MSNBC's David Shuster Badgers Ron Paul: 'Even You' Won't Slam Rush

"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" host David Shuster on Tuesday repeatedly pestered Texas Congressman Ron Paul to publicly attack Rush Limbaugh and seemed frustrated when "even" the outspoken representative wouldn't give him what he wanted. After wondering "why it's so difficult" for Republicans to disagree with the talk show host's assertion that he wants Barack Obama's policies to fail, Shuster repeated the same question over and over. He complained, "How can we have that argument [about other issues], when even you, Ron Paul, are not willing to take this opportunity to say when Rush Limbaugh says that every Republican wants President Obama to fail, Rush Limbaugh is wrong?"

He continued, "How can we have the next conversation if you're not willing to have that first one?" Paul, refusing to allow Shuster to guide the debate, snapped back, "Because you want to control the semantics and the definitions." He added, "And, you know, in the media you like to personalize and then have a fight going on and that's the way politics works." The conversation didn't seem to be going the way Shuster had intended. Later, he derided, "It just seems, congressman, like so many Republicans are terrified of Rush Limbaugh. We're just trying to explore that."

Clearly, Shuster saw the unpredictable Paul as, perhaps, his best shot at finding a Republican willing to attack Limbaugh. He teased the segment in the show open by asking, "Is any Republican willing to criticize Limbaugh on anything? Perhaps Congressman Ron Paul. We'll talk to him live." He led off by challenging, "Congressman Paul, do you and every Republican want President Obama to fail?" And while Paul was more than willing to critique the talk show host for his support of the PATRIOT Act or for not hitting former President Bush hard enough on spending, he wasn't willing to be the Republican who would trash the radio star. At one point, Paul referred to Limbaugh as a "good conservative."

However, Shuster, with dogged determination, kept returning to the same question. After saying that he wanted to be "absolutely clear," Shuster interrogated, "So, when Rush Limbaugh says that every Republican wants President Obama to fail, are you willing to take this opportunity to say on that point, and even that very narrow point if you want, Rush Limbaugh is wrong?"

A transcript of the March 3 segment, which aired at 6:05pm, follows:

6pm tease

DAVID SHUSTER: Is any Republican willing to criticize Limbaugh on anything? Perhaps Congressman Ron Paul. We'll talk to him live.

6:05

DAVID SHUSTER: Texas congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul joins us now live from Washington. And congressman, let's get right to the heart of this. Rush Limbaugh said the following. Quote, "The dirty little secret is that every Republican in this country wants Obama to fail but none of them have the guts to say so." Congressman Paul, do you and every Republican want President Obama to fail?

CONGRESSMAN RON PAUL (R-TX): No, I don't even think of it in those terms. I want nobody to have credibility on bad ideas. If they are promoting socialism and welfarism and totalitarianism and foreign intervention, I don't want that to be successful. But, I want the message to be that liberty works, that free markets works, sound money works. And therefore, I take it out of the context of personalities. I think the personalities are irrelevant. It`s only the issues that count, it's only the ideas that count, it's our philosophy that counts. And I've been wanting to make the case-

SHUSTER: Fair point. Well, fair point. But let's just be absolutely clear. So, when Rush Limbaugh says that every Republican wants President Obama to fail, are you willing to take this opportunity to say on that point, and even that very narrow point if you want, Rush Limbaugh is wrong?

PAUL: No. But I would - I'd be quite willing to say when you hear Obama say what his goals are, I want him to be successful. But-

SHUSTER: Right. But, I'm asking about Rush Limbaugh.

PAUL: I don't even think about him. Because I don't- I don't-

SHUSTER: [laughs] Congressman, we're thinking about him right now. Everybody's thinking about him. Why is it so difficult- Why is it so difficult to say, hey, when Rush Limbaugh says, 'Look, we could all agree or disagree that maybe the President's policies are destined to fail.' That's a point of view. But when Rush Limbaugh says 'I want President Obama to fail,' why can't Republicans say, Rush Limbaugh is wrong when he says that?

PAUL: I think a few has. And I think it's a matter of semantics and I think we dwell too much on the semantics rather than dealing with the real issues. Why don't we ask questions like I'd like to. If I had a reasonable intellectual debate with Rush Limbaugh, I would ask him, why doesn't he stand up more for civil liberties? Why doesn't he explain why he has doesn't- why he has supported the PATRIOT Act?

SHUSTER: Congressman, that's such a great point. I think you would win that argument. But here's my point: How can we have that argument, when even you, Ron Paul, are not willing to take this opportunity to say when Rush Limbaugh says that every Republican wants President Obama to fail, Rush Limbaugh is wrong. How can we have the next conversation if you're not willing to have that first one?

PAUL: Because you want to control the semantics and the definitions. Yes, he's wrong. If he- he doesn't have the same understanding as somebody else. But he's absolutely wrong. And you can't put your definition on a particular word about failure. I want- I want those goals to be successful. Yet, I don't want his philosophy to be successful. So, it's two different things. And, you know, in the media you like to personalize and then have a fight going on and that's the way politics works. But, I would much rather talk about, you know, why Rush Limbaugh doesn't support my position on looking into the Federal Reserve and being able to audit the Federal Reserve. Now, that's an important issue. Not whether or not I can say something that is confrontational to Rush Limbaugh. I think philosophically I have confrontation. Because, I was disappointed with Rush because he is a good conservative, yet he hardly said hardly boo against George Bush. He supported all that big spending. Did he complain about George Bush? Did he complain about all those wars that were going on that caused us so much trouble? That's the kind of issues that I want to talk about. And I will be quite willing to challenge Rush Limbaugh on those issues. But just to pick out a word or two and say, he is wrong, I don't think that solves any problems.

SHUSTER: Here's the related issue. In terms of solving problems including these very important issues that you raise, is Rush Limbaugh the head of the Republican Party right now?

PAUL: No. No. I mean, I don't know who-

SHUSTER: He's not?

PAUL: How could he be a head of a party? I mean, he has a lot to say.

SHUSTER: When Republicans are so quick to apologize to him as Michael Steele has, when Senator Barrasso was on air last night, wasn't even willing to say Rush Limbaugh was wrong. Wouldn't go as far as you have. It just seems, congressman, like so many Republicans are terrified of Rush Limbaugh. We're just trying to explore that.

PAUL: He's very influential. But they shouldn't be terrified of him, you know. Why should they be? But they don't have any answers. They don't have an explanation on why the party is shrinking, and how you can reach out, how you can reach people who care about personal liberties. How we take our philosophy and translate it into real policy. We talk about personal liberties and balanced budgets. The Republican Party lost credibility because they didn't do any of that. It violated the privacy of individuals, it flaunted the spending and ran up these huge deficits. Got us into wars that are not winnable. And those are the real issues. That's why it's been translated into personality squabbles and who's running what because they're really not talking about why the Republican Party is a minority party and why they lost. And I think, as long as they do that, they're not going to solve their problem and we will continue to dwell on Steele versus Rush Limbaugh. And quite frankly, I don't think that's a relevant debate. I think the debate ought to be our foreign policy. Why don't we have a foreign policy of non-intervention and why don't we deal with the Federal Reserve?

SHUSTER: Congressman- Congressman- Congressman, you raise some very important issues. We always appreciate having you on. Good of you to join us tonight in the midst of all this. We appreciate it.

PAUL: Thank you.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org