MSNBC anchor hosts conservative commentators to argue Democratic primary candidates should be “more moderate” and less “weird”

George Will lies about the Green New Deal with no pushback at all

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle hosted two conservative commentators to claim Democratic presidential candidates and popular progressive policies are extreme and “weird.”

On the June 5 edition of MSNBC Live, Ruhle hosted columnists George Will and Bret Stephens to discuss 2020 Democratic candidates. Ruhle allowed Will to lie without pushback about key aspects of the Green New Deal, repeating a common but false right-wing talking point that the Green New Deal will “require ending meat and airplanes.” Will also pulled out a list of common progressive policy proposals -- including many that poll popularly among Democratic voters -- and painted them as extreme and fringe. Will claimed that Americans will feel that “these people are weird” and that “they are not talking about things that I care about.” His advice to Democratic candidates: “Shift to the middle.”

STEPHANIE RUHLE (HOST): Are you seeing any possible candidates that you think would be better for conservativism than President [Donald] Trump?

GEORGE WILL (AUTHOR): Well, there is a sense in which all 23 Democrats would be better if there is a Republican Senate because the Republican Senate would virtually block legislative change. That is not all the change that we have, but they would block it. And it would take the Republican Party away from its current identification with someone who is, in temperament and in most policies, not conservative. There’s -- I hate to give the kiss of death to someone like former Congressman [John] Delaney (D-MD) or former [Colorado Democratic] Gov. [John] Hickenlooper, but they know where the public's pulse is. I am staggered by the amount of time Democratic candidates for president are spending talking about things they know are not going to happen. “Abolish the Electoral College,” they promise. No, the reason they want to abolish the Electoral College is it’s very good for smaller states, 13 of which are all that’s required to block a constitutional amendment. [Sen.] Kamala Harris (D-CA) says, “Well, we’re going to eliminate private health insurance.” She's walked that back a bit, but who knows. No, they are not. It is a very odd way to begin a presidential campaign by saying we’re going to offend 180 million Americans who have employer-provided health insurance and 20 more million Americans who have other sources of private health insurance and rather like it.

RUHLE: Well, you could like John Delaney, you can like John Hickenlooper, but if the ultimate goal for the Democratic Party is to defeat Donald Trump, what’s the right move -- to shift to the middle or shift to the left?

WILL: Shift to the middle. I keep in my pocket -- I'm going to need a bigger card. These are all the things they’ve said that cause the American public to say, “These people are weird, they’re not talking about things that I care about.” Terrorists in prison should be allowed to vote. End private health insurance. Pack the Supreme Court, abolish the electoral college, the Green New Deal -- which will require ending meat and airplanes -- impeach the president, reparations for slavery. The country hears these individually and they say, “I'm not for that.” Collectively, they say, “These are very strange people because they are not talking about things that I want to talk about.”

RUHLE: OK, but George, you have the very strange things they have said on a tiny little card. The president has told, by The Washington Post’s count, 10,000 lies. And I don't think I'm getting over my skis to say he says very strange things every single day. And he is sitting in the White House. Why does very strange things disqualify someone?

WILL: Well, if they think that the path to power is to emulate Trump from the left, saying strange things, I think they’re mistaken because people are going to go into the voting booth on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November 2020 and say, “Do I stick with the doofus I've got or pick the doofus I don't know.” I mean, give people a decent choice. I mean, look, what the Democrats did -- an astonishing achievement in 2016 -- was help elect Donald Trump by giving the country an unpalatable choice. Why do it again?

RUHLE: “Don't be a doofus, please skip on strange.” That’s George Will’s advice to these candidates out there.   

Ruhle also hosted Stephens, a conservative op-ed writer (and climate denier) at The New York Times, who argued that Democrats pursuing impeachment -- which has high support among liberals -- are “harming themselves politically,” and that “the real heart of the party” is “much more moderate, much more centrist.”

STEPHANIE RUHLE (HOST): Bret, in your latest piece, you talk about Democrats and the impeachment debate and you compare it to football. You say, “It's a dumb and dangerous game of maximum brutality and minimal movement.” Elaborate.

BRET STEPHENS (NEW YORK TIMES OPINION COLUMNIST): Yeah. Well, I just think that Democrats are going to be harming themselves politically and not advancing the debate if they take steps to impeach the president.

RUHLE: So they should just let it roll?

STEPHENS: No, I mean what I’ve been advocating is that there should be a vote of censure against the president for disgraceful behavior that brings some Republicans along who would be otherside backed into a political corner. I just have to make the point because it’s never made often enough: If you impeach the president, which the House has the votes to do, you will not convict him in the Senate. OK? That's the deal. What you’re going to do is suck up an incredible amount of political oxygen. You’re going to make Republicans feel like the president is being victimized, that Democrats are trying to overturn the results of the election, and you're going to wind up helping to re-elect Trump. And in my book, that's the worst possible thing you can do. I don't know what other people think, it might feel really good, but I don't want to re-elect Trump.

RUHLE: Democrats think it's the worst possible thing to do but Democrats are not all on the same page. The Washington Post details how the fight going on between the moderate and progressive wings of the party are really divided, and this thing played out at the Democratic Party Convention over the weekend in California. I want to share this.

Help us understand, what do you think the Democratic Party is doing?

MATT BENNETT (THIRD WAY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS): Well, look. Who is the Democratic Party? It isn't the people at the California Democratic state convention. Last year they had a convention in California and they took a vote on who should be the Democratic nominee for Senate. [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) lost that vote 65-7. She then went on to trounce the same opponent, Kevin de Leon, by 35 points in the actual primary. So, the people at that convention do not represent even the Democrats of California, much less Democrats nationally. There is a huge disconnect going on in our discourse right now between the activists, the activists online --

RUHLE: The Twitter Democrats. The Twitter Republicans.

BENNETT: Exactly. And people who actually are going to vote next year, starting on February 3, for who our nominee is. And I'm just talking Democrats, leave aside Republicans and Independents -- Democrats in the real world don't sound much at all like the Democrats online.

STEPHENS: And it's important, at the same convention, you had John Hickenlooper saying socialism is not the answer and being booed. Now, Hickenlooper is not going to be the candidate but guess what? That’s going to be a fantastic ad for the Trump 2020 campaign as to what the Democratic Party is going to be, even if Joe Biden or a moderate candidate is the nominee. And the loud voices on -- well, both sides, but particularly on the Democratic left, are creating a picture of what the party is about, what its values are for. It's completely at odds with, I think, the real heart of the party, which is much more moderate, much more centrist.

RUHLE: They're creating daily segments for Fox News every single day.

Conservative commentators have been telling Democrats to shift to the middle since immediately after the recent midterm elections in which Democrats won major gains in the House. Stephens himself used the 2018 midterms to tell Democrats to shift to the right -- even as his column hilariously undercounted Democratic gains in the House. Of course, Stephens has every right to never change his analysis, no matter how much evidence proves him wrong. But there's no need for MSNBC to reward his obstinacy.