President Bush, saying, "Levees shouldn't fall. Levees shouldn't fail. Bridges should not fall." Watts indicated that racism might have caused Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani to skip the PBS debate. The former Congressman insisted, "People watching this, they surely have to conclude at the end of the day, was it because of my skin color? Now, maybe it wasn’t. But I guarantee you, African-Americans do say, ‘It crossed my mind." It seems unlikely that ABC would so eagerly embrace Democrats who wished to slam their party as hateful or racist.
A transcript of the two segments, which aired on September 25 at 7:10am, follows:
Diane Sawyer: "And, are the Republican candidates snubbing minority events? Newt Gingrich, here this morning, on why his fellow Republicans are wrong and why he might run after all."
Robin Roberts: "Now to the race for '08 where GOP candidates have already taken part in six debates. But this morning, it's the debate the front-runners are skipping that is getting so much attention. And their absence is raising questions about the message it sends to some voters. Senior political correspondent Jake Tapper is in Washington with the latest on that. Good morning, Jake."
Jake Tapper: "Good morning, Robin. Well, amidst all the struggles the Republican presidential candidates are facing with the war in Iraq, an unpopular president, lack of enthusiasm among conservative voters, this week, the Republican front-runners are being criticized for refusing to attend debates hosted by minority groups. John McCain, no. Rudy Giuliani, no. Mitt Romney, no. Fred Thompson, no. None of the Republican presidential front runners will attend Thursday's Republican debate focused on minority issues, hosted by Tavis Smiley."
Tavis Smiley: "What does it say when you don't think that black issues and brown issues and issues for red and yellow people, what does did it say when you don't think that all of us are valuable in this process?"
Tapper: "African-Americans are the most reliably Democratic voters around, with up to 90 percent voting Democratic in the last five elections."
J.C. Watts (Former Republican congressman): "I think it's a huge mistake strategically and you kind of scratch your head, thinking, why are they making decisions like that?"
Tapper: "Former Congressman J.C. Watts, a conservative Republican, says that's exactly why Republicans need to reach out. And he calls the decision not to attend the debate stupid."
Watts: "People watching this, they surely have to conclude at the end of the day, was it because of my skin color? Now, maybe it wasn’t. But I guarantee you, African-Americans do say, ‘It crossed my mind.’"
Tapper: "These no-shows just come just days after the Spanish language channel Univision canceled its debate because only one of the 11 Republican candidates, Senator McCain, accepted. In 2004, President Bush scored better with Hispanics than previous Republicans, garnering 44 percent of their vote. But the recent debate over immigration reform may drive those voters back to Democrats in 2008. The one potential presidential candidate on the Republican side, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, called the decision not to attend these debates, quote, ‘fundamentally wrong.’ And while the front-runners claim scheduling conflicts, Robin, Gingrich calls that excuse, quote, ‘baloney.’"
Robin Roberts: "We’ll hear what he has to say right now. Thank you, Jake. Because Newt Gingrich, as you heard, chastised his fellow Republicans for missing this week's debate. And the former Speaker of the House, very happy to have him live from Virginia. Thank you so much for your time this morning. We certainly do appreciate it. And it's widely known that the Republicans need at least 10 percent of the black vote to win the general election. And we just heard in Jake Tapper's piece how the Latino vote helped President Bush get re-elected, so, why are Republicans so reluctant to talk to minorities?"
Newt Gingrich: "Well, Robin, I actually don't know. Let me first of all congratulate Governor Huckabee and other candidates who said yes because I think they're right. Tavis Smiley is a very responsible, very clear-cut commentator and analyst. He's going to run a very fair debate. I said publicly I thought it was a mistake not to go to it. I am delighted that Governor Huckabee and the other candidates are going and I think they deserve some phrase for showing up and for sharing the message. I think Republicans could have, if they had the nerve to do it, a tremendous message. They could go into Detroit and promise to work to educate the children who are currently being cheated by the bureaucracy there which is failing so badly. They could go into Philadelphia and promise to lock up murders and protect the people of Philadelphia who are currently threatened by an enormous rise in violent crime. They could go around the country and talk about programs that would increase the number of jobs, help people be able to buy a house. There are a lot of good cases to be made that the African-American community has been hurt more by the failures of government than any other community. Look at New Orleans, where the African-American community was devastated by the failure of the federal, state and local governments in Katrina. So, I'm puzzled by their decision. I can't speak for them. I think it's a mistake. I wish they would change their mind. They still have a few days. And I wish they would, in fact, go to the debate on Thursday night."
Roberts: "You’re puzzled. You’ve said you've been disappointed. And you've also tantalized us a little bit, saying you may very well be the solution and run. Will you run?"
Gingrich: "Well what I've said is that after we're done with the American Solutions workshops which are Thursday night and Saturday, are going to be nationwide both on the internet and at AmericanSolutions.com and on DirectTV and dish satellite television. These are bipartisan workshops. They include Democrats and Republicans. And they're an effort to create a new generation of solutions on immigration, on education, on energy, on the environment, on a wide range of issues. After those, then, next Monday, my good friend and adviser Randy Evans will have a press conference and will outline a process for us to spend the next few weeks finding out whether or not there are enough resources to wage a serious campaign. If we find that there are enough resources, then I think I have citizen’s obligations to respond to that. But I'm not going to try to get into a race where Governor Romney can write a personal check for $100 million, as a middle class candidate, if we can't find a way to raise money and to be competitive."
Roberts: "Fred Thompson took his time in getting into the race. And has had a bit a backlash, has not gone as well as some might have thought in recent weeks. And you were even saying you were looking forward to him getting into the race. And now with you considering it, it would seem you're less than impressed with how he's running so far. Is that true?"
Gingrich: "Well, look– All I can say is I was at Mackinac Island in Michigan on Saturday at the Republican conference. We had about 900 people in a workshop I did on American Solutions and on new ideas for Detroit and Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country, before the strike. And all I can tell you is there was an amazing amount of people who walked up to me and said they want somebody who can debate Senator Clinton, who can go toe to toe next September and October and who can explain our values and our visions and the kind of changes we need in America. And so I'm prepared to try to– after we get done with the workshops. But I want to be clear. The workshops this week are bipartisan. They’re not part of any potential candidacy. I'm very concerned because we have 513,000 elected officials in America and we don't just need change in the White House, we need change across the entire system to get to the kind of country we want to be."
Roberts: "You say about change and I’ve heard you say this, quoted as saying that if a Republican is going to win, is going to remain in the White House, that they have to, quote, ‘make a clean break.’ What do you mean by ‘make a clean break?’ From what?"
Gingrich: "Well, let me say, first of all, if you go to YouTube, you'll see a little three and a half minute video called ‘FedEx Versus Federal Bureaucracy,’ over a million people have watched it. It sort of gives you a sense of the scale of change I believe in. And let me put it in simple language. Levees shouldn't fall. Levees shouldn't fail. Bridges should not fall. Schools should actually educate. The border should be controlled. English should be the official language of government. Congress should not spend more than it has. Those are the six examples of dramatic change that would be different than the Washington we’ve seen recently."