Clinton: Don't Know Where Tea Party Stands

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that one thing bothering him about the Tea Party movement is that he can't figure out where they stand on issues.

"Do they want to repeal the financial oversight bill? Do they want to repeal rather than reform the health care thing? Do they really want to repeal the student loan reform bill when we've fallen from first to 12th in the world in people with college degrees and it's really important to the economy?" Clinton said.

"It's hard to know where they stand on these specific issues.

Clinton also said he's not sure if the Tea Party movement is "going to be a good thing for Democrats."

"The Tea Party insurrection, if you will, that you see in these Republican primaries reflects the feeling of a lot of Americans that they're getting the shaft," Clinton told CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.

Christine O'Donnell, the Sarah Palin-backed Tea Party darling, shocked the Republican party when she won the primary Tuesday in Delaware's Senate race. O'Donnell was set to appear on Sunday's Face the Nation but cancelled Saturday, saying she had scheduling conflicts.

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The cancellation followed the broadcast Friday night of "Real Time With Bill Maher," in which the comedian played an old clip of O'Donnell saying she once dabbled in witchcraft.

"I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do," O'Donnell said on the show.

"One of my first dates with a witch was on a Satanic altar, and I didn't know it. I mean, there's little blood there and stuff like that," O'Donnell said. "We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a Satanic altar."

Schieffer said he emailed the campaign and asked if the clip was the reason that she decided to cancel the appearance. "We got back an email that said no, that is not the reason, we weren't aware that he had released this tape until yesterday afternoon," Schieffer said. "As for dabbling in witch craft, whatever that is, her campaign spokesman said campaigns about what she did as a teen is hardly a worry to her or the people of Delaware."

"I've had a few voodoo dolls or two of some of the candidates I wanted to strangle, to stick needles in, in the course of a very long career but never witchcraft," Republican strategist Ed Rollins said.

"Not many people knew who she was prior to last week. This is kind of the first impressions people are going to get. Right now this campaign is about her. Unless she gets her ship righted, no matter how strong the Tea Party is or how much move for change, at the end of the day people in Delaware, a small state, are going to focus on her, her past statements, what she is saying now. And this is not a good start," Rollins said.

But Michael Gerson, a columnist for The Washington Post, said the witchcraft comments might not really cause problems for O'Donnell.

"I think though that her strongest supporters are not necessarily going to be turned off by this. She talks about having a religious conversion in college, which forgives a multitude of sins for many of her strongest supporters," Gerson said.

Gerson said the episode adds an aura of oddness to O'Donnell, but Rollins thinks the Tea Party should be taken seriously. "They have created a movement. They basically have become a very significant force. I think Republicans have to deal with them. And they should deal with them in a positive way. They should listen to them," Rollins said.

The former president, whose Clinton Global Initiative conference of world leaders is meeting this week, outlined another aspect of the Tea Party movement that bothered him.

"According to the profiles and the studies that have been done, it's being bankrolled by people who want to weaken the government so that there will be even more unaccounted-for private concentration of power," Clinton said.

One of the profiles he's referring is New Yorker writer Jane Mayer's look at David and Charles Koch, billionaire brothers and lifelong libertarians who own Koch Industries. Mayer presents evidence that the Kochs have quietly given more than $100 million to right-wing causes, and have deep financial ties with the Tea Party movement.

Clinton said the Tea Party's wins show Americans' resentment. Banks and other institutions and companies that were responsible for the financial meltdown are prosperous once again, but ordinary people are not better off, he said.

"I don't know where they stand, but I get why they're popular," Clinton said.