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Mary Matalin Defends The GOP's 'Purity Test'

From AC360, Mary Matalin does her best to spin the GOP's new purity test as a good thing for the party and not a move by the RNC to drag the Republica
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From AC360, Mary Matalin does her best to spin the GOP's new purity test as a good thing for the party and not a move by the RNC to drag the Republican Party even further to the right.

HILL: In "Raw Politics" tonight, the GOP's purity test. A group of conservative Republican National Committee members is working on a resolution that could radically alter the party's look and its message and also risk to drive out moderates.

The proposal sent out new rules, a checklist really, that candidates must meet in order to secure both support and funding from the GOP.

Now many are expected here: smaller government, a smaller national debt. The checklist also includes opposition to the president's stimulus and health plan, as well as opposition to gun control, cap-and-trade-based energy reform, same-sex marriage, and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

It also mandates support for troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the containment of Iran and North Korea. So what does this list say about the party, and most importantly, perhaps, about its future direction? We're going to talk about that now with Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Both, of course, are CNN political contributors.

Good to have you both with us.

And Mary, I want to start with you, because this is your party here. The draft resolution written, basically, as a tribute to President Reagan. But frankly, even he wouldn't meet all these qualifications. He raised taxes. He grew the deficit. And he really was the big-tent guy who grew the Republican Party.

Is it wise at this point for the RNC to be in the business of potentially excluding people in what seems like a categorical way?

MARY MATALIN: Not excluding anybody, except Nancy Pelosi Democrats. I applaud these members who have taken the initiative to come up with these ten points, all of which -- and I defy my friend Paul to find me any blue dog Democrat that wouldn't agree with at least eight out of ten of these mainstream principles.

And if you look at your own -- our own CNN polls, all of these issues and these policies are received majority mainstream support. So there's not -- they're not going to move out any moderates. It's going to pull back in people who left the party because we became liberal light.

HILL: But one thing that's really interesting when you read this is that the resolution specifically mentions welcoming people with diverse views here. But then it outlines, as you said, very conservative positions. Maybe not unexpected. But is that really ushering in diversity?

MATALIN: I -- I don't know what -- give me an example, Erica. Every blue dog Democrat that was elected -- Rahm Emanuel, good for him, he went in and out '06 and '08 and he specifically recruited Democrats that ran on these principles. Of course, we weren't contesting government-run health care or government-run energy policy, which the blue dogs are now opposing.

HILL: But when it comes to...

MATALIN: These are not out of the mainstream.

HILL: So -- and in terms of diversity, there's no concern that they're keeping the diversity out?

MATALIN: What they're saying, what they're suggesting is you can run. If you want to run against all of these, you can certainly run as a Republican. What you cannot do is expect to be funded by the Republican Party.

As somebody who spent -- started out in the basement at the Republican National Committee, I saw those dollars, $5, $3. People aren't sending their money for us to support candidates who behave like Nancy Pelosi.

HILL: Well, which is a fairly far cry to the left. Not exactly the moderates there's been a lot of people talking about.

But Paul, want to bring you in here to be fair. Democrats not exactly speaking with one voice right now. The anti-war wing of the party is upset about the expected troop surge in Afghanistan. Pro- choice Democrats, human over health-care reform, gay rights supporters. We've heard for months now we feel let down by the president on a number of issues. Could this be maybe a good idea for the Democratic Party?

BEGALA: Well, I think -- I think Mary is making my case better than I could for myself.

The Democratic Party has a wide diversity of opinion, like the Republican Party used to. You know, these things wax and wane over history. And there was a time, you know, when I was a kid, Ronald Reagan was the president. He was reaching out to Reagan Democrats all the time. He was kicking our butt up and down the country.

This is a bid for the Republican Party now. It's all about purity. It's all about rigidity. Mary makes the point that Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, recruited lots of conservative Democrats. Yes, that's the point. See, Democrats have a big tent now. Some Democrats, and I've worked for some of them, are pro-life. Most Democrats are pro-choice. But the pro-life wing of the party is still part of the Democratic Party.

The Republicans are all about driving people out right now. And I think it's a great idea. So if you're, for example, if you believe in, like, evolution or gravity or photosynthesis or any of the stuff that Republicans are afraid of, come on over to the Democratic Party. You know, we're the party right now of the mainstream. Wasn't always the case. But God bless the Republicans. They seem to have ceded the center of the national debate to the Democratic Party.

HILL: Mary, are you seeing the center? Which as we know, moderate independents are increasingly important in every election. And 2010, not that far away.

MATALIN: I -- I'm going to ask again. I want Paul to tell me who of the 49 blue dog Democrats which constitute three quarters of what constitutes the majority of the party, who -- which blue dog Democrat would be against three of these things? I can't think of anyone in any district.

And the country is 2 to 1 conservative. And the -- it's not -- people don't identify themselves, people who do identify themselves as Republicans and Democrats are in the minority. Who identifies themselves as independents are 2 to 1 conservative. And they're increasingly opposed to these big government programs that President Obama has ushered in. And it's hurting the party.

The generic ballot for Republicans, when they were running as liberal lights, was minus seven. Now it's plus four. That's a swing of 11 points on the "would you vote for a Republican or a Democrat in your district?" So we need to get back to what -- how we got off track in the first place when we were in the majority.

HILL: And we also need to wrap this up or I'm in big trouble. So Paul, I'll let you have the last 30 seconds.

BEGALA: I'm just amused that Mary is not saying that -- I guess George Bush and John McCain, men she supported, were somehow liberal light.

I think this is great. I think the Republicans should go back to the Dark Ages. And don't stop there. Go all the way to the Stone Age. This is what I want as a Democrat. I couldn't be happier. It's my Thanksgiving gift from the RNC. And I want to thank the Republicans for trying to keep the Democrats in the center.

HILL: Well, I want to thank the both of you for coming in today. Paula Begala, Mary Matalin.

MATALIN: Happy Thanksgiving.

HILL: Happy Thanksgiving to you both.

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