ABC Channels Those Who See GOP as Limbaugh-Cheney 'Freak Show'

“The problem for Republicans right now is the party doesn't seem big enough for conservatives like [Rush] Limbaugh and moderates like Colin Powell and Senator Arlen Specter,” ABC's Jonathan Karl contended in a Wednesday night World News story on the plight of the GOP which, though framed by anchor Charles Gibson as exploring “whether it can attract new voters by becoming more conservative or more moderate,” came down, no surprise, on the side of those who think the party is already too conservative. Gibson pointed out: “The number of voters who have left the party is growing. In 2003, 31 percent of Americans identified themselves as Republican, 31 percent as Democrat. Now, only one in five say they are a Republican.”

Instead of considering the possibility the party lost support by moving too far to the left by being identified with President Bush's big spending policies or that the congressional leadership is hardly inspiring to conservatives, Karl presumed it's a problem that Dick Cheney, “the most visible Republican in the country these days,” has declared “his preference for Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell.” Karl featured “Republican strategist” Mark McKinnon who ridiculed Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh: “If the Republican party does not expand its tent, it's going to turn into a circus, and it's going to become a minority freak show that sort of features Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney.” Karl followed up with how “Senator Lindsey Graham says more moderates is exactly what the party needs.”

Karl failed to inform viewers that “Republican strategist” McKinnon left John McCain's campaign so he wouldn't be part of an effort to oppose Barack Obama's election. “Senator John McCain’s chief advertising strategist, Mark McKinnon, announced Tuesday that he was resigning, following through on a vow he had made months ago not to work against the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama.,” the New York Times reported in May of 2008. “In telling the Cox News Service last June that he would not work against an Obama candidacy, Mr. McKinnon had said that Mr. Obama’s election to the presidency 'would send a great message to the country and the world.'”

The NBC Nightly News also decided to run a piece on Cheney visibility that used him to argue the party must accept non-conservatives. “Cheney's exposure has revealed a new fault line in Republican politics, leaving some to argue that he makes it more difficult for the GOP to re-create itself,” David Gregory relayed, leading into this admonition from former Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia: “Right now, we are at the lowest level of approval that we have had in a generation. So we need to attract converts. We don't need to chase out heretics at this point.”

ABC's Karl concluded with a warning for Democrats: “Democrats shouldn't get overconfident. The last time Republicans were in this big a hole was the late 1970s. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and Republicans came roaring back just a couple years later with the Reagan Revolution.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the story on the Wednesday, May 13 World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: We're going to take "A Closer Look" at an intense debate in the Republican party – whether it can attract new voters by becoming more conservative or more moderate. The number of voters who have left the party is growing. In 2003, 31 percent of Americans identified themselves as Republican, 31 percent as Democrat. Now, only one in five say they are a Republican. So how does the party stem that tide? Here's Jonathan Karl.

JONATHAN KARL: Dick Cheney seems to be everywhere.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Former Vice President Dick Cheney here in his first television interview.

BOB SCHIEFFER, ON CBS's FACE THE NATION: Former Vice President is in the studio with us this morning.

NEIL CAVUTO, FNC ANCHOR: Mr. Vice President, welcome. Always good to have you.

KARL: The most visible Republican in the country these days, declaring his preference for Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell.

DICK CHENEY, ON FACE THE NATION: Well, if I had to choose, in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think.

KARL: And Rush is returning the favor.

RUSH LIMBAUGH CLIP #1: The left is out to destroy Dick Cheney.

LIMBAUGH CLIP #2: They're afraid of Dick Cheney. They are afraid of me.

KARL: The problem for Republicans right now is the party doesn't seem big enough for conservatives like Limbaugh and moderates like Colin Powell and Senator Arlen Specter, who just bolted the party.

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN PARTY STRATEGIST: If the Republican party does not expand its tent, it's going to turn into a circus, and it’s going to become a minority freak show that sort of features Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney.

KARL: One of the few recent bright spots for Republicans is in Florida, where popular Governor Charlie Crist just announced he's running for Senate.

GOVERNOR CHARLIE CRIST (R-FL): And I think that regardless of party, we have to work together to get things done.

KARL: Crist is facing stiff opposition from conservatives who are outraged he supported President Obama's stimulus plan. But Senator Lindsey Graham says more moderates is exactly what the party needs.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I don't want to be a party of angry white guys sitting over the, in the corner that nobody listens to and we can't change the nation's policies or be relevant to the future of our nation.

KARL: For his part, Cheney, like Limbaugh, rejects the idea that the party needs to be more moderate to win.

CHENEY ON FNC: I think we will. But I think we'll do it by being true to our principles, not becoming more like the Democrats.

KARL: But Democrats shouldn't get overconfident. The last time Republicans were in this big a hole was the late 1970s. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and Republicans came roaring back just a couple years later with the Reagan Revolution. Jonathan Karl, ABC News, Capitol Hill.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center