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Rep. Davis Calls for GOP Separation from "Radioactive" Bush


(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

AL HUNT: We begin the program with Congressman Tom Davis. Congressman, you wrote this now famous 21-page memo about the Republican problems this fall. You say it's the worst environment you've seen in 30 years. The Politico this week talks about the GOP crash. Things don't look good. What two things could the Republican Party do right now in order to head off a disaster in November?

REPRESENTATIVE TOM DAVIS (R-VA): Well, two things - number one, they've got to get some separation from the president. The president is the face of the party. He is absolutely radioactive at this point. And they're seen as just in lock-step with him on everything. They've got to go back and establish - I'm talking about Congressional Republicans at this point and McCain, to a certain extent.

MR. HUNT: How do you strike more distance than they are right now?

REP. DAVIS: Well, you don't have to -

MR. HUNT: And, as you know, Karl Rove said they ought to align themselves with the president.

REP. DAVIS: They've done that. I mean, they've done that on SCHIP and they've done it on stem cell and they've done it on the war. And, in every case, they've walked down an alley where they're 30 percent of the electorate. And that makes you a permanent minority. Second, they've got to contrast with the Democrats. The Democrats control Congress. You'd never know it. They're half of the political equation of what's going on out here with gas prices. There's no accountability there and there's no accountability just because we're not making them accountable. We're sitting there on defense defending an administration and Congress is just going after them. We ought to put the Congress to test and say, what's your plan? And there isn't one, of course.

MR. HUNT: You mentioned earlier, suggesting it was probably a mistake to walk the plank on the children's health insurance. Right now there's a battle going on over a housing bill that was passed. The president says he's going to veto it. Should Republicans go along with the president on the housing?

REP. DAVIS: Well, I think individuals have to make their own decision. I'm not running for reelection, though, so I had the ability to vote my conscious first - (inaudible, cross talk) - vote against it.

MR. HUNT: What do you think are the politics?

REP. DAVIS: But the politics are, if you don't like it, you'd better up with an alternative. And right now there's no alternative in sight.

MR. HUNT: So therefore, unless they come up with an alternative, maybe they ought to consider -

REP. DAVIS: People want solutions. They want solutions to high gas prices, to the housing crisis, to the crushing economy, to the war. They want solutions, not rhetoric. We've been long on rhetoric; we've been short on solutions. And the Democrats at least are papering together some alternatives. They know they have no chance of getting implemented so they're not really account - but we've got to come up with alternatives and there's nothing coming out of the White House.

MR. HUNT: One more question on the president - this week, he took a shot at the Democrats and Barack Obama when he was over in Israel. Helpful?

REP. DAVIS: Well, we'll see how it plays out. I think it was contemplated. I think they want to try to contrast it the best way they can. The difficulty for us right now is that President Bush is - although he's the president and the leader of the party - when you turn on the TV and see him, two-thirds of the people turn him off. They're not going to believe him even when he's right so he's got to get surrogates. Everybody has got to be going in one motion.

I think there's something to be said about trying to negotiate with terrorists. It's something that Republicans -

MR. HUNT: But it's who the messenger is.

REP. DAVIS: And how you message it and when you throw in Hitler and some things, you know, it raises the stakes. I don't know how this will play off. If they play it right, it could still work, but just listening to the talk shows and the call-ins and everything else at this point, there's a lot of hostility out there.

MR. HUNT: Let me ask you about the congressional Republican situation. You ran the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. You were well known to probably have as good political instincts as any member in the House in recent decades. Right now, there's great friction between the Republican leader, John Boehner, and the campaign committee chairman, Tom Cole. They make it quite open that they don't much like each other. Does that matter or is that just inside baseball?

REP. DAVIS: Well, it does matter. I mean, look, the Republicans have got to pull together and work as a team. And the reason that they have - what I ask is, what has changed since November '06 when the voters threw us out? Usually, when a business has a down year, you retool, you come back. We haven't retooled at all. I mean, I think they know they need to retool, but political leaders are traditionally risk-averse so they do the same old, same old, same old.

And that's what's happened in the last 18 months and now that mold has hardened and it gets tougher to move outside of that. These guys - we rely on them to get together and work it out and come up with a new plan. And that's going to be their test over the next couple of weeks. It's not either or. It's not you're right or you're wrong. They've got to sit across the table.

MR. HUNT: Would I help if some Republican leaders resigned?

REP. DAVIS: Well, they're going to have to decide for themselves. If they don't change course - they don't have to resign, but if they don't change course, they'll be thrown out by the caucus in December.

MR. HUNT: After the election. John McCain, he's got this appeal in part because he is seen as independent from the party, from the brand that you said is in tatters right now. Is it more likely in November that he will carry, he will lift up Republicans, or that the brand will bring him down?

REP. DAVIS: You've got to remember the reason people like McCain. I'm talking about independent voters because that's what it's all about. Party identification right now gives the Democrats a generic in double digits, 10 to 15 points somewhere. This is the largest generic Democratic advantage in at least 20 years. So, for Republicans, whose numbers are dwindling, it's all about getting those independent voters.

You've got to remember, for McCain at this point, I think he has got to play to that. The Republicans will fall in behind at the end if only because the attacks from the Democrats and everything else will drive what the contrast is. He is positioned to do that because the things that are carrying him forward right now are the things that a lot of Republicans have not liked him for over the years. But that independence puts him in good stead in this environment. And rather than going back and catering to a shrinking base, he's got to orient himself towards Independents.

MR. HUNT: And strike, as you said earlier, strike more distance from this president.

REP. DAVIS: Oh, he has to at this point. If he is seen as Bush III, he's a 20-point loser.

MR. HUNT: Tom, he this week unveiled a major climate-change proposal and, yet, some Republicans, some of the political and financial base are complaining, boy, he's gotten too green.

REP. DAVIS: That's right. I mean, things change hard and when your base, by the way, when there is seepage and your brand name is going down and your party registration is going down, the people that are left tend to be the hard core. And it makes it harder and harder to change. But the public is way ahead of a lot of these Republicans on climate change. They recognize that the world is way ahead of us.

MR. HUNT: So McCain is right.

REP. DAVIS: Of course he's right.

MR. HUNT: Immigration - should you go the McCain route on immigration, along party identity?

REP. DAVIS: Well, if you look at the polls, we've played the immigration card in other races and it has not been as successful as people had thought. There certainly is a wing of the party and a wing of the - I call it the Lou Dobbs wing at this point - that is upset about immigration. I think you can address that within that context, but John McCain speaks to the overall demographics and the overall issues and is probably the best person to carry the banner. I think he's going to have to work with Republican leaders to get a message they can adhere to, but the other side is a long-term loss for Republicans because, over the long term, Hispanic voters are the fastest-growing class in the country and if you chase them all out and give them the finger basically, you're in a long-term hole that you're not going to pull out of.

MR. HUNT: Congressman, final question - no one has a better political antenna than Tom Davis. Five-and-a-half months out, as of today - it could change, of course - what would happen in the House elections in November? What would happen in the White House race?

REP. DAVIS: Well, if you did it today, I think we'd get swept.

MR. HUNT: How much -

REP. DAVIS: I don't know, 20, 25. But the election is not today.

MR. HUNT: Tom Davis, a fascinating document. Thank you so much for being with us this weekend. And when we return, twin tragedies in Asia, the response in China and Myanmar right after the break.


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