ABC's Roberts: "Disaster" for party if Democrats nominate candidate who agrees with Americans on Iraq
On ABC's This Week, Cokie Roberts asserted that it would be "a disaster for the Democratic Party" and would lead to "chaos" if businessman Ned Lamont were to defeat Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary on August 8, thereby "pushing the party to the left" and sending a message to other senators that "[t]he only smart thing to do here is play to your base." However, as Sam Donaldson noted, opposition to the war is not simply playing to the base, "it's playing to the country," since the majority of the American public opposes the war in Iraq.
During a panel discussion on the August 6 broadcast of ABC's This Week, ABC News chief congressional analyst Cokie Roberts asserted that it would be "a disaster for the Democratic Party" if businessman Ned Lamont were to win the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary against incumbent Joseph I. Lieberman on August 8. Roberts's comments came in response to a question from host George Stephanopoulos, who asked her to explain why there has been such strong opposition to Lieberman because of his support for the Iraq war. She later explained: "I think that ... pushing the party to the left, which is what's likely to happen, is pushing the party to the position from which it traditionally loses ... presidential elections." She also stated that "it will send a signal to everybody in the Senate: 'Watch out. The only smart thing to do here is play to your base.' And then ... what that means is that your legislation becomes a mess," in which case, "you get ... total chaos."
However, as ABC News national correspondent Sam Donaldson pointed out, opposition to the war is not simply playing to the base, "it's playing to the country," since the majority of the American public opposes the war in Iraq. Despite that fact, Roberts later concluded that if Lamont wins, "I think you start, you know, talking about the liberal blogs and all that taking over the party," a result she said would be "a disaster." Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans believe that the Iraq war was a mistake. A July 28-30 Gallup poll  (subscription required) found that 54 percent of Americans believe the United States "made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq," while only 45 percent believe sending troops was not a mistake. Similarly, a July 21-25 CBS News/New York Times poll  found that 63 percent of Americans believe the "result of the war" is not "worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq," while 30 percent believe the results of the war are worth those "costs." (The poll also found  that 48 percent of Americans believe the United States "should ... have stayed out" of Iraq, while 47 percent felt "the United States did the right thing in taking military action.") Additionally, a July 6-19 poll by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press found  that 50 percent of Americans believe the United States made the "wrong decision in using military force against Iraq," while 44 percent believe the United States made the "right decision."
From the August 6 broadcast of ABC's This Week:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Time now for the roundtable. I am joined, as always, by George Will. Welcome back to Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. And let's - let's start out talking about this Lamont-Lieberman race. Cokie, let me ask you, Joe Lieberman is not the only Democrat, far from it, to support the war. Let me ask you the question I asked him. How did this happen?
ROBERTS: I think Connecticut is a more liberal state. You saw it there. It's -- it's very blue, and -- and you've got the -- the guy with a lot of money who is able to come in and take advantage of it. But it's -- it's, I think, a disaster for the Democratic Party, and it's going to be very interesting to see what happens as a result of it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Disaster for the Democratic Party? Why?
ROBERTS: Yes. I do, because, I think that first of all, that pushing the party to the left, which is what's likely to happen, is pushing the party to the position from which it traditionally loses. And --
STEPHANOPOULOS: In presidential elections.
ROBERTS: In presidential elections, but also it will send a signal to everybody in the Senate: "Watch out. The only smart thing to do here is play to your base." And then that -- what that means is that your legislation becomes a mess, which it already is, but even more of a mess, and you get --
STEPHANOPOULOS: That much is --
ROBERTS: So you just get just a -- total chaos out of this.
DONALDSON: Cokie, at this point it's playing to the country. It's not just your base, in opposing the war. And it happened because George Bush was able to say last year, "As Senator Lieberman said ... ," "Senator Lieberman believes ... ." Because it's not just that he supported going into Iraq and all of that, but he came back last year and said, "The strategy is working." And, of course, it's not working, and I think that's what got him in trouble.
STEPHANOPOULOS: George, Cokie says it's a disaster for the Democratic Party and clearly has divided the Democratic Party, but I wonder if Lamont wins big on Tuesday -- we don't know what's going to happen -- but if he wins big on Tuesday, if that will also shoot some fear through Republican ranks, basically Republicans to a person have supported the war, have supported the president on the war.
GEORGE WILL (syndicated columnist): It will terrify Republicans for 2006, but 2008, I think Cokie may be right. Between 1968 and 1972, the Democratic Party went into stark, hard, and nearly unanimous opposition to an unpopular war in Vietnam, but they did so in a way that made them unpopular --
WILL: -- in the process. So if the blogosphere and MoveOn.org drag the party to the left, it will be a disaster. There is a reason why Bill Clinton went up to campaign for Lieberman, and that's the same reason Bill Clinton went to Washington state to campaign for Senator [Maria] Cantwell, another senator who voted for the war and has not recanted on that. Lieberman's model on Vietnam -- I'm sorry, on Iraq, is to some extent Hillary Clinton's model and --
ROBERTS: Well, and it certainly -- and Bill Clinton, it's also no accident that Bill Clinton is the only Democrat who has been elected president for two terms since Franklin Roosevelt, because he was a Democrat in the middle from the South with a very strong acquaintanceship with scripture --
STEPHANOPOULOS: I agree with all this --
ROBERTS: All of that, and I think you start, you know, talking about the liberal blogs and all that taking over the party, and --
STEPHANOPOULOS: I do agree --
ROBERTS: [inaudible] a disaster.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- with that but want to bring it to you, Sam, but I think you're both underestimating the power of this war and how that overwhelms the traditional left-right, as Ned Lamont said, divisions.
DONALDSON: Well, you and I are in agreement on that. What would you have Democrats do today? Say, "Yeah, the strategy's working, we're for the president, we're for Iraq?" That would be nonsense, it seems to me, not just for the base but for the country.