MSNBC's Alter Sneers: GOP the 'Suicide Caucus'

MSNBC contributors Jonathan Alter and Joy Reid sound much like a good metronome: their commentary never changes, marching on at an endless, fixed pace. Alter and Reid have made a career at the Lean Forward network out of comparing Republicans to slave owners, terrorists, and drunks.

Their latest assault on the GOP came on Friday’s Now, with Reid serving as guest host in place of Alex Wagner. Discussing the latest attempt by Senate Republicans to defund ObamaCare, Alter blasted the “suicide caucus” GOP, claiming “smarter conservatives understand” that shutting down the government over ObamaCare “is suicidal.”

Throughout the segment, Alter could barely utter a word without demonizing Republicans for their latest efforts. The Bloomberg View columnist berated the “basic hollowness” of the GOP, calling their “foundation of...fiscal responsibility” a “charade”:

They don’t care about the deficit. It’s like Dick Cheney said: deficits don’t matter. So what had been at the foundation of the Republican Party for 100 years, fiscal responsibility, is now revealed as a charade.

Alter went even further, arguing that Republicans can only agree on one issue:

The only thing they believe in is tax cuts for the wealthy. They are unified by literally nothing else. Not even foreign policy any more.

Reid turned the discussion back to the GOP later in the segment, suggesting that the Republican philosophy is based on “cruelty”:

I think you [Matthew Yglesias] have gotten to, sort of, where my mind is on where the Republican Party is, Jonathan. That a lot of it is about what liberals would define as cruelty. It is about punishing poor people.

Alter enthusiastically agreed. In fact, the only dispute between Alter and Reid was over who would characterize the GOP in a more extreme, insulting way:

ALTER: But the big thing now that’s going on that fascinates me is the tactical difference between the extremely conservative pragmatists and the extremely conservative suicide caucus –

REID [laughing]: The meanness caucus, right.

ALTER: No, no, no. The suicide caucus. Because there’s a group that wants to shut down the government over ObamaCare, over the funding of ObamaCare, and the smarter conservatives understand that this is suicidal, that they will be blamed.

The pundits were quick to spell political doom for the GOP if the government shuts down on October 1. But many of these left-wing voices – particularly Reid, Alter, and MSNBC host Karen Finney, who were all alive and politically aware during the Clinton presidency – forget the government shutdown of 1995.

Although liberal media outlets were quick to blame Newt Gingrich’s Republican caucus when the shutdown occurred, few pundits – much less average Americans – remember the shutdown today, or hold a grudge against the GOP. What’s more, the Republicans were not punished by the voters in the 1996 congressional election, actually gaining seats in the Senate and limiting damage in the House, with Clinton’s re-election failing to recapture the majority for Democrats.

No one can know for sure how the impending government shutdown will play out, for either political party. But you can be assured that on MSNBC, it’s a foregone conclusion.

See the full transcript below:


MSNBC
Now with Alex Wagner
August 2, 2013
12:05 p.m. Eastern

JOY REID: And, I mean, and Karen [Finney] – I think traditionally what House members were were appropriators. This is what they did. But just to build on what Matthew said, this is what was in the [Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD)] bill cuts: it was cut of community development block grants in half, cut a lead hazard control program to get lead out of homes, eliminate a program funding infrastructure, cuts to homelessness assistance, FAA spending. But even the fact that, just with this level of specificity, there were House Republicans who said I can’t go home for this recess having done that.

KAREN FINNEY: And don’t you love that Eric Cantor gave a speech a couple months ago where he said: I don’t understand why people think we just want to take things away from people. Really? Cause there’s a good list right there to start with. Yeah, but I think what’s happening is this is where their rhetoric is meeting accountability, right?

I mean, despite the lovely packet that they’re all going to go home with about how to have these town halls stacked with supporters, at some point they’re going to be held accountable for these votes and they know that. One thing I want to say on the health care piece – part of that is they also believe that the more they vote against it, the more they continue – the harder it is for people to believe that it is law. Cause remember, 40 percent of people don’t think it’s law at this point. That’s a part of the symbolism. It’s part of the symbolism when they talk about cuts. They don’t want to get into specifics, but the point being – then they want to be able to run on the rhetoric of what it was that they said they were going to do, not the actual specifics.

REID: And just to your point, 36 percent of people want to repeal it. Just looking at the most recent polls. National Journal did a poll. Thirty percent want to wait and see. Twenty-six percent want to provide more money. So there’s not an actual, real base for it [repeal]. Jonathan, you wrote a whole book about this whole – “The Center Holds” is the name of the book, we should give it a bit of a plug. But the whole idea of it was that Republicans’ – kind of – ideology is fixated on Obama.

I want to read you a set of statistics about the base of the Republican Party and why they may be doing these ObamaCare repeal votes. A Pew poll recently showed GOP voters, their dissatisfaction is that this party isn’t conservative enough. Fifty-four percent want the leaders to move further to the right. Forty percent want the party to become more moderate. What does that say about this caucus’ responsibilities to the people who actually vote for them? Aren’t they actually doing what their real base wants?

JONATHAN ALTER: Well, they’re trapped between what their base says it wants and what their constituents want – and they’re not necessarily the same thing. What we are seeing over the last couple of years, to take a kind of larger view, is the basic hollowness of the Republican message is coming to the fore. You remember that debate – it was a Fox debate and they were asked, if you had a ratio of 10 to one – 10 spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases – they all rejected it. And this, again, is another example this week.

They don’t care about the deficit. It’s like Dick Cheney said: deficits don’t matter. So what had been at the foundation of the Republican Party for 100 years, fiscal responsibility, is now revealed as a charade. The only thing they believe in is tax cuts for the wealthy. They are unified by literally nothing else. Not even foreign policy any more.

(...)

REID: And that – I think you [Matthew Yglesias] have gotten to, sort of, where my mind is on where the Republican Party is, Jonathan. That a lot of it is about what liberals would define as cruelty. It is about punishing poor people.

ALTER: It is the meanness caucus. If you actually look at what they want to cut first, what are at the top of their list? Food stamps. This is not a program that is going to people who are doing okay. It’s a program going to people who are hurting or meeting a requirement. It’s not like this is a bunch of bums who are getting – these are people who need it.

And the connective tissue which the Republican Party – Bob Dole, by the way was one of the architects of the food stamp program.

REID: Right.  The food stamp, he –    

ALTER: Jesse Helms supported food stamps. The connection between the modern day Republican Party and the Republican Party of 25 years ago, that understood there was a role for government in ameliorating poverty – in lessening suffering – that tissue has been severed. But the big thing now that’s going on that fascinates me is the tactical difference between the extremely conservative pragmatists and the extremely conservative suicide caucus –

REID [laughing]: The meanness caucus, right.

ALTER: No, no, no. The suicide caucus. Because there’s a group that wants to shut down the government over ObamaCare, over the funding of ObamaCare, and the smarter conservatives understand that this is suicidal, that they will be blamed.

REID: It’s insane. That it’s insane.