Times columnist Frank Rich appeared on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC talk show Wednesday night to talk about the state of the Republican Party. Maddow led the segment with a sour-grapes clip of Republican Sen. Bob Bennett (who lost the Utah Republican primary to a more conservative candidate) lamenting his party's lack of ideas. From there, Maddow and Rich nodded along to each other's points about harsh, John Birch-style Republicans and their "extreme fiscal conservatism" and "race problem." (You can watch a clip from the Maddow show at the bottom.)
RACHEL MADDOW: So what we saw there - the reason I want to play that Bob Bennett clip is because I feel like that's something we really rarely see - elected Republicans actually doling out some friendly fire. How do you think the Republican Party is doing overall in its sort of post-Bush, post-McCain era?
FRANK RICH: Well I think it's struggling, not necessarily politically, ut for a message, what's it about? On one hand, they have this sort of reversion to this extreme fiscal conservatism of tearing down the safety net, no unemployment benefits extension, against regulation, apologizing, for heaven's sake, not just to a abusive company like BP but a British one, which is just-seems totally tone deaf. They have the social issue component that's sort of off on the side and feeling disgruntled. They have a race problem. I don't know what the message is except the Party of No. And while it's sort of a cliche, there is something sort of nihilistic about it. They don't want to - what policies are they proposing or supporting unless maybe Gen. Petraeus is involved? That's about the only - the only thing they can rally behind.
MADDOW: Unanimous - everything unanimous for Petraeus. It's true. We just have had word since we've been on the air tonight from the AP. For the third time in as many weeks, Republicans in the Senate have successfully filibustered a bill to continue providing unemployment checks to millions of people. Republicans, obviously, keep blocking unemployment extensions as we've got this record unemployment. But there is this issue of Republicans trying to make unemployment benefits themselves seem like a bad thing. People like [G.O.P. Senate candidates] Sharron Angle, Jim DeMint, not only voting to not extend it or saying they would vote to not extend it, but trying to argue against it, arguing that unemployed people are lazy and spoiled. How significant is that?
RICH: Well, I think it`s just - I don't know how significant it is beyond sort of the really far right-wing fringe. We're talking about, really, the far right of that party in terms of office holders and candidates. But it is significant and it's a return to sort of the classic kind of John Birch Society Republicanism of just - you know, pure Ayn Rand. No government, no regulation. Let business do what it wants. Let people fend for themselves. It's as if you want to rewrite all of history since the New Deal, which is what they want to do. They are supporting Medicare because they realize they don`t want to lose the votes of senior citizens who like Medicare.