On Today: Is The Tea Party Hurting The GOP?

It's quite possible NBC's Meredith Vieira has never shown more concern about the Republican Party's ability to win elections than she did on Thursday's Today show, of course that may be because conservative Tea Party candidates are now forcing out the more moderate members of its ranks. In a segment entitled, "Tea Time, Is The Tea Party Hurting The GOP?" the Today co-anchor invited on Republican Senator Jim DeMint to question if conservative candidates like Christine O'Donnell "can win in November?" To which DeMint responded that the conservative candidates he's been supporting are doing just fine: "Well Meredith, they told me Marco Rubio couldn't win. And he is blowing it away in Florida because he's telling people the truth. And they said the same thing about Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rand Paul in Kentucky. They're well ahead in, in the polls because people want a change in Washington."

The following is the full interview with DeMint as it was aired on the September 16 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint has endorsed a number of Tea Party candidates, including Delaware's Christine O'Donnell. Senator DeMint, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Tea Time, Is The Tea Party Hurting The GOP?"]

SEN. JIM DEMINT: Hey good morning.

VIEIRA: This morning's New York Time notes the, New York Times, notes the clear divide within the Republican Party saying and I'm quoting here, "If ever there was proof that the Tea Party and the Republican Party do not necessarily go hand in hand, it is Christine O'Donnell's victory over the establishment." But the paper goes on to say that you, Senator, could be a model for how the two might coexist. How important is it to you, that this gap be bridged?

DEMINT: It's important because the Tea Party represents a broad cross section of the American people. And, and actually, it's a small part of an American awakening of people who are concerned about the debt, the spending, massive growth of government and, and the takeovers. And, and really, what we're doing here in Washington has united America. When I go to a Tea Party, 40 percent of the people there are independents and Democrats. And, and what I'm trying to do is help the Republicans here in Washington understand that the tea parties don't want to be Republicans. We as Republicans need to embrace the ideas of balancing the budget, of trying to return some fiscal sanity here to Washington. You know and I'm not as concerned about what Christine O'Donnell said 14 years ago as I am that she's gonna help us balance our budget here in Washington.

VIEIRA: But, but, but Senator, if you're trying to help your party, your party would argue that you're really hurting the party. That these kinds of candidates cannot win general elections.

DEMINT: Well the important thing to me, first, is to save our country. It's really that critical. That these trivial political labels do not mean as much right now when we're fighting for the survival versus the bankruptcy of our country. And I think the American people in Delaware, all over the country, want to see that sense of urgency from the people who represent them in Washington. They're not concerned whether the Republicans get the majority or not, they want people in Washington who understand that balancing the checkbook is not an extreme idea. So-

VIEIRA: But practically speaking, do you believe that these candidates can win in November?

DEMINT: Well Meredith, they told me Marco Rubio couldn't win. And he is blowing it away in Florida because he's telling people the truth. And they said the same thing about Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rand Paul in Kentucky. They're well ahead in, in the polls because people want a change in Washington. And, and you really can't change Washington unless you change the people who are here. And so I think that's what you saw in Delaware, people are looking at what these candidates are going to do when they get to Washington, and they're ready to throw out the bums and bring in new folks. And I think we're gonna do that in November.

VIEIRA: Are you ready, if these candidates were to be elected, or if the Republicans were to come into power or take over Congress, obviously, control of Congress, are you ready to take on a leadership role to challenge the current Republican leadership?

DEMINT: Well I like our current leadership. Mitch, Mitch is doing a great job and so is John Cornyn, with our Senate committee. I've got the leadership role I want. I am head of the conservative steering committee within the Senate. I'm managing the Senate Conservatives Fund, which by the way is SenateConservatives.com if folks want to help some of these candidates. But I want to support our leadership team. And what we're trying to do now is get a group of Republicans that provide a clear contrast with the Pelosi-Obama agenda, which is massive debt and government growth. I think-

VIEIRA: Before I let you go, Senator, can I ask very, very quickly, you're up for reelection this November and your Democratic opponent, Alvin Greene, has said repeatedly, that he would, he would want to debate you. Is that gonna happen? Will you debate him?

DEMINT: We have no debates scheduled. And I've got a couple of opponents in South Carolina. But Meredith, my main opponents are here in the White House and in Congress. So that's where I'm spending most of my time.

VIEIRA: Alright. So that's a no. Senator Jim DeMint, thank you very much.

DEMINT: Thank you.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.