Who did MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell feature to respond to Michael Steele's Tuesday speech about the future of the Republican Party? Chris Shays, the liberal, former Republican congressman with a lifetime American Conservative Union score of 44, appeared on "Andrea Mitchell Reports" to critique the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
After Shays insisted that Dick Cheney shouldn't be deciding who is and isn't a solid member of the GOP, Mitchell complimented, "Chris Shays, a good Republican." Responding to the Steele speech, Mitchell pontificated, "No mention of Dick Cheney. No mention of Rush Limbaugh. Is he [Steele] trying to move the party to a broader party, one that would include you? You were the last standing moderate from the northeast."
Despite Shays' status as a "good Republican," Mitchell became combative when the former representative insisted that Obama's failure to work with Republicans means this is the "President's economy." "Is that fair," she queried.
After Shays replied in the affirmative, Mitchell retorted, "Well, he [Obama] owns it because, perhaps, not a single one of them [Republicans] voted for his plan." Regarding the general status of the party, Mitchell failed to consider the possibility that the problem wasn't with the Republican Party being too conservative, but with it not living up to conservative ideals.
A transcript of the May 19 segment, which aired at 1:36pm EDT, follows:
ANDREA MITCHELL: Let's go to Chris Shays, a former Republican congressman. Chris, you were defeated in the last round.
FMR. REP CHRIS SHAYS (R-Connecticut): Oh, don't say that.
MITCHELL: No, I say it to set up the fact of, when you listen to a speech like this, and he talked about Edmond Burke. He talked about William F. Buckley, about Ronald Reagan. He mentioned former President Bush, former President Bush. No mention of Dick Cheney. No mention of Rush Limbaugh. Is he trying to move the party to a broader party, one that would include you? You were the last standing moderate from the northeast.
SHAYS: He should be doing that and-
MITCHELL: Do you think he was in this speech?
SHAYS: I think he was. I mean, bottom line, Ronald Reagan never said who could be a Republican. But, we have talk show hosts who have never won elections who define very narrowly who's a Republican. The bottom line of any national party is, it has to give you the capability to represent your district. And if it doesn't allow you to represent your district, you get defeated. And that's what has happened all throughout the northeast and other parts of the country.
MITCHELL: Now, one of the most striking things about this speech by Michael Steele was that he was making this Barack Obama's economy. Here he is saying that the Republican Party is the party of fiscal conservatism, of small government, yet what Barack Obama inherited in terms of the economy was something that no one could have foreseen. No Obama administration transition official foresaw where we were going with the economy.
SHAYS: It becomes the President's economy.
MITCHELL: Is that fair?
SHAYS: It becomes his economy when he doesn't include Republicans. He invites people to the White House, he dialogues with them, but I'm told by all my colleagues in the House and the Senate that they don't have input. The moment he has input, then it will be ours collectively. But if he didn't allow input, he owns it.
MITCHELL: Well, he owns it because, perhaps, not a single one of them voted for his plan.
SHAYS: Yeah, but it was his plan. That's the whole point. If he's talking about reaching out, it means compromise.
MITCHELL: So, you mean by the virtue of having gone along with Nancy Pelosi's House caucus version of the stimulus package --
SHAYS: Totally shutting out Republicans, then they own it.
MITCHELL: Again, when we talks about the size of government, the 6.1 percent decline in GDP and all of the rest of the bad economic indicators, the unemployment numbers. These are indicators and figures that are developed over months, a six-month period. So, is it entirely fair to lay it at the feet of Barack Obama?
SHAYS: Is it entirely fair, no, but he's the Republican chairman and he's going to state a very strong case. The key will be, will he defeat Republicans who are being criticized by the talk show hosts and say, we need you? Newt Gingrich never said who couldn't be a Republican. Ronald Reagan said who couldn't be a Republican. They both tried to win you over by ideas.
MITCHELL: When we talk about ideas, what new idea did you hear in Michael Steele's speech about the Republican Party?
SHAYS: I didn't hear any new ideas. But that's the point. I mean, we need to be talking about ideas. We got off ideas when we started to go after President Clinton for impeachment. And then it began to be, we're going to be a majority for the next 25 years. Our ideas went out the window and it was get rid of Bill Clinton, impeach him. And that was sad. We got out of ideas when we started focusing on Terry Schiavo. I say, we, when the leadership did. I mean, Terry Schiavo, we took out of a state court and brought it into a federal court. Totally contrary to our ideas. President Bush got away immediately when he supported a huge farm bill that even President Clinton wouldn't support and he did the steel quotas. Those were huge mistakes in the past administration. So it would be good to get back to the ideas that got us elected in '94.
MITCHELL: And briefly on the whole question of whether Dick Cheney or Colin Powell are the Republicans that you would like to define the party?
SHAYS: Well, first off, I would never say that Colin Powell wasn't a good Republican. He's been a good Republican for a long time. He supported someone who wasn't a Republican. I understand Dick Cheney wanting to defend himself. And that part is fine, but he shouldn't be defining who's a good Republican and who isn't.
MITCHELL: Chris Shays, a good Republican.
SHAYS: We're all different. We've got to include a large enough umbrella.