Former Rep. Tom Davis: GOP ‘Dysfunctionality’ Could Cost Party Seats

Oct 28, 2009 3:23pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: With three high-profile races on tap next Tuesday, we checked in with one of the sharpest minds in the political realm on’s “Top Line” today: former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., now the president of the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership. Davis, a former chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said a split decision on Election Day 2009 — with Republicans picking up the governor’s seat in Virginia, but Democrats winning the New Jersey gubernatorial race and a House seat on the ballot in upstate New York — will highlight troubling fault lines inside the GOP. “The issue is really the dysfunctionality of the Republican Party,” Davis said. “Here you have opportunities to win them both [in New Jersey and New York]. Democrats, if they win those, [they'll] will win with far less than 50 percent. But it’s the Republicans’ inability to focus all of the anti-regime people in under one basket. What Obama did, his coalition was largely just anti-Bush and he put it together, ‘change you can believe in,’ and that’s about as specific as he got.” In both New Jersey and the New York House race, conservative third-party candidate may siphon enough votes away from Republicans so that Democrats win races where the GOP should be favored. Davis said he’s particularly concerned about the split in upstate New York, where prominent Republicans are lining up behind the Conservative Party candidate over the GOP nominee, citing concerns that the Republican isn’t sufficiently conservative. “Our problem is the grassroots level. And [Sen. Arlen] Specter switched [parties] in Pennsylvania not because of pressure from Washington, but because he couldn’t win it in Pennsylvania given the primary make-up,” Davis said. “In New York it won’t be because of Washington not supporting our candidate there, Dede Scozzafava, it will be because [of] outside money coming in from Club for Growth and other groups that want to make statements. The Conservative candidate in New York doesn’t even live in the district and they’re bringing him in. I think it’s unlikely he wins at this point, but you know, that’s the problem: It’s the dysfunctionality of the Republican coalition, people not voting with their heads, voting with their hearts, a lot of emotion. And we’ll see if the Republicans can put it together.” More broadly, Davis said, Republicans need to decide if they’re “going to be a national party or you’re going to be a private club” — and need to handle conservative anti-government activists with care. “Are they a coalition, or are they a club?” he said. “They’ve got to keep the energy from the ‘tea baggers’ and the ‘birthers’ and these groups that probably couldn’t govern a one-car funeral, but they’re the energy for the party at this point. You need those people, and you’ve got to adopt a couple things and frankly, they’re not wrong on every issue. But at the same time you need to appeal to independents and moderates.” Davis, who was the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during the steroids-in-baseball hearings, also told us that he thinks former slugger Mark McGwire should be allowed back into baseball as the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach. “You could ban a whole generation” of suspected steroids users, he said. “We don’t know for certain who took steroids; we do know it was much wider spread than anybody envisioned. At this point — to McGwire’s credit — he didn’t come before Congress and lie, he didn’t fudge it. You know, he basically took the Fifth Amendment. And I think he’ll be a good hitting coach and more power to him.” Davis also told us he looks forward to defending his title in The Hotline’s “Political Pursuit” trivia contest: “We’re looking for challengers.” We also checked in with Ana Marie Cox of Air America on next Tuesday’s contests, plus the growing political controversy over a proposal — opposed by 30 GOP senators, as well as the Obama White House — to force defense contractors to allow their workers to take sexual assault claims to court. Watch that discussion HERE. (And watch it knowing that, well, it’s almost Halloween, and we’re all big fans of a certain program on AMC.)

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