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PBS "Newshour with Jim Lehrer" - Transcript


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MS. WOODRUFF: For more on what Republicans are thinking right now, we talk with two governors, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Both of them join us live from Miami. And thank you both for talking with us.

Governor Sanford, you first. The mood there more like a wake or would you call it a funeral?

GOV. SANFORD: I don't know if it was either. It was a -- we'll call it a candid assessment of what happened last Tuesday.

And I think in some ways a number of people were -- I won't say excited, but realistic about looking at options going forward.

So I wouldn't call it a wake or a funeral. I think it's a candid assessment of where we are.

MS. WOODRUFF: Governor Pawlenty, how do you explain what happened this year to the Republicans?

GOV. PAWLENTY: Well, I think if you had the wake or funeral analogy or metaphor, either way, the person's dead. I don't think the Republican Party is dead.

We've got great ideas with a lot of talent. And I just think, if we're going to be the party of the marketplace -- and elections are the ultimate measure of the political marketplace -- and the marketplace is telling us for now they prefer our customers, the people we serve, prefer the product and services of our competitors.

And when you're losing market share, you've got to step back and say, "How can we improve? How can we do better?" And that's what's taking place at this conference, and there's a lot of good ideas and a lot of good, I think, candid analysis that's taken place

MS. WOODRUFF: But Governor Pawlenty, essentially are you saying the Republicans were doomed from the start of this election or that a different campaign could have changed the outcome?

GOV. PAWLENTY: Well, if you look at the headwinds that the Republicans were facing this year -- including the normal fatigue that sets in after eight years of the party in power being in the White House; the bottom dropping out of the economy, the war continuing to be of concern to people; and, of course, you know, all of the political headwinds that we've been talking about for many months -- I'm not sure Superman or Wonder Woman could have won this year with those political headwinds as a Republican.

That being said, we can't just say that's business as usual, that's an excuse. We have a lot of work to do. This party is losing or falling behind with women, with people of modest incomes, with Hispanics, with African-Americans, with younger voters. We're losing in the Northeast. We're losing in the Great Lakes states. We've lost the West Coast. We've even lost some Western states and some mid-Atlantic states.

That's not a formula for a majority governing party going forward. We have to do better than that, and that's why we're working at this conference to chart that path.

MS. WOODRUFF: Governor Sanford, what's your diagnosis? If the patient isn't dead, how would you describe him?

GOV. SANFORD: Well, I think Tim just described him awfully well, which is irrelevant -- dead, alive, whatever. The question is, where do we go from here? And as Tim correctly just pointed out, a lot of us are laying out ideas on what we think would be important to what comes next. I think, among the different things that we've got to look at is one, what was the problem?

And I think at the core of the problem was Republicans have campaigned on one theme and oftentimes governed on another. And that combination can be lethal from an electoral sense. We saw that last Tuesday. I would describe a party --

MS. WOODRUFF: What's an example of that?

GOV. SANFORD: Well, I would describe a party as really, in a business sense, nothing more than a brand. And if you think about the great brands of time, they do what they say they're going to do.

In other words, somebody buys that product in the marketplace because it performs as expected. And if you look at that disconnect of, for instance, saying we're the party of less taxes and less in the way of spending and contrast that with, for instance, somebody like Ted Stevens.

Ted Stevens is a personification of what went wrong with the party, because here's a guy who didn't talk about less in the way of taxes or less in the way of spending. He prided himself on how much stuff he could bring back to his home state and became ethically blind, given his tenure or time there in office.

So I think that you've got to go back to, what are the things that made the party great in the first place? Certainly, one of the foundational elements was less in the way of taxes, less in the way of spending, as a means toward more in the way of liberty.

And we've gotten away from that. And in as much as we have, there's been real brand degradation. And the question here going forward is, how do you fix the brand?

Some people would say, "Well, you've got to add new bells and whistles to the brand." My point would be, if you look at John Deere and Company, they produce great tractors, have engineering capacity, but their way of fixing the brand when they get into trouble is not to begin making airplanes or boats. It's to go back to making tractors better. I think we've got to stick to the knitting.

MS. WOODRUFF: Governor Pawlenty, is it going back to the foundational roots? We're hearing a number of voices say the party's got to go back to being really conservative.

GOV. PAWLENTY: I think Mark described it very well in the sense that we're the party of fiscal discipline, amongst other things.

You can't say that and then go and have -- be an accomplice to what's going on in Washington, D.C., which is, you know, the nation's just choking in debt; it's drowning in debt. There's no real effort by Republicans or Democrats to balance the budget -- not just in the context of this economic crisis, but for years and decades preceding this.

You know, that's just -- it's not freedom, it's not liberty when you handcuff your children and your grandchildren to a wagon full of debt. It's not freedom and liberty if you allow the government to take over the health care system.

It's not freedom and liberty when you have a monopoly school system that's not modern and doesn't allow the kind of service and variety and choice that you'd see in terms of people being able to do what's best for their kids or their grandkids and on down the list.

So the Republican Party clearly has to get back to its roots, its standards, its values, and its principles, but I would add we also have to apply those in the circumstances and the context and the emerging issues of our time. And those are sometimes things that we've been slow to do, slow to realize.

An example would be in the energy area, the renewable energy area in particular. We should have been leading in that, not trying to catch up on that issue.

MS. WOODRUFF: Do I hear any difference between the two of you, Governor Sanford, when you were saying get back to the roots, not worry so much about the bells and whistles, the way the message is delivered?

GOV. SANFORD: Judy, those in your business would try and create the separation between me and Tim, but, no, there isn't.

We're stressing maybe different points. I talk incessantly about going back to the foundational roots, but Tim believes in that just as well. He is a bit more technologically savvy than I am and therefore at times will stress technological elements in terms of a bell or a whistle.

My simple point is this -- not at all in disagreement with what he's saying -- but I believe that to have any currency to new technology that helps you to sell a message, you've first got to ask the question, what's the message you're selling?

So I think that the foundational element ties to message itself, which are the grand old themes of the Grand Old Party going back to those first, and then you worry about the different bells and whistles.

MS. WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about, Governor Pawlenty, this notion of returning to the party's conservative roots. A lot of people looked at John McCain's selection of Governor Palin and said that's what he was trying to do, and it didn't work.

GOV. PAWLENTY: Well, like I said earlier, though, clearly, Governor Palin brought a lot of excitement to the Republican base, and you saw that throughout the campaign.

But I'm not sure Superman or Wonder Woman, like I said before, could have made a difference in that environment. It was a steep, steep uphill climb. They did their best. They are very talented people.

I think Governor Palin's going to be, you know, one of the voices that helps continue to chart a path for the party. But I think it's unfair to just blame it all on her or to say, you know, she was the reason why it didn't go forward. There was a lot of other things going on.

MS. WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you, Governor Pawlenty, to apply what you were just saying to a problem, an urgent problem that's facing this administration and the next one, and that's the crisis of the auto industry.

What should be done there in line with what you were just saying?

GOV. PAWLENTY: Well, you know, you had your previous guest on talking about the need for that, and I heard part of that. I think people are getting increasingly skeptical about what appears to be this coalition of big business, big labor, and big government working in ways that a lot of people don't understand.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of clarity around how it's supposed to work. And in the case of extending something to the auto industry, I'd first like to ask the question, why can't they get the loan, if that's what they're seeking, from the private sector, from the private industry?

If it's absolutely unavailable, and they simply can't do it -- and the whole industry is going to collapse without it -- then I would think we would give them some assistance, but it should be collateralized. We should make sure that we have absolute tangible collateral so that there's no question that we're going to get paid back.

I don't even like government doing that, but the first question should be, why can't they get it from the private sector? And then it's a slippery slope. Where does it end? You know, who's next? Does my friend who owns a small business in Minnesota, if he's having a hard time, does he get a loan?

So it's a slippery slope. But at the very least, we should protect the taxpayers and make sure they put up collateral that we can get if they don't pay it back.

MS. WOODRUFF: Governor Sanford, the same question about the auto industry.

GOV. SANFORD: My view is let them go. I don't know where this ends. I don't know how your cell phone charges, Judy -- I don't know if you have to worry about them in a personal sense -- but at some point, it gets to the absurd of now we've got to start bailing out folks on their cell phone bills.

I mean, once that slippery slope begins, it becomes a problem in this way. The heart of the capitalistic system that has created the wealth that we enjoy in America is based on success and failure and there being a consequence to making bad decisions.

And if you go through the business of bailing these folks out so that -- you know, through Chapter 11, they can't then renegotiate union contracts, which were at times very generous in the way that they were created, if you can't go through that process of creative destruction -- as Adam Smith called it -- then you go to the heart of undermining that which has created the wealth that we enjoy as Americans.

I would make this point, as well: If we had had a series of bailouts, there wouldn't be a Nucor Steel that's based in the South that's done awfully well because we would have bailed out steel in Pittsburgh. There wouldn't be a BMW in South Carolina or a whole host of other auto industries scattered across the South because we would have just kept them all in Detroit.

That notion of constant change in the marketplace, of there being a consequence to getting a decision right and to getting a decision wrong, goes to the heart of the very principles that I was just alluding to just a moment ago.

I think it's very important that we not have bailout round two.

MS. WOODRUFF: Let me come back finally to both of you to the incoming administration.

Governor Pawlenty, do you think that Barack Obama can be a successful president -- can have a successful presidency?

GOV. PAWLENTY: Well, I think the country wishes him well regardless of whether you were for him or against him in the campaign. The country's facing historic and epic challenges, and we're in a very perilous time, so I don't think anyone wishes him ill will.

He's clearly a very capable communicator. He's clearly somebody who had a successful campaign. But he also has a record that's, you know, fairly partisan to one end of the political continuum. I think it's an open question, is he going to govern like that or is he going to come back to the mainstream and work across party lines?

And I hope he does, but we don't know the answer to that, so we'll have to wait and see.

MS. WOODRUFF: And, Governor Sanford, do you believe he can be a successful president?

GOV. SANFORD: I would say that I hope that he is. You know, I very much hope that he is for my kids' sake, among others. I fear that he may not be, because if the remedies are based more in the way of government, at the end of the day, it will not work.

If you look at debt, it's grown three times GDP over the last 15 years. We're going to go through a process of deleveraging as a country, as a government, as individuals. It's going to be tremendously painful. And if the way of solving that is more Band-Aids on the problem that sort of string this pain out, at the end of the day, I don't think it will be successful. I think at the end of the day, it will be very, very harmful.

MS. WOODRUFF: Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, we appreciate it. Thank you both.

GOV. PAWLENTY: Thank you.

GOV. SANFORD: Yes, ma'am.


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