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Jon Stewart to Michael Steele: GOP Base Is 'So Easily Ignitable'

On Tuesday's "Daily Show," liberal comedian Jon Stewart flashed a smirk and wondered why the conservative base of the Republican Party is "so easily ignitable." The comedian hosted former Republican Party chair Michael Steele, who recounted the story of how he had to go about "re-igniting our base" after the party lost the White House and fell further into the minority in Congress in 2008.

"Why is it so easy to ignite your base?" Stewart asked with a smile. Amidst laughter from the audience, Michael Steele played along and quipped "they're an excitable bunch." Stewart kept at it. "They are so flammable, your base," he remarked, and added "so easily ignitable."

The remarks seem to echo Stewart's calls for civility in discourse, where he has focused much of his invective toward what he feels to be inflammatory political rhetoric. Earlier in the show, Stewart mocked "political hypochondriacs" on the Right who fear America will suffer the destructive fates of certain European and African countries; Stewart then lampooned Leftists who try to "cheer the hypochondriac up" by wishing America was in fact like certain European or Asian countries.

Shortly after, Steele talked about the party's efforts to be fiscally responsible and return to its conservative roots in "going back to Reagan." Stewart then chimed in that "even with Reagan - Reagan ran big deficits, Reagan raised taxes."

While it's true that Reagan did raise taxes and run big deficits during his presidency, he is best-known for lowering tax rates, simplifying the tax and regulatory codes, and running considerably smaller deficits than, say, President Bush or President Obama.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on February 1 at 11:22 p.m. EST, is as follows:

MICHAEL STEELE: We came in, we put our heads down to figure out a strategy that began with re-igniting our base, talking to our base, reconnecting with them -

JON STEWART: Why is it so easy -

STEELE: - and began building from there.

STEWART: Why is it so easy to ignite your base?

(Laughter)

STEELE: They're an excitable bunch.

STEWART: They are so flammable, your base.

STEELE: They're an excitable bunch.

(Laughter)

STEWART: So easily ignitable.

STEELE: And that's a good thing.

STEWART: The passion of 'em.

STEELE: But you know - but honestly, and that's a very good point, that's a very fair point. But you see it on both the right and the left among conservatives and Democrats. During the Bush years, you saw a very well-organized - and I thought well-communicated - strategy by folks on the Left about the war in Iraq. Now you have, in the Age of Obama, President Obama's time, you've got the economy, which is something that Republicans feel very strongly about and have been articulating, so I think you see this ignites -

STEWART: They are selling themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.

STEELE: Yeah, and I think - I think historically that has been where the root of the party is, and certainly in the last ten years we've gotten into big government Republicanism, which really ticked off a lot of people in the base, turned away a lot of those independent voters who supported Republicans, going back to Reagan, because we weren't true to what we were saying we would do. And so, you know -

STEWART: Have you ever, though, you know, even with Reagan - Reagan ran big deficits, Reagan raised taxes. For the most part -

STEELE: There's a blind spot when it comes to some of what President Reagan did as governor and as president. I mean, admittedly so. I mean, there -

STEWART: Doesn't that speak to the core, though?

STEELE: But I think there's also a very strong sense of, you know the ideal. The party, a lot of the activists in the party do strive towards the ideal, and it's true for both Democrats and Republicans. It's not just centered on the right side of the political spectrum.

(...)

STEWART: Well, let's talk about theory in practice.

STEELE: Sure.

STEWART: The RNC, you know, is now 21 or 23 million dollars in debt. The party of fiscal responsibility is that -

STEELE: But that's not the same -

(Laughter)

STEWART: It's - you are - the RNC is -

(Laughter)

STEWART: Well, I want to hear it - I want to hear it - let him -

STEELE: It's a fair point, because as the transcripts in the budget committee hearing - meeting - showed, I didn't want to spend the money. I was very hesitant about committing ourselves to additional lines of credit. But it is part of -

STEWART: You raised your debt limit.

STEELE: We raise - exactly. And look, and it will get paid off, there's no doubt about that. And certainly the new chairman wasted no time during his tenure working with me, asking for money to help them in his state -

STEWART: Exactly.

STEELE: So maybe he should give back some of that money, and help them pay down that debt.

STEWART: I'm not suggesting that the Republicans are going to be foreclosed on. I'm saying that is it hard for a party to say we run as the party of fiscal responsibility, but we're running a huge debt -

STEELE: But that's every party, both parties have debt right now, Democrats and Republicans. So you're saying the Democrats are showing their true colors by spending wildly with abandon?

STEWART: Yes.

STEELE: Okay. Well -

STEWART: I think nobody would suggest that the Democrats were -

STEELE: The difference is, we won.

- Matt Hadro is News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.