Martin Bashir | January 29, 2013
>>> eric cantor may be an unrepentant partisan and perpetual opponent of the president, but he's no conservative, at least not according to heritage action. the group, an offshoot of a very influential conservative think tank grades conservative on their purity by a number of issues, and they definitely don't grade on a curve. for instance, their average score for house republicans, 66%. eric cantor , a mere 55%. so how do you earn a top grade with heritage action? well, let south carolina 's jeff duncan demonstrate.
>> madam secretary, you let the consulate become a death trap . and that's national security malpractice.
>> joining us now is clarence page , a columnist with "the chicago tribune " and nbc's luke russert live for us on capitol hill . welcome to you both. clarence , what hope is there for gun control , immigration, climate change if true conservatives have to be to the right of eric cantor ?
>> well, not a lot of hope you would think. it's a real problem for those who want to get any kind of progressive action through at all or any kind of compromise. there are very few people left in the house, especially on the republican side , who feel oblige obliged to their constituency as far as their views are concerned. they feel more obliged to the folks who are funding their campaigns or funding the campaigns of their potential opponents in a future primary fight. so it's gotten to be a very cynical politics that i'm afraid heritage has become a part of moving from being a research institution into being a lobbying force.
>> i'm assuming clarence you include heritage alongside with the nra and others?
>> certainly then ra has become an organization whose members are gun owners but the money comes from the gun industry.
>> heritage didn't quite there yet, but they do get a lot of contributions from corporations that benefit from their work.
>> okay. now, luke, the gang of eight's mike lee , who owns a 99% score from heritage , won't now back the group's immigration plan. last year they saw heritage threaten to score an amendment banning high capacity clips. what makes grading systems like this one so powerful?
>> well, i think primarily is that if you fail to get a good grade with heritage action, you are essentially a target for a primary. if you look at the way they do this, it's a very effective grading system in terms of trying to appeal to conservative media and to conservative grassroots activists. you can say that someone like maybe not eric cantor , but someone in more of a district where he doesn't have the financial backing that eric cantor might have, oh, my god, they're only with us 55% of the time, they're not pure, they're not true. we've seen, especially in primaries in the united states senate , look at folks like todd akin , folks like mourdock in indiana, christine o'donnell in delaware. you see the strength of the grassroots. that's why the grading systems are so effective, because they put somebody on a target list for grassroots conservative organizations to take out in a primary, and if you go to their website, it's very slick. it's very well-done. very easy to click on somebody. you can see six or seven votes, and the way in which they penalize people for a vote that ordinarily would just be a common thing to take, for example something that might not be completely offset, let's say you're from a coastal area and you're supporting something -- some government money to go there for rebuilding if you get hit for a storm. that doesn't align. sorry if you're from louisiana, from florida. done. you might be the most conservative person of all time but because you voted to help out your district, you're going to get an "x" right there. it's really quite remarkable.
>> it's absolutely incredible. clarence , heritage action is what's known as a social welfare organization. that means it can and has spent money on races. so what happens if you don't have the money, as luke was saying, of an eric cantor , and you incur the anger of heritage because, say, for example, you think high capacity clips and assault weapons are not okay. what happens then?
>> well, a number of things you can do as a candidate or as an incumbent. one of them is to get yourself on tv like you just did with that congressman from south carolina . " washington post " calls it a money blurt where you yell "you lie "ytion " in the middle of the president's address to congress or say something else outrageous like michele bachmann and other folks are known for. every time they make headlines, they get contributions because we're in the internet age where all you got to do is go on the web and click to make a contribution. so there is a certain benefit to not just voting in the extreme but talking in the extreme.
>> it was me stupidly believing it was all about responding to your constituents. gentlemen, thank you.