The Common Good

Tavis Smiley Interviews David Brody

Source: PBS
Date: August 23, 2007

David Brody is senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, covering Capitol Hill and the ‘08 presidential race. The veteran news journalist has worked at the ABC affiliate in Colorado Springs—where he won an Emmy for producing the top newscast—as executive sports producer for the Washington, DC CBS affiliate and as a radio reporter with the Focus on the Family group. He also writes a blog, The Brody File, which drew significant attention during last year's midterm election.

Tavis: David Brody is the senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network whose current beat is covering the 2008 presidential race. Prior to joining CBN he was an Emmy-winning journalist in Colorado Springs, and he joins us tonight from Washington. David, nice to have you on this program.

David Brody: Tavis, a pleasure to be here. Thanks.

Tavis: We're glad to have you. How is it possible that Democrats are talking more earnestly and openly about faith this time around than Republicans? Say it ain't so.

Brody: Yeah, well, it's so, and I think a lot of people are scratching their heads, wondering that. The pundits, so to speak, I think have been turned around on this one. Clearly, that's what's been happening. Look at this Sojourner's Conference that happened a few months back where Soledad O'Brien went ahead and talked and sat down, in essence having a coffee table talk, so to speak, over religion with John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.

It was really remarkable to see them open up about prayer, about Jesus. Talking about Jesus right there on CNN for a whole national audience to see - quite remarkable. On the other side, you have the Republicans who you have to wonder if they even want to talk about religion at all. Do they talk about faith? Sure, to a certain extent, but it's somewhat generic.

It's about faith and family values, and it's all kind of encompassed into one big, global extravaganza, shall we say. So there has been a chance here for the Democrats to clearly capitalize, and not necessarily from a political standpoint, though there is some of that. But really to have a discussion of faith with the American people, and I think that right now, that's what you're seeing.

Tavis: Let me talk about some individuals on the Republican side, David. I want to build my way up to Fred Thompson, because he seems to be the guy that everybody's hoping and praying, pardon the pun, will get in the race to raise these kinds of issues that are important to the Christian right, the conservative right.

And yet, I don't see Thompson ever in his history being out about that kind of stuff. We'll hold him for just a second, but tell me what Giuliani's issue is with talking about faith. Is he not a faithful person?

Brody: Well obviously, who knows exactly the answer to that question? But I'll tell you this, and I've interviewed him now twice and one time in a real formal sit-down way, and I have to tell you, when I brought up the topic of faith he really didn't want to go there. He has been - and made no bones about this, that he doesn't want to talk about it so much.

We did talk a little bit about his Catholic upbringing, but that's pretty much as far as he's going to go. The bottom line is, "Listen, that's between me and my god." He won't talk about it all that much, and there are a lot of religious groups - and when I say religious groups, I'm really talking about Catholic religious groups - who will come out against Giuliani here in the next month or two, especially post-Labor Day, where they will say, "Hey, listen" - kind of doing a John Kerry tune a little bit in 2004, saying, "Hey, he calls himself a Catholic, but we've got a lot of issues with him."

So he's going to have to deal with that at some point. How he deals with it, whether or not he says, "Listen, this is the way it is, leave me alone" - that works for now. Whether or not it works in November of 2007 will be a different story, potentially.

Tavis: Mitt Romney?

Brody: Well, Mitt Romney, of course - the M word, right?

Tavis: Yup, yup, yup.

Brody: The Mormonism issue. And one thing with Romney is that - and what his campaign will tell you privately is that at some point he most likely will have to make the so-called JFK speech, which is this idea that Mitt Romney will have to address this idea that he is a Mormon, that he be the first Mormon president. And whether or not Romney's going to do that - I asked him it specifically; I've asked him a couple of times. And he said, "Well, we'll see about that." Well, the fact that he says, "We'll see about that" probably means that yes, it's under serious discussion and senior campaign advisers do indeed tell me that at some point he probably will have to make the speech. Whether or not he does it, who knows?

Tavis: Brownback - Sam Brownback out of Kansas doesn't have huge poll numbers, but he is one of those persons that certainly Christian conservatives like in terms of his positions, and yet he doesn't have any real traction here.

Brody: No, and it's been hard for Brownback, and I think part of that is because in the debates, he comes across - he's a nice guy. The reality is is that I've interviewed him many times, he's a very humble guy, very personable guy, but on stage he has a hard time coming across with the personality that a lot of folks want to see.

Hey, the reality is, Tavis, and you know this, is that it's not just about 16-point plans. It's also about emotionally connecting with the voters. And Senator Brownback seems to have somewhat of a difficulty in this area. He does come across, like in those debates, as somewhat stoic, somewhat monotonous in terms of his delivery.

And that has hampered him. In terms of social conservatives, sure - he has been - what we have here in Washington is this values action team, which on Capitol Hill it's a bunch of social conservative groups that meet every week with legislators, and Sam Brownback has led that group for years up here. There are folks like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family and others that meet with him on this, but right now they are lax to do anything right now in terms of Brownback's campaign. They're just waiting to see what's going to happen in the future.

Tavis: Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, that is, did very well - came in second place in the Iowa straw poll, if you believe it means anything. He came in second place. He's a former Baptist minister himself, and yet he's being out-talked on faith by the Democrats.

Brody: Well, he is, and I will say this, though - getting back to the Republican field, he is the one candidate that is talking up faith as much as any candidate on the Republican side, and really, Tavis, he's the wild card here. I know we're eventually going to get to Fred Thompson, and we will, but the question really within the Republican circles is can Mike Huckabee raise some money?

If he can raise some money, then all bets are off in this Republican presidential primary because you have the top tier - the Giuliani, the Romney, Thompson, to a certain extent - but then you have Mike Huckabee, if he can do this. If he can raise the money, he's getting positive reviews ever since the Iowa straw poll. And so it's going to be interesting to see how his campaign plays out.

Tavis: I said I wanted to go to Fred Thompson and I will. I don't know what it means about the fact that I have not mentioned John McCain; in your top-tier lineup, you did not mention John McCain. Poor John McCain, and yet this guy has written all kinds of books about character, about courage, about faith, and yet what?

Brody: Yeah. No, it's a - yet what is a - dot, dot, dot, you're absolutely right. Look, the reality is when I was going through the top-tier candidates - and believe me, for a split second I thought well, we had been saying John McCain, but now we're not. And the reality is I interviewed him on the Straight Talk Express Bus back in February.

That feels like a really long time ago. He obviously - the campaign has imploded, to a certain degree. He'll tell you that it's New Hampshire or bust. Iowa is an important shore, but listen, his roots are in New Hampshire, this is where he had his best victory in 2000 - political victory - and so he needs to do well there. He needs to win there, and right now, Romney's way ahead in the polls, so it's not - it's looking dire.

Tavis: So tell me then why - because again, as I have reread his record, which I'm doing more and more every day, like you and everybody else is, getting ready for his entry into this race, we presume - former Senator Fred Thompson out of Tennessee - what is all the hope and hype about with him for social conservatives? I have never seen this guy to be out front in a real way talking about faith.

Brody: Right. Well, it may be a default candidate. And I'm not trying to demean the Thompson candidacy or Fred Thompson himself, but the reality is for social conservatives, what they want, and really, what a lot of voters want in general, is safety. That they know what they're going to get. And if you look at the list, you have Rudy Giuliani - moderate on the social issues, so that's a concern as to what kind of judge he would pick.

You have Mitt Romney, with some of the flip-flops that he has been painted with, and now you have Fred Thompson who comes along who doesn't seem to have as much of that baggage, so to speak. And I think within the social conservatives groups, the evangelical leaders I've been talking to, they all seem comfortable with the fact that Fred Thompson will give them no surprises.

And I think that right now is Thompson's biggest asset here, is that he comes across as a guy that's a plainspoken, southern guy - hey, all for the Second Amendment, load up the guns in the back of the pickup truck. And that seems to have some appeal at some sort of level.

Tavis: What's happened, as you read it, over the last few years that have allowed the Democrats to steal this issue of faith - if clearly not a social conservative agenda, they've certainly stolen the issue of faith - and how do the Republicans surrender that issue?

Brody: Well, that's a great question, and I think everybody's trying to scratch their heads trying to figure it out. I'll tell you this, that the Democratic National committee - folks like Karen Finney - Karen Finney is the communication director for Howard Dean and others - have made a concerted effort within that group to go ahead and reach out to faith-based voters.

Now, we have to define a little bit what faith-based voters are here. We're not talking the one-issue voter - the one that goes for the life issue or the marriage issue. They're not after those folks. The reality is is that the Hillary Clintons and the Barack Obamas and John Edwards of the world are not going to get the single-issue life and marriage voters.

I think those are pretty much off the table. But there is a wider argument here, and this is what the Democratic National Committee has been trying to do, which is go ahead and say, "Listen, it's about Darfur, it's about poverty, it's about the environment, global warming" - you go down the list. And so, at the end of the day, they have been building this before 2004 in their infancy back then, but now here we are, almost in 2008, and you're talking about four years of them on the ground, making inroads in some of these states and these communities. They have a 10-point plan, so to speak, to do this, and they've been doing well in that area.

Tavis: You mentioned earlier that Thompson may be - again, no disrespect to the senator - may be a default candidate, but I think you would agree with me in this assessment - you can't win something with nothing. So the question is, what is the something that conservatives do? What is the something that the Christian right does?

When it comes time to Election Day, do you try to excite yourself about somebody - Thompson or otherwise - who you're not really excited about, or do you stay home and Democrats steal this election?

Brody: I don't know if you're going to see them stay home. I think eventually, someone's going to emerge. Obviously, it could be Thompson. If it's Romney, social conservatives will have a decision to make, and some that have a concern about his Mormonism and say, "Listen, are we going to stay home or are we actually going to just go to the polls and vote for Romney?"

My sense within what I'm hearing, what I'm reading, as the emails come into the Brody File at CBN news, what I am sensing is that folks will go ahead and probably those that have concerns about Mormonism would vote for Romney at that point, because it would be in their view Romney vs. Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and that wouldn't do it for them. So no, I don't think they sit on their hands, Tavis, but I do think that there is some soul-searching going on as to what happens here.

Tavis: David Brody, fine reporter, senior national correspondent, in fact, for CBN news, on the campaign trail, covering the race for the White House. David Brody, nice to have you on - we'll do it again soon.

Brody: Hey, great, Tavis, looking forward to it.

Tavis: Thank you.