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Vieira to Rubio: Are You Being 'Manipulated' By the Tea Party?

Both Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist appeared live on Friday's Today show, and both received the same question by NBC's Meredith Vieira, was Crist's departure from the GOP just another example of the Republicans being "intolerant" to moderates? In addition to advancing that liberal view of the Florida Senate race, Vieira also questioned if Rubio was being "manipulated" by the Tea Party, as seen in the following exchange:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Do you feel you're being manipulated at all by the Tea Party? Because they're the ones that have sort of helped boost your numbers. You've become their darling.

MARCO RUBIO: Absolutely not. Well you know what? The Tea Party is just a collection of every day Americans, most of whom have never participated in politics before, who are tired of the direction of this country and want their voices heard. This is not a professional political movement. In fact, it's only a year old but I think it's been a good thing for American politics to see people get involved and have their voices heard. I'm proud of the, of the support they've given me. [audio availabe here]

Before that exchange Vieira threw out the "GOP is too intolerant" line, first to Crist:

VIEIRA: Yeah, Governor, one final question. Did, did you desert the party or is this a case where the party has become so intolerant it no longer has room for a moderate voice?

And then to Rubio:

VIEIRA: Let me ask you the same question. You, you listened to the Governor's announcement I'm sure. Is this a case where he has deserted the party or once again has your party become so intolerant that it doesn't have room for moderate voices?

Vieira also tried to corner Rubio on his campaign's effort to paint Crist as being too close to Barack Obama because he accepted stimulus money, as she questioned if Rubio also would've accepted the money because "Your state is in big trouble."

VIEIRA: And Mr. Rubio, one final question. You've, you've shown that image of, of the President and, and the governor repeatedly, basically to hammer home the point that you believe they are two peas in a pod. That's when they were meeting, when the President came down to Florida to push the stimulus package. What would you have done if you were governor? Would you not accept the money? Your state is in big trouble.

RUBIO: That's a false choice. It's not about accepting the money or not accepting the money. It's about what we should have done instead. There was a lot of better ideas other than the stimulus package. About meaningful tax cuts across the board that would have cost a lot less money and created a lot more jobs. What I'm reminding people of, is that the stimulus failed and there were better ideas out there that we should have done instead.

The following is a complete transcript of the segment as it was aired on the April 30 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: And now to Florida and the bombshell dropped by Governor Charlie Crist. On Thursday the life-long Republican announced he's leaving the GOP to run independently for the U.S. Senate. His decision comes just months after being ripped by fellow conservatives over an embrace with President Obama and effectively makes former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio the Republican nominee. We're gonna talk to Mr. Rubio in just a moment. But first we are joined exclusively by Governor Crist. Governor, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Party's Over, Why Did Life-Long Republican Leave The GOP?"]

CHARLIE CRIST: Good morning, Meredith. It's great to be with you.

VIEIRA: Great to be with you as well. I gotta ask you a question. Explain this to me. A few weeks ago you put out a statement headlined, "I am running as a Republican, period." Very definitive statement. So why the sudden change of heart, literally days later?

CRIST: Because it's time to listen to the people and that's exactly what I've done. I said that, you know, after we did a debate on Fox. And what I did right after that is I went with my wife, Carol, away to Useppa Island, it was Easter weekend. And I just listened to people over the past month. And consistently they have said to me, "You know, be your own person, be your own man, we need a voice. And we need somebody to speak for us and, you know, rise above partisan politics. Just go to the people." Abraham Lincoln said it best, "We need to have a government that is of the people, by the people and for the people." And that's what I'm doing.

VIEIRA: Alright Governor, are you listening, are you listening to the people or looking at the polls? You have gone from 30 points ahead of your Republican opponent, Marco Rubio to 20 points behind him. And that has led critics to say that this is all about political expediency. That you know you can't win a Republican primary so you are bolting from the party. Let met tell you what former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tweeted last night, his words: "This decision is not about policy or principles, it is about what he," meaning you, "believes is in his political self-interest." What do you say to that?

CRIST: Well that's exactly what's wrong with the political system. You know all this arguing and bickering, people can't rise above that anymore. And it frustrates the people more than anybody. And that's what I'm trying to do.

VIEIRA: So you're not leaving, you're not leaving the party at all because you feel you could not possibly win a primary at this point?

CRIST: No. What I'm doing is going to the people. You realize if you stay in a primary, only a certain segment of the people have the opportunity to make this decision and this choice. And frankly, in a primary, it's a sort of a club within that club. And that I don't think is right.

VIEIRA: But do you worry about, but do you worry about losing-

CRIST: I think that all the people of Florida. Go ahead.

VIEIRA: But do you worry about losing credibility with the voters who might feel that you've deserted them? Already we are hearing of Republican donors who are asking for their money back.

CRIST: Well not one has asked me for any money back. And I can tell you that this is going right to the people. This is making sure that all the people have the opportunity in my state to make this decision about who their next U.S. senator is. Nobody should be afraid of that.

VIEIRA: Governor-

CRIST: Nobody should be fearful of that. It's all in the people's hands.

VIEIRA: Yeah, Governor, one final question. Did, did you desert the party or is this a case where the party has become so intolerant it no longer has room for a moderate voice?

CRIST: There's no desertion by anybody. This is an embracing of all the people. As I said before, this is supposed to be about the people. It is supposed to be their choice. I want to give them that opportunity, that choice and let their voices be heard. That's why I'm going straight to November, let all the people make this decision. It's too important. We have almost 20 million people living in this state. Each and every one of them should have the opportunity to choose their next United States senator. I just want to give them that opportunity and that's what it's about.

VIEIRA: Alright Governor Charlie Crist, thank you very much.

CRIST: It's my pleasure, thank you.

VIEIRA: Marco Rubio, Florida House Speaker is running the Senate as a Republican. Mr. Rubio good morning to you.

MARCO RUBIO: Good morning, Meredith.

VIEIRA: Let me ask you the same question. You, you listened to the Governor's announcement I'm sure. Is this a case where he has deserted the party or once again has your party become so intolerant that it doesn't have room for moderate voices?

RUBIO: The Republican Party is not an intolerant party. Quite frankly it's a party where I think is a growing tent. And it's about free enterprise and individual liberty and that things that we believe in. And there was room for everyone. There's room for a debate within that party. And that's what I was hoping the Republican primary would become. Interesting to hear the Governor say what he just said. He just spent $1 million of negative advertising attacking me for a month. Only when that did not work did he abandon the Republican Party and decide to run as an independent, which is his right. What I'm looking for to now, over the next six months is an issue and idea-based campaign and at the end of that the voters will have choices, there's no doubt about it. I'm looking forward to that.

[On screen headline: "Life Of The Party: Is Tea Party The Future Of The GOP?"

VIEIRA: You know but you look at the polls, when it was just you and him, you were way ahead of him, at this point, about 20 points. But when it is a three-man race, including your Democratic opponent for November, numbers are much, much closer. Do you worry that, that Crist would become a spoiler, that he will siphon off the moderate votes and the Republican votes that you need?

RUBIO: Oh I don't worry about that at all. We have a republic. We're gonna have an election. I'm gonna got out and tell people what I believe in. If people agree with me, they're gonna vote for me. If they don't agree with me they're not gonna vote for me. But the important thing is voters don't, voters are tired of being manipulated. I'm not gonna go out there and reinvent myself to manipulate somebody's vote. I'm gonna tell people what I believe in on the issues and then they can either support me or not support me. And either way, you know that's the way our republic was designed. And I hope that's what this campaign can be about is the ideas of the three candidates.

VIEIRA: Do you feel you're being manipulated at all by the Tea Party? Because they're the ones that have sort of helped boost your numbers. You've become their darling.

RUBIO: Absolutely not. Well you know what? The Tea Party is just a collection of every day Americans, most of whom have never participated in politics before, who are tired of the direction of this country and want their voices heard. This is not a professional political movement. In fact, it's only a year old but I think it's been a good thing for American politics to see people get involved and have their voices heard. I'm proud of the, of the support they've given me.

VIEIRA: And Mr. Rubio, one final question. You've, you've shown that image of, of the President and, and the governor repeatedly, basically to hammer home the point that you believe they are two peas in a pod. That's when they were meeting, when the President came down to Florida to push the stimulus package. What would you have done if you were governor? Would you not accept the money? Your state is in big trouble.

RUBIO: That's a false choice. It's not about accepting the money or not accepting the money. It's about what we should have done instead. There was a lot of better ideas other than the stimulus package. About meaningful tax cuts across the board that would have cost a lot less money and created a lot more jobs. What I'm reminding people of, is that the stimulus failed and there were better ideas out there that we should have done instead.

VIEIRA: Alright Marco Rubio, thank you so much and good luck.

RUBIO: Thank you Meredith.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here