Hardball Spins: Bayh Quitting Because There's No Room for 'Centrists'

Since the announcement of his resignation from the Senate the common label (from CNN to MSNBC) of Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh seems to be that of a "centrist." On Monday's Hardball both Chris Matthews and his guest panelist NBC News' Chuck Todd called Bayh a "centrist," which is an inaccurate label for someone who, as NB's Matthew Balan pointed out, has a lifetime ACU rating of 20 and ADA of 70.

During the 5pm Olympics-shortened edition of Hardball, Matthews and Todd spinned that Bayh is leaving the Senate because "there's no room for centrists." [audio available here]

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Okay let's talk turkey here. Let's go to Chuck Todd on the big picture here. Just a year or so ago, Arlen Specter of my state quit the Republican Party saying, there's no room in it for centrist politicians like himself. Is this a sign that there's no room in the Democratic Party for centrist politicians like Evan Bayh? He seemed to be saying that today.

CHUCK TODD: No I think what Evan Bayh is saying, there's no room in the Senate for centrist politics period. You know the fact is he said he doesn't love Congress. It was an amazing, blunt attack on Congress. You know frankly, there's 70, 70 percent of Americans agree with him on that statement. Nobody loves Congress right now. Very few seem to like what's going on there. And he, to put it that way, tells you that, look, he had never really had to work hard before for an election. He was going to have to work a little bit harder, travel the state. And guess what, if he didn't want to be here another six years, this was his last chance to quit, because the filing deadline is literally hours and days away.

Matthews and Todd also blamed the likes of Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist for creating a climate where "centrists" like Bayh are forced to leave, with Matthews even accusing Norquist of bullying Republican Senator John McCain as he cried, "It's scary to hear that he can tell McCain, a war hero what to do."

The following exchanges were aired on the February 15 edition of Hardball:

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST: The other thing I think that's worth noting is, this comes about a week before the President is going to convene a bipartisan health care summit. The President was elected on the promise that he could bring Washington together. He could make Washington work. Evan Bayh essentially said today, "You know what, I don't think so." Now he didn't say it about the President. But he took, he, it's a very strong signal.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Chuck, I hear from a source out there, a friend of mine, who told me what he could about the, off the record with the guy, not off the record, on background. He thought that the one final straw was the failure of this deficit commission to get accepted by the Congress. That he, being from Indiana, and I know from years of working on the Hill, the Indiana, the Hoosier delegation has always been absolutely, all the way connected to the idea of deficit reduction, of balanced budget amendments. Even the Democrats for years out there, people like Lee Hamilton, the much respected member, would always vote for the balanced budget amendment, even though the liberals didn't like it. He felt, I guess, that the failure of that commission to get enacted was a real killer for him.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Well, it was. You know it was interesting today, we had, to sort of connect everything to three degrees separation here. John McCain, right now, just started on a campaign tour of Arizona. J.D. Hayworth, former Republican congressman, challenging him from the right. Earlier today I interviewed Grover Norquist head of Americans For Tax Reform, and he said, had John McCain supported that bipartisan commission he would not have gotten the support of Grover Norquist and the tax-cutting crowd. Well guess what? McCain voted against it, after being a co-sponsor, because that was his ticket to political survival, probably, in a Republican primary he couldn't afford to alienate. So now this is-

MATTHEWS: Okay explain, explain to regular people, why wouldn't a fiscal conservative want to have deficit reduction?

TODD: Because in, in Grover Norquist's estimation, it means if you support that commission, you're supporting a tax hike. Because supposedly both potential tax hikes and spending cuts would be on the table. Now Norquist argues that every time this, that both things have been on the table, well, it's never been spending cuts, it's always been tax hikes. And therefore, he made it clear to these Republicans that were thinking about supporting this, if you support it, you're supporting a tax hike. And seven of them flipped. And that is what seemed to put not just Bayh over the edge, George Voinovich, George Voinovich...

MATTHEWS: And that is what's going on. We elect the senators, we elect the senators but people like Grover Norquist and unions and the netroots people have more clout across, that is a great demonstration than any Senate-, in other words Senators are not leaders. They're not Edmund Burkes. They don't vote their conscience. They, in many ways are forced to vote, because of the activists on the left and right.

...

MATTHEWS: So in other words people in college that couldn't get elected Carter representative are now telling senators how to vote. And I'm serious about this. Grover Norquist has more power, it's scary to hear that he can tell McCain, a war hero what to do.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.