By Dan Balz
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 4:01 PM
Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle fired back at her critics on Thursday, accusing them of attempting to marginalize her as an extremist and arguing that she and the "tea party" represent a broad-based, mainstream movement seeking dramatic changes in the size and power of the federal government.
Angle called her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, "desperate" in his bid to remain in office and help preserve the Democrats' majority. In an interview at a Northeast Washington hotel, she claimed that her critics are using tactics of the late radical community organizer Saul Alinsky to try to discredit her.
"I think it's right out of Saul Alinsky's rulebook for radicals, those rules about your opponents," she said of criticism that her views put her far out of the political mainstream. "Marginalize them. That means push off as far to the side as you can. Isolate them. Make it appear that they're the only one thinking the way they do. And then demonize them. Make it look like their ideas are way out of the realm of thinking folks."
Instead, she argued, it is the tea party movement that best represents mainstream America. The country is "nostalgic," she said, for a return to Reagan Republicanism. "It's mainstream America that's finally awakened, and it really doesn't have anything to do with party so much as the [constitutional] principles," she said. "There's an anxiety level, I guess, just among mainstream America that we may not be able to preserve those principles if we don't get active."
At the same time, Angle did not hesitate to label President Obama as a socialist, saying the path his administration is on would turn the United States into Western European-style government. "When he moves toward that big centralized government, that [is] what people see as the move toward socialism," she said.
Angle also had criticism for the leaders of her own party. Asked why the GOP establishment has been on the losing end of so many primaries this year, including her race and this week's victory of Christine O'Donnell over Rep. Michael Castle in Delaware, she replied:
"They lost their way. They have strayed from those Reagan Republican principles. The criticism is valid. I think that there was just as much spending on the Republican side as the Democrat side."
Still, she avoided taking sides in the intraparty debate between those who say Republicans would be better off with a Senate minority of true conservatives rather than a majority that includes moderates who might vote with Democrats on occasion.
"There is a lot to be said for the potency of a very principled few," she said, while adding, "We want the majority in the Senate so we can turn the direction of our country around."
Angle's victory in the Republican primary last spring caught party leaders by surprise and also was seen as a boost for the unpopular Reid's hopes of surviving this fall.
Her views on phasing out Social Security and on the need for Second Amendment rights to guard against an oppressive government - as well as her statement that those receiving unemployment compensation are "spoiled" (for which she later apologized) - have roiled her candidacy from the start. Even so, she remains competitive against the majority leader.
In the interview, Angle outlined a conservative philosophy that calls for sharply contracting the role of the federal government through domestic spending cuts and a dramatic shift in power to the states. She said Washington should be responsible for only those powers enumerated in the 10th Amendment. The rest should either be shifted to the states or eliminated entirely.
Angle said that, to get the country's fiscal house in order, she would favor cutting many domestic programs by 5 percent annually over the next five years. She said she supports reviewing a wide swath of federal safety net programs with the goal of shifting responsibility for their administration to the states, citing welfare reform as the model.
She said she does not now favor eliminating the Department of Education, but would take its funds and return them as a block grant to the states and cities to administer as they see fit. "I think that those dollars would be better spent at the local level by shareholders like parents and teachers making policies rather than Washington, D.C., sending out policies like No Child Left Behind and our money being filtered back to us."
She claimed that her views on Social Security have been misinterpreted, but when pressed to explain her position she made clear she sees the eventual phasing out of the retirement security program in its current form as desirable. But she said those who are senior citizens should see no change in the current system.
Angle described as "band-aids" such proposals as raising the Social Security retirement age or changing the formula for calculating cost-of-living increases - measures that have been recommended by other politicians.
Even if those were implemented, she said, "we'll be back to the same questions" of the system's long-term solvency. "I think the option of some kind of personalized account that takes the government in a different direction as far as being able to rob or take the Social Security funds and use them for anything is a move in the right direction," she said.
She said that if personal or private accounts were authorized for younger workers, so many would adopt them that "we will see a transitioning into those personal accounts that will actually phase out Social Security as we know it."
Although she was critical of the GOP establishment for its past sins, she has made peace with its leaders. She said she was in town for meetings with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and for some fundraising.
She urged O'Donnell to do the same, despite the fact that GOP leaders in Washington and Delaware savaged her during her campaign against Castle. Asked what advice she would give O'Donnell, she said. "Get all the help you can."
Asked her reaction to harsh criticism leveled at O'Donnell by GOP strategist Karl Rove, she demurred.
"Oh, my gosh," she said. "I don't ever second guess people's motivation. Karl Rove has always been good to me. From the very beginning, he's been very helpful. Of course he's [running] an independent expenditure [committee] on my behalf so we don't have much communication even though he's a Nevadan like I am."