CNN’s Soledad O’Brien sat down with Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who claimed President Barack Obama wasn’t a “mainstream” Democrat like former President Bill Clinton.
Perhaps taking a cue from the numerous media outlets that fact checked vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s speech, Priebus said they plan to “be ready with facts” at a space they rented at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“We’re going to be ready to respond to everything that the Democrats say,” Priebus boasted to O’Brien. He said they’ll be especially focused on one chief question, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”
“As you know, there are plenty of people who would say … ‘Yes, the economy was in a free fall four years ago. Yes, the banks were frozen and there was no access to capital. So, yes we’re better off that we were. It may not feel great, obviously there should be more jobs created, et cetera, et cetera, but the answer is yes.’” O’Brein argued.
“The problem with that answer is that the facts don’t bear it out,” Priebus responded. “The facts are that fewer people are employed today, the debt’s more out of control than it ever was in the history of this country, the president didn’t cut the deficit in half like he promised.”
Soledad hit back with some facts of her own. “We were shedding 800,000-plus jobs and now we’re adding 160,000,” she said.
“But we’re worse,” Priebus said. “There are half a million people more unemployed than there were four years ago. Not to mention the under-employed, people who aren’t making what they should make.”
“The president ran in ’08 knowing where the economy was,” Priebus said. “He ran against the Bush economy. He ran against where the economy was. He won in large part because of the economy. Because he said he would fix the economy and people would be better off four years ago because of him, so it’s not good enough to come, what you’re going to see this week, and say, ‘Well, we don’t want to go back to Bush.’”
“But Bush was conspicuously absent at the RNC. The goal was to have him not have a big presence, clearly,” Soledad shot back.
Priebus tried to explain, “I know that Bush Sr.’s not feeling up to par.” Priebus didn’t mention that the former president’s other son, Jeb Bush, gave a prime-time speech at the RNC on the same night as presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Soledad wondered if President Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday could point out that a national surplus was a legacy that President George W. Bush squandered. “He was a businessman, so it’s the Bush economy that we’re reeling from. President Clinton, who has a really high approval rating, could do a lot of damage to your message.”
“Different time, different situation,” Priebus said. “Obama is not your daddy’s Democrat. I mean, he’s not a mainstream Democrat like Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton worked with both sides of the aisle and was able to get some things done. Reagan worked with both sides of the aisle. Bush worked with both sides of the aisle.”
“Some people would say that’s because Republicans have been obstructionist,” Soledad countered. Indeed, filibustering in the Senate has reached a record high in the current Congress. “Is President Clinton going to be a problem for you? President Bush was handed a surplus and spent it down.”
“No, not at all. I think the opposite,” Priebus said. “Bill Clinton is actually going to help us because he’s going to illustrate to the American people that Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. Barack Obama made everything worse.”
Soledad went on to ask about movie star Clint Eastwood’s much-talked-about “empty chair” speech last week at the Republican convention.
“I think it was great,” Priebus said. “It was Clint Eastwood telling America that Barack Obama didn’t fulfill his promises, and Barack Obama has to go.”
“You think people took that from that?” Soledad asked.
Watch the video, broadcast on CNN on Sept. 3.