Tina Brown's Must Reads: The Republican Schism

Originally published on October 18, 2011 9:04 am

Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, tells us what she's been reading in a feature that Morning Edition likes to call "Word of Mouth."

This week, Brown says the media is taking a closer look at the gap between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party. "There's a kind of firebomb that's about to go off when the debt talks again resume," she says.

Republicans 'Playing With Fire'

First up is Matt Bai's provocatively titled New York Times article, "Does Anyone Have a Grip on the G.O.P.?"

"I found this a very interesting piece because he really delves into the whole kind of schism between the Tea Party and the sort of Republican establishment," Brown tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. Bai explores how the "establishment" is defined, and questions the perception that members of the Tea Party are "the kind of radicals who have always come to town with a fiery new idea and then become co-opted."

Is the establishment co-opting the Tea Party or vice versa? Bai asks. "A reverse takeover could in fact be going on," Brown says. "Here are all these establishment Republican people [saying] over time, [the Tea Party] will get absorbed into the traditional sort of power hierarchies. But actually what we're really seeing is the other way around." Bai's reporting indicates that the Tea Partiers are a "new breed" of radicals who won't play traditional politics, Brown says.

The Republican Party would like to capitalize on the Tea Party's energy — but they're "playing with fire," Brown says. "The establishment wants to harness the fire of the Tea Party in order to kind of get Obama out of office. But it's a fire that you don't know where it's going to go. ... They cannot control it."

It's a crisis of identity that is playing out in the Republican presidential primary, with competitor after competitor challenging Mitt Romney's grip on the Republican establishment.

"Herman Cain is surprising everybody," Brown says. "That's why we put him on [this week's] cover of Newsweek. ... His performance in the debates ... has kind of catapulted him, and I think it's largely because he has positioned himself as the anti-Obama. ... It's an African-American rags-to-riches story that is very appealing."

Brown says the Newsweek staff working on the Cain story came across wonderful photos — one in particular from Cain's college years at Morehouse. "He's standing there with his hand in his pocket, in a pinstripe suit and his legs planted firmly on the ground. It's a wonderful sort of period picture in a sense of African-American aspiration," Brown says.

Cain's personal story is remarkable, Brown says, but his views on most issues are too "radical" for many Republican voters. "That, in a sense, is the great dilemma of the GOP at the moment," Brown says. "On the one hand, they want the energy that gets behind someone like a Herman Cain. On the other hand, they know they'll never get independent voters with the ideas of somebody like Herman Cain."

Cain has said his fundraising is picking up, but his third-quarter numbers were far behind those of Rick Perry and Romney. "Perry is still the guy who has more chance, in a sense, of uniting the two areas of the Republican Party," Brown says. But Perry's debate performance "has been like a kind of a stunned ox. ... He has shattered any hopes that anybody really had in him because he's such a dire performer and just comes off as a guy who is 100 percent not ready for prime time."

The Economic Feud That Wouldn't Die

Brown's next recommended read is Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by journalist Nicholas Wapshott. Keynes and Hayek were "two great economists of the '20s and '30s who had a tremendous feud that really continues to this very day," Brown explains. During the Great Depression, British economist John Maynard Keynes argued for deficit spending and investing in public works. Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek took the opposite approach and said the best thing to do in hard economic times was to cut services and spending.

Wapshott describes the 80-year-old feud as a "poisonous, vituperative, intensely personal debate" — and one that defined an economic battleground where politicians still fight today.

Keynesianism has fallen "out of style," Brown says. In the current economy, no one is willing to embrace big spending. "Even Obama, who may be a Keynesian in his heart," Brown says, "when he talks about ... spending and adding to public works, et cetera, he still is talking about cutting back. Even Obama now can't really admit to being the Keynesian that he probably is in his heart."

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STEVE INSKEEP: Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, is with us again. It's a feature we call Word of Mouth. We hear what Tina's reading, maybe get some suggestions for us to read on our own. Hi, Tina.

TINA BROWN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you begin with an article by Matt Bai, excellent reporter with the New York Times. The question that's posed in the headline is, "Does Anyone Have a Grip on the G.O.P.?"

BROWN: Yeah. I found this a very interesting piece because he really delves into the whole kind of schism between the Tea Party and the sort of Republican establishment. But in the course of it, he really talks about, well, what is the Republican establishment and, you know, that the establishment really believes now they're kind of co-opting the Tea Party, that the Tea Party are really only the kind of radicals who have always come to town with a fiery new idea and then become co-opted.

But Bai really, in the reporting of this, shows that there are really kind of major differences between former radicals who came to Washington and then got tempered by money and, you know, time and victories and defeats, and that they are in fact a new breed of absolutely kind of almost like humorlessly addicted in a sense to the whole idea of anti-government.

INSKEEP: But when you talk about trying to co-opt them, Republicans trying to co-opt them, my favorite quote here is from Scott Reed, very well-known Republican strategist, and when asked about trying to co-opt Tea Party people, he says that's the secret to politics, trying to control a segment of people without those people recognizing that you're trying to control them.

BROWN: Absolutely. But you know, what's so interesting about the piece really is it shows how, in fact, a sort of a reverse takeover could in fact be going on. Here are all these establishment Republican people sort of saying, well, over time, you know, they will get absorbed into the traditional sort of power hierarchies. But actually what we're really seeing is the other way around. As I said, I mean there's a kind of firebomb that's about to go off.

One of the strategists he's talked, Don Fierce, makes a very good point. He says that when the debt talks again resume, this conversation really isn't over and that, you know, what the establishment have to understand is that a bomb nearly kind of went off that was diffused, but actually it could blow up again any minute, and he takes about Boehner as being like the guy in "The Hurt Locker," who's - you know, who's got this kind of trip wire that could go off at any point.

INSKEEP: And Boehner has, of course, had trouble again and again - has struggled, we should say, perhaps is a better way to put it, to deliver his caucus in the House of Representatives.

BROWN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, he really talks about how the trouble with this fire that they want to harness - the establishment want to harness the fire of the Tea Party in order to kind of get Obama out of office. But it's a fire that you don't know where it's going to go. You don't know where this wildfire's gonna go. They cannot control it, and so they like - they're playing with fire in short when they try to co-opt and at the same time think that they can get the Tea Party to play traditional politics.

INSKEEP: Now, we should mention, as Matt Bai points out in this article, that when we say the Republican establishment, it's different and more diffuse than it used to be, but he argues that there is one, and if we have an establishment presidential candidate at the moment, maybe the closest thing is Mitt Romney, but he's faced one challenger after another who's overshadowed him, at least for a time, and the latest is Herman Cain, who seems to be on the cover of Newsweek.

BROWN: Well, indeed. And it's interesting, even as this piece obviously sort of went to press, it talks mostly about Perry and Romney and just slides in (unintelligible) Herman Cain. But actually, Herman Cain is surprising everybody. That's why we put him on the cover of Newsweek, because we've said, yes, we Cain. Because here's this guy who seemed like the most unlikely, the most kind of outsiderly figure, but actually, you know, his performance in the debates in truth has kind of catapulted him, and I think it's largely because he has positioned himself really as the anti-Obama. I mean, here he is again, and it's an African-American rags-to-riches story that is very appealing.

One of the things that I love, actually, in the laying out of the story for Newsweek, is we found the most wonderful pictures. We have a great picture of Herman Cain as the man most likely to succeed at college at Morehouse, and he's standing there with his hand in his pocket in a pinstripe suit and his legs planted firmly on the ground. And it's a wonderful sort of period picture in a sense of African-American aspiration.

And you know, here he is, he has a preacher background, he flipped hamburger patties, he self-made himself up, you know, through the ranks of Pillsbury so that in the end he takes over Godfather Pizza, he's a cancer survivor. I mean it's really a remarkable story. The only thing, of course, that, you know, people have to remember is that his ideas are extremely radical and out there.

I mean he is actually on the fringe in his views about pretty much every social issue that you can imagine, and that in a sense is the great dilemma of the GOP at the moment. On the one hand, they want the energy that gets behind someone like a Herman Cain. On the other hand, they know they'll never get independent voters with the ideas of somebody like Herman Cain.

INSKEEP: And if we talk about that Republican establishment, one way to define it is fundraising, and although Cain said on NPR the other day that his fundraising has picked up just in the last couple of weeks, his disclosures so far don't show that. His third quarter fundraising was way behind somebody like Perry or Romney.

BROWN: Absolutely. So Romney is now - the Republican establishment is now kind of holding its nose and getting behind in a sense the – kind of the colorless Romney. But actually, Perry is still the guy who has more chance, in a sense, of uniting the two areas of the Republican Party, you know, the Tea Party aspect and the establishment aspect.

But of course in his performance in the debate, it's been like a kind of a stunned ox. I mean at the end of the day he has shattered any hopes that anybody really had in him because he's such a dire performer and just comes off as a guy who is 100 percent not ready for prime time.

INSKEEP: Although Perry has quoted an economist who is mentioned prominently in the next reading you have for us, a book here.

BROWN: Indeed. Well, there's a very timely book out by the journalist Nicholas Wapshott about Keynes v. Hayek. This is the two great economists of the '20s and '30s who had a tremendous feud that really kind of continues to this very day in the economic arguments that are being conducted, because Keynes was a guy who believed in investment, you know, during the Great Depression, you know, and he would say we must invest in public works, we have to spend in order to get ourselves out of these issues.

INSKEEP: Deficit spending is good for the economy in a difficult situation, that was Keynes point of view.

BROWN: Exactly right. Whereas Hayek, who was the Viennese economist, a very different - both these two guys were so different. I mean here was Keynes, six foot six, extremely sort of patrician, wildly articulate, you know, the British Bloomsbury(ph) group's favorite, I mean dazzling on his feet; and then there was Hayek, who was this kind of angry Austrian who came in like a kind of gunslinger to demolish - try to demolish, anyway, Keynes's ideas, and his notion was like cut, cut, cut, you know, you have to have absolutely sort of Darwinian economics in order to, you know, avoid authoritarianism taking over eventually.

And these two went at it in the most incredible, what the author calls poisonous, vituperative, intensely personal debate fought 80 years ago in England which came to define the key battleground over which our politicians fight to this day. And it is true that these two arguments, the Keynsians versus the Hayekians, actually is dominating this debt debate even now. It's very interesting. Rick Perry actually refers to Hayek's book, "The Road to Serfdom," and actually Keynsianism is in fact very much sort out of style.

I mean even Obama, who may be a Keynesian in his heart, actually of course it's the love that dare not speak his name. I mean, because when he talks about - now about, you know, spending and adding to public works, et cetera, he still is talking about cutting back. So even Obama now can't really admit to being the Keynesian that he probably is in his heart.

INSKEEP: Word of mouth from Tina Brown. Tina, always a pleasure.

BROWN: Thank you very much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.