POWELL - Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson blames John McCain's loss on a Republican Party that has drifted from its core ideals.
In a recent interview, Simpson said voters had a hard time with Republicans preaching smaller government while increasing spending during President George W. Bush's two terms.
"You have to take a leap of faith to keep going when … people are acting totally in opposition to what they're prattling on in their platform," he said. "To me, that was it."
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won the Nov. 4 general election with almost 53 percent of the popular vote. Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., received 46 percent.
Simpson, who served 18 years as a U.S. senator for Wyoming, said the GOP's defeat was in part the result of becoming too active in the private affairs of American citizens.
"The decline, in my mind, of this administration … started with the (Terri) Schiavo case," Simpson said. In that 2005 case, congressional Republicans tried to stop a hospital from removing Schiavo's feeding tube. Schiavo had been diagnosed as in a "persistent vegetative state."
"Here's a party that believes in government out of our lives, the precious right of privacy - we prattle on this day and night - and the precious right to be left alone. Who likes that better than Wyoming people?" he said.
The Republican Congress and presidency also did little to keep spending reigned in, he said.
"Here's a party that believes in fiscal sanity and watching the old pennies and, by George, taking care of the buck - and boy, we're the party of responsibility," he said. "Here they are, passing these huge spending bills, driving us further into debt, and the president never vetoed a one - until stem cell research."
Simpson said he also was disappointed that Bush did not implement more of the recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group - a 10-member panel that Simpson served on.
"We worked our butts off," he said. "Seventy-nine recommendations presented to the president. He received them and did essentially nothing with them."
Other than implementing a few items - such as the surge - the report "clattered into the basement," Simpson said.
"What was disappointing was the rigidity of the administration - an uncharacteristic rigidity of a fine president and one of the dearest friends I have - Dick Cheney," he said.
That included the Bush administration's reluctance to talk with enemies like North Korea and Iran.
"I guess I learned right here, practicing law for 18 years in this beautiful county, that nothing is ever solved by giving anybody the ice treatment," he said. "If you don't talk to your enemies, I guess you're talking to yourself in a phone booth or in the john in the morning."
He said there's no reason why the U.S. can't sit down and talk with a despotic regime.
"You don't give up anything. You just say, 'Here we are. We're here to talk,' " Simpson said.
The reluctance to talk, the increased spending and private-life interventions added up to a frustrated public, he said.
"Those are things that, to me, the American people could not understand," he said. "They might understand some of it, but you list them all, and they'll say, 'What are they doing?' It was very puzzling."
Simpson did some campaigning for McCain, who he counts as a longtime friend. The appeal of the McCain-Sarah Palin ticket in this state - where 65 percent of voters chose the Arizona senator - was clear to Simpson.
"I think Wyoming people just said 'McCain's our guy.' And Palin was a very attractive figure to Wyoming voters. A caribou-hunting, snowmobile, river-crossing, gunner, hardworking mother with kids, making things work? She was a very strong figure in Wyoming. Wyoming women and men were quite enthralled by her," he said.
Some Republicans have heralded the election of Barack Obama as a surefire disaster, but Simpson isn't scared - even if he would rather have seen McCain and Palin, governor of Alaska, elected.
"What I see is this: I think (Obama)'s a healer. And I think he's going to do what he said he's going to do, which is help heal the nation, and get rid of this stench of partisanship, which is unworkable," he said.
Simpson also expects that Obama, who he calls tough, resilient and charismatic, will put together a solid Cabinet and administration.
"I just know he's going to put good people in," he said. "Of course, if he puts Hillary in as Secretary of State and this article comes out, people are going to say, 'This shows Simpson's lost his marbles again.' "
Simpson said the fact that Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and McCain are good friends will make things very interesting to watch.
"The 100 percenters (Simpson's term for hard-core right-wingers) would be very suspicious that they will work together on something that will be God-horrible," he said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "It's fun for me to see what could be possible."