Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bradley Whitford on "Colbert Report", "Al Franken", MSNBC and Signing a Phone

Bradley Whitford was also on MSNBC's Scarborough County, together with Lawrence O'Donnell, where he argued politics with his co-star Ron Silver. You can watch that appearance here.
Click here to read a transcript from MSNBC.
Let‘s bring in a very special all-star panel with us tonight. From the NBC hit show “The West Wing,” we have executive producers Lawrence O‘Donnell and Ron Silver, who plays Bruno Gianelli. And also with us, Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman on the show, and also Kellyanne Conway, CEO of the Polling Company.

Bradley, I want to start with you.

BRADLEY WHITFORD, ACTOR: Obviously, you are a crack adviser in “The West Wing.” But you know an awful lot about politics, too. If George W. Bush were on “The West Wing” and he‘s sitting there...


WHITFORD: We would be canceled.


SCARBOROUGH: His approval rating—be nice.


SCARBOROUGH: His approval rating is at 39 percent, disapproval at 60 point , what advice do you give him to turn things around?

WHITFORD: Well, you know, I—I just play a politician on TV.

But I would think, at this point, he has to try something else. And I do think, as a citizen, that it‘s his obligation now, as somebody who said they were going to restore honor to the White House, to do this. It seems to me that there is, strategically, a kind of a dual don‘t get caught in the cover-up thing, yet extend the investigation as long as you can, sort of the way Clinton did, so that people could get used to the fact that he‘s done something awful.

SCARBOROUGH: OK. Hold on a second, Bradley.

If I‘m the president with a 39 percent approval rating, and I ask you how I turn things around and you give me this speech, I‘m going to fire you.



SCARBOROUGH: So, you step forward, baby, and tell me. I‘m at 39 percent.

WHITFORD: Go out now and apologize.



SCARBOROUGH: I‘m not asking you—they‘re rioting overseas. At home, I‘m having problems every day. What do I do? How do I turn it around?

WHITFORD: Change your haircut.


SCARBOROUGH: OK. What‘s the next thing I do? That‘s been there for a long time.

WHITFORD: I would tell him to go out. I think he has to fire some people in the White House and make it look like it sunk in that this matters to him.


SCARBOROUGH: Fire some people and apologize.

Lawrence O‘Donnell, I will ask you the same question. What does the president need to do to turn things around? It‘s certainly can‘t get much worse for him.


Well, I think two things were driving his numbers down before we got to the Libby indictment. One was obviously the Social Security plan. The longer he tried to get that Social Security plan across, the more it was actually pushing his approval numbers down. So, he doesn‘t really have a legislative maneuver to propose to get out of this.

Then Katrina came along. He has actually been doing everything he can to counter the imagery that was developed in that week in neglect in Katrina.


SCARBOROUGH: But nothing is breaking through, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL: I think what he has to do, first of all, Joe, is give a—a somewhat humble speech about Iraq.

The poll numbers that are out today are very interesting. There is a majority—it‘s about 51, 52 percent—who believe we should stay in Iraq, even though they believe we should not have gone there in the first place. And I think that‘s an opening dialogue position for the president, to recognize that people have changed their minds about the validity of the enterprise in Iraq.

And he doesn‘t have to change his mind about it, but he has to learn how to talk to the people who regret that we went in, but support him in staying in, which is where we are now. He has got to find the language to talk to those people and make them feel like—that the way they think about this is included in the way he thinks about it, but it‘s not exactly the way he thinks about it, but he understands their approach to it.

SCARBOROUGH: Certainly understands that there are two Americas, and people have very different views.

Ron Silver, the president says he doesn‘t read them, but there are two new polls out that certainly has the West Wing‘s attention tonight. In the first, Mr. Bush‘s approval ratings are at their lowest points in his presidency. Only 39 percent of Americans say they approve of the president‘s performance, while a full 60 percent say they disapprove. That‘s ugly.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable development tonight, 58 percent say they question the president‘s integrity, while only 40 percent consider him to be honest and trustworthy. That is a 13 percent drop over the last eight months.

Ron Silver, what does the president need to do to turn things around?

RON SILVER, ACTOR: I—you know what? Given his personality, I don‘t think he is going to do the kind of dramatic things that opponents and other people want him to do.

This is a president that may or may not read polls, but he certainly does not govern by polls. He looks to history. He knows that Harry Truman left a very unpopular president. He also knows that Harry Truman is regarded by history as a very strong, convictional president. And I think President Bush sees himself that kind of president.

He doesn‘t take positions, he doesn‘t policies that will make him popular. He does what he thinks is right. So, it‘s very hard, very hard to—to discern what somebody who thinks they are right and who has made some hard decisions and doesn‘t care whether they‘re popular or not—it‘s very hard to know what they are going to do.

But Ken Duberstein wrote a very interesting article the other day about second-term malaise, that, in the best of administrations, there is a letdown in the second term. And, sometimes, looking at some new people to reenergize, bring in some new ideas—it‘s also a very fatiguing role for people to be in those jobs for four, five, six, seven years. So, he might be looking at that. But I—I think, overall, he is looking to history as vindication.


You know, Kellyanne Conway, when Harry Truman left office, he had a 25 percent approval rating. And, yet, most people consider, 50 years later, Truman to be one of the best presidents of the 20th century. And there are always problems in second terms. Ronald Reagan, obviously, in ‘86, ‘87, had a terrible time.

But Reagan had no problem coming out, making fun of himself, talking about the mistakes that he made. I mean, Reagan would always joke, you know what, hard work never killed anybody, but I‘m not taking any chances.


SCARBOROUGH: George Bush can‘t make light of himself. He can‘t apologize. It seems that the people around him are so insular, the whole system is so insular, there is no way he can bring in new people and apologize and make the dramatic change that some people thinks he needs to make.

CONWAY: What he should do, though, is go back to his base.

I mean, Joe, if your disapproval rating is at 60 percent, it necessarily, numerically, includes self-identified Republicans, self-identified conservatives, people who voted for you over Kerry just a year ago.

So, I would say the first thing the president needs to do to improve his approval ratings is to go back to his base and answer their aggravation over no reduced spending, no reduced taxes, a poor immigration policy. You have got to keep your family happy first. And then you go around.

And let me say, let me give a shout-out. It has been 25 years ago today that Ronald Reagan was elected. So, that‘s within everybody‘s lifetime, that the game plan is there. I agree with you completely.

And I really like being your dork in New York today, while you guys are having fun in Hollywood.


CONWAY: But he has got to go back to his—Ron, come back to New York.

He has got to go back to his base first and make everybody happy. That disapproval rating is both genders. It‘s a tripartisan disapproval rating. That‘s what remarkable about it. Now, none of those people are going to go—in his base—are going to go and vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008.

But there is a very important election a year from now. And I wonder how many congressmen, some of your former colleagues, right now want the president in their districts.

SCARBOROUGH: I remember 1994, when I ran, Bradley, for Congress, Democrats were saying that they were going to put anti-aircraft weapons on borders if Bill Clinton tried to come into their states to campaign for them.

Republicans have to be feeling the same way about George W. Bush right now in most parts of America, because he is not seen as a conservative by a lot of conservatives out there.

WHITFORD: No. I think he, from my point of view, has always seemed to me to be not a conservative, a radical right-wing president, who now seems to be incompetent.

I just want to say something to what Ron Silver was saying, which is this guy is not guided by polls. I think that is the most absurd statement I have ever heard. This guy has a political nanny, who everybody, even his supporters, Karl Rove, acknowledge that George Bush would be nowhere without this guy. He does operate by polls.

Look at—look at the Supreme Court decision, in withdrawing that nomination. And the—what they have done is manipulate to get poll numbers, so that he can go in and, based on misinformation, go to war, tell us that these tax cuts aren‘t going to result in a deficit. I think it‘s always been a horse race between political acumen and bankrupt policies.

Attacking Iraq was not the right answer for 9/11. And these economic policies are going to leave us bankrupt.

SCARBOROUGH: You know, Lawrence, speaking of Harry Truman, there was a story of Truman stepping off the train while he was going on his Whistle Stop Tour in ‘48.

Guy came up to him, stuck his finger in his chest, said, I think you are the worst president in the history of the United States. If you don‘t get defeated, this country is doomed.

Truman turns to his aide and says, we will put him down as an undecided.

I think we can put Bradley as an—likewise, as an undecided when it comes the George W. Bush.


O‘DONNELL: No, but, Joe, Joe?



O‘DONNELL: Joe, you are getting a feel of what it‘s like on the set when Brad Whitford and Ron Silver are in a scene together. When you say cut, that‘s when the fight really starts.

WHITFORD: That‘s where the fights start.


SILVER: Joe, Joe, let me respond to Bradley for a minute.

WHITFORD: You don‘t need to respond, Ron.

SILVER: One of the reasons the Democrats—I know I don‘t. But you know what? I‘m going to anyway.


SILVER: One of the reason the Democrats are in trouble and the opponents of the president are in trouble is, rather than respond substantively, they conflate a lot of things. They go on ad hominem attacks.

The visceral dislike of George Bush is so toxic to them on some level, that they do not engage in any conversation about substance. For instance, Fitzgerald went out of his way to say this indictment, please, whether you are a proponent or opponent of the war, don‘t make anything bigger off it. It has nothing to do with the war.

Fitzgerald, who is universally lauded as a prosecutor, went out of his way to say that. It did not stop Howard Dean or the Brad Whitfords of the world from going on...

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, it‘s getting ugly.

SILVER: ... the attack and conflating issues and misrepresenting things.


WHITFORD: The Brad Whitfords of the world.


SCARBOROUGH: Howard Dean, the guy that runs the party?


CONWAY: Well, you‘re in good company.

SCARBOROUGH: A guy that plays an adviser. That‘s great.

Hey, thanks a lot. We are going to—we are—I will tell you what.

We are going to talk about your TV show when we come back.

You all stick around. We are going to be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY when we return.


SCARBOROUGH: Stick around, because, coming up, we are live from Los Angeles, going to be talking to the cast of “The West Wing” about a live debate coming up Sunday night that you‘re not going to want to miss—that and much more when we return.



JIMMY SMITS, ACTOR: If we can have a real debate on the issues, just you and me.

ALAN ALDA, ACTOR: How‘s Sunday night?


SCARBOROUGH: And Sunday night, it will be, live, 8:00 Eastern on NBC.

We are back with the executive producer of “The West Wing,” Lawrence O‘Donnell, as well as two cast members, Ron Silver and Bradley Whitford, also Kellyanne Conway.

Let—I want to talk to you, Lawrence.

This is a big risk, isn‘t it? I mean, everybody knows these Hollywood actors can only read lines after they do like 15 or 20 takes.


SCARBOROUGH: But, my God, I mean, look at Ron Silver. I mean, we had some puppet dog on that mopped him up when we were at the conventions. Why are you doing this?


SILVER: Triumph. Thank you, Joe. Thank you for reminding me about Triumph.


O‘DONNELL: What do these actors know about politics, right?


O‘DONNELL: Well, it turns out Alan Alda knows an awful lot. And so does Jimmy Smits.

And, as—as the candidates in the show, with their handlers—you know, Brad Whitford is Jimmy Smits‘ handler—and Ron Silver is Alan Alda‘s handler—they have really been learning these issues even more than they knew them before they came into the show.

And so, if you want to get into a conversation with Alan Alda about how we should finance Medicare long term, he can do that now. And so he‘s going to be able to handle himself in this debate. And Jimmy is going to be able to handle themselves.

And they know the issues from their side of the—you know, the Democrat and the Republican. They know them very, very well. And they are up there throwing their punches now. They have rehearsed it a little bit. And they are deep into it. They really know what they are doing.

There is nothing that is going to throw those two actors.

However, with Ron Silver doing one of those high-speed walk-and-talks live on TV, I‘m not sure he isn‘t going to bump into a wall and trip and fall downstairs.


SCARBOROUGH: That‘s going to be ugly.

O‘DONNELL: That‘s going to be the fun thing to watch. Let‘s see if Ron can actually do his stuff without falling down the stairs.

SILVER: Yes. I‘m terrified.


WHITFORD: It would horrible if you screwed up, Ron. It would just break my heart.


SCARBOROUGH: Just horrible.

Hey, Lawrence, you warned me about this season last year. When we were talking, you said, you have got to see this. This is going to be something. And I will tell you. “West Wing” really is—it‘s about as exciting to watch this year as it has been, I would say, in four or five seasons. It‘s—I don‘t know if it‘s Alan Alda. I don‘t know if it‘s Jimmy Smits. I don‘t know what it is.

Of course, these two great actors that are with us also. But what‘s so special about this season? Why is it popping? Why is it working so well?

O‘DONNELL: Well, I think, Joe, throwing the show into a presidential campaign and really going into the campaign in detail is what has given the show its new energy. And we have added some cast members who are just incredible.

To be able to get Jimmy Smits to do another TV show, to get Alan Alda into another TV show is not easy. And they come in to a show that is anchored by people like Brad Whitford, with guests like Ron Silver coming in every other week. It is just the best cast on television. It‘s got the best directors on television.

And it really now has an energy that it really had needed at this point. And it‘s really flying. It‘s really been great.

SCARBOROUGH: And, as Bradley tells me, the reason why Silver is only on every other week is because, of course, he is running the Christian Coalition on alternating weeks.


SCARBOROUGH: Kellyanne Conway, what does Washington, D.C., think about “The West Wing”?

CONWAY: Oh, they all pretend not to watch it, the way they pretend...


CONWAY: ... the way they pretend not to read polls. And I bet you, if you caught them—if you reversed their TiVo and caught them on camera, if you put a nanny-cam in most of their houses, you would find them chomping on the popcorn as they read the poll with one hand, watching your show with the other.

Look, it‘s a hit. And it‘s not just a cult favorite inside the beltway. So many Americans right now have politics as their hobby. They are voyeurs, if you will, to the political system. They pay attention because they are concerned about serious issues.

But it also—it just is the headlines. It‘s the bylines, the headlines in all of our news coverage everywhere in this country. So, I have to credit. I have to say, so many things are real to life. I definitely think you need on-air pollsters more often. I have got a good idea where you can find a few.



CONWAY: But the treatment—the treatment of some of the issues and I think the parity with which both political parties are portrayed in a place called Hollywood is commendable.

SCARBOROUGH: That‘s what I wanted to say, Ron Silver.

You know, it used to be I couldn‘t watch a lot of...

CONWAY: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: ... political stuff that came out of Hollywood, unless I went ahead and put my goggles on and was ready to be—see Republicans called racists and homophobes and close-minded types.

But there is such a changing dynamic, whether you look at what “West Wing” is doing this year or other political movies. There is so much more nuance there. There is an understanding that there are two sides of the story. And that‘s what I—that‘s what I think it makes it so great. Why is that happening now?

SILVER: Oh, it‘s very interesting.

Lawrence is probably the best person to answer this question. But, years ago, the idea of having a show about politics or based on Washington mores and politics in Washington was anathema to the networks. And then “West Wing” came along. And now it‘s becoming not only doable, but people are replicating what “West Wing” does in many ways.

I think a lot of that has to do with cable TV. A lot of it has to do with the electorate‘s sophistication now. Your other guest mentioned about how it has become a hobby, an avocation for a lot of people in this country. So, I think the environment now is more embracing of this type of show.

SCARBOROUGH: Let‘s take a look at a Zogby poll on the presidential race between the Republican senator and the Democratic congressman, Matthew Santos. Over 4,000 Americans took part in this poll.


SCARBOROUGH: If they had it their way, it would be a landslide.

Santos gets 59 percent, Jimmy Smits, to Alan Alda‘s 29 percent.

You know what? Maybe that‘s why Alan Alda always knew it was probably safest to be a Democratic.

WHITFORD: I think it is time for Vinick to fire a handler or two.


CONWAY: Yes, but that‘s surprising, because the guy with the most hair usually wins. So, that‘s an outlier.


SILVER: Joe, let me ask you a question. How did Zogby do in 2004 in Ohio?



SCARBOROUGH: Oh, that hurts.

SILVER: Where was Zogby on that?

SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know what? You know what we are going to do.

You have just stepped into it. I‘m going to bring Mr. Zogby in right now.


SCARBOROUGH: You conducted the poll. I want you to defend your—you see these Hollywood actors. You know, it‘s all about me.

Come on, John. Defend yourself.

JOHN ZOGBY, PRESIDENT & CEO, ZOGBY INTERNATIONAL: I‘m going to say, first of all, I don‘t care what Ron Silver has to say about anything. That‘s what he said on the show.

SILVER: Ad hominem. Ad hominem.

SCARBOROUGH: What about the poll that you took here? Tell us about it.

ZOGBY: Well, we did a poll back in May.

And Matt Santos was ahead by double digits back then, too. You know, this is still a liberal audience. We applied some weights to try to even out Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. But the typical viewer of “The West Wing” really tilts to the left. And so, no matter how many weights you applied, it‘s a combination of liking Jimmy Smits, the actor, and then also liking the fact that he identifies with Democratic base issues, as do most viewers.

SCARBOROUGH: So, you‘re looking pretty good going in...


WHITFORD: I take nothing for granted.

O‘DONNELL: I have actually read the Zogby poll. I read the Zogby poll.

And it says, I think—John, correct me about this—that about 70 percent believe that Jimmy Smits, Santos, would stop and help them if they had trouble with their car. And about 10 percent believe that the Republican would do that. Isn‘t that what the poll says?


ZOGBY: That‘s exactly what the poll says.

SILVER: Mr. Zogby, you knew I was kidding around.

Mr. Zogby knows I was kidding around, doesn‘t he?

CONWAY: Oh. When is the last time Hollywood drove themselves anywhere?

SCARBOROUGH: Art imitating life.


SCARBOROUGH: So, Bradley, you have got to be pretty—your candidate is doing fairly well?

WHITFORD: Yes. And I‘m hoping, not only for the good of the country, but to take us all to the promised land of syndication, I think it bodes well.



Well, good luck.

WHITFORD: Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH: Do you have to run with a cell phone or do anything where you may trip up on Sunday night?

WHITFORD: No cell phone running.

SCARBOROUGH: OK. Very good. Very good.


SCARBOROUGH: Hey, thanks a lot so much to everybody. Very excited about the show coming up Sunday night. Make sure you watch it, “The West Wing,” 8:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC.

The Website of "Air America"Radio announces that Bradley Whitford will be on Al Franken's show this afternoon from 12PM to 3PM ET, together with Lawrence O'Donnell, the writer of the live episode.

You can listen to his appearance here. It's about half-way through.

According to the official website of the "Colbert Report", Bradley Whitford will be a guest on Thursday, November 3. "The Colbert Report" airs on Comedy Central after "The Daily Show" at 11:30PM ET/PCT.

You can watch that appearance here.

Through his Clothes off our Backs Charity, a kid's "Firefly" phone is being auctioned off for charity with his signature .

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