Former President Bill Clinton said Sunday that the Tea Party movement reflected a feeling among Americans that "they're getting the shaft" and he gets why they're popular, but expressed concern about the difficulty in identifying their stands on specific issues and where they are getting the money for their events and campaigns.
"I think that, first of all, the tea party insurrection ... that you see in these Republican primaries, reflects the feeling of a lot of Americans that they're getting the shaft," Clinton said on CBS' Face the Nation
. "That the people who caused these problems ...the banks that were responsible for the financial meltdown, they've gotten well again. And everybody has got money again who is in that business, but ordinary people don't."
"So there is a general revolt against bigness Which in the case of the Republicans is always directed more against the government than the private sector," Clinton said. "It's totally understandable."
However, Clinton said he was concerned that the movement is "being bankrolled by people who want to weaken the government so that there will be even more unaccounted for private concentration of power. And that's what got it us in the mess we're in the first place."
Clinton did not provide any specifics. The New York Times
on Sunday profiled longtime Republican operative Sal Russo who it described as the chief strategist behind the Tea Party Express
and said his California-based group was the single biggest independent supporter of the movement's candidates, raising more than $5.2 million since January 2009.
Clinton also said "it's hard to know where they stand on these specific issues." "Do they really want to repeal the student loan reform bill at a time when we've fallen from first to 12th in the world in the percentage of our people with college degrees and it's really important to the economy? And this student loan reform for the first time allows every young person to pay their loans back as a percentage of their income ... I don't know where they stand, but I get why they're popular."
Asked whether the divisions the Tea Party movement has caused within the GOP would help Democrats in the elections, Clinton said, "I'm not sure it's going to be a good thing for Democrats yet."
Speaking of President Obama's difficulties and falling poll numbers, Clinton said, "I think he was shocked at the intensity of the Republican opposition. But they learned from my first two years that, if you just say no, even though people hate it, you get rewarded for it because it discourages the Democrats and it inflames your base. So they're doing just what they did in '93 and '94. And so far it appears that they're being rewarded for it."
"I also think he believed that, if he accomplished a lot on the legislative front, that would be reflected in a better political climate," Clinton said. "But the problem is there's a huge lag time once you get in a deep economic hole between digging out of it and having people feel it."