On Today: Young Voters Disappointed that 'Centrist' Obama Hasn't Governed as Their 'Progressive Champion'

 New York magazine's John Heilemann apparently thinks Barack Obama hasn't been liberal enough, as he told NBC's Matt Lauer, on Thursday's Today show, the "centrist" president was compelled to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to fire up his young supporters because they lost faith in their "progressive champion." After Lauer relayed a point Stewart made during his interview with the President, that voters were disappointed by Obama's "timidity", Heilemann agreed as he explained: "I think there's also kind of a fundamental confusion about who the President is. A lot of young voters...thought that he was a progressive champion and they've seen him govern in a more pragmatic, centrist way."

The following exchange was aired on the October 28 Today show:

MATT LAUER: When you see the President on The Daily Show, obviously courting young voters, if that group was, for lack of a better expression, fired up and ready to go two years ago for Democratic candidates and this president, how would you guys describe their level of enthusiasm and involvement, right now?

MARK HALPERIN, TIME: A lot less than two years ago.

LAUER: Why?

HALPERIN: Well it's not a presidential race. You don't have the same dynamics in, in an off-year. And also the President was a great brand in 2008. People were fired up and ready to go about him and what he represents.

LAUER: And has Jon put his finger on it, I mean not this John, Jon Stewart, put his finger on something with this timidity that, that some young voters have witnessed?

JOHN HEILEMANN, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: I think that's partly true and I think there's also kind of a fundamental confusion about who the President is. A lot of young voters and African-American voters, Hispanic voters thought that he was a progressive champion and they've seen him govern in a more pragmatic, centrist way.

The following is a transcript of the complete Today show segment on which Heilemann appeared with his Game Change co-author Mark Halperin:

MATT LAUER: John Heilemann is national political columnist for the New York magazine, for New York magazine. Mark Halperin is senior political analyst for MSNBC and Time. They collaborated on the book Game Change, which is now out in paperback. Congrats on that guys. Nice to see you.

MARK HALPERIN: Hey Matt.

LAUER: Want to talk about Sarah Palin in a second. I want to start with money though. You're hearing a lot of Democrats out there, even the President, complaining about money that is pouring in from Republican groups into some races across the country, and yet if you look at the numbers out there, Democrats across the country in congressional races, are far outspending their Republican opponents. Why do they keep banging this drum?

HALPERIN: In part because they're frustrated. They don't have much to talk about. The President knows the things he's accomplished, that he's talked about Jon Stewart about, are not popular with the voters. They're trying to rally those Democrats, who do care about money, even though, as you suggested the facts aren't really on their side, regarding the overall spending.

LAUER: You, you think this is frustration? You're spending all this money and you don't have a lot to show for it in the polls, so we might as well blame them for spending too much?

JOHN HEILEMANN: Yeah I think that's true and I also think they're trying to script a narrative for what is likely to be a bad outcome for them on, on November 2nd, so they can look up and say, "You know we lost largely because of this influx of, of largely secret money, of foreign money." They're trying to lay an excuse in, in advance.

LAUER: When you see the President on The Daily Show, obviously courting young voters, if that group was, for lack of a better expression, fired up and ready to go two years ago for Democratic candidates and this president, how would you guys describe their level of enthusiasm and involvement, right now?

HALPERIN: A lot less than two years ago.

LAUER: Why?

HALPERIN: Well it's not a presidential race. You don't have the same dynamics in, in an off-year. And also the President was a great brand in 2008. People were fired up and ready to go about him and what he represents.

LAUER: And has Jon put his finger on it, I mean not this John, Jon Stewart, put his finger on something with this timidity that, that some young voters have witnessed?

HEILEMANN: I think that's partly true and I think there's also kind of a fundamental confusion about who the President is. A lot of young voters and African-American voters, Hispanic voters thought that he was a progressive champion and they've seen him govern in a more pragmatic, centrist way.

LAUER: Let me start, stay on Jon Stewart for a second. He's got a big rally this weekend in Washington. This Rally to Restore Sanity. It is the counterpunch to the Tea Party rallies that we've seen all across the country. It might sound like a weird question, based on the turnout that we see for that rally, will we be able to gauge and evaluate the enthusiasm that, that the anti-Tea Party people have in this election right now?

HALPERIN: It, it will be exactly as good a barometer as a Ouija board. It's really, it's not-

LAUER: Not at all? It's who could get a bus ticket and who could get there?

HALPERIN: Exactly. And, and, and, and, and a lot of the times you've seen the President, the last two weeks, going around the country. Big crowds, reminiscent of 2008. Tens of thousands. That doesn't mean anything. In a national election, turning people out for celebrities or for the President, who is a celebrity, it doesn't tell you what you need to know. What you need to know is all the polls show that enthusiasm gap, that we've seen now for over a year has sustained until November.


LAUER: Let's go out to Nevada. I mean obviously a lot of people are watching this race between Sharron Angle, the Tea Party backed candidate, and the, and the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Does that race, in itself, put this entire election cycle in context?

HEILEMANN: It does. And you look, I mean Sharron Angle is a weak candidate and, and there are a lot of Republicans, you know Harry Reid looked like a really weak incumbent. A lot of Republicans thought that he was gonna be a pretty easy seat to pick up. Her weakness has made that race much closer than it should have been. But the truth is, out in Nevada, most voters do not like either one of these candidates. And that is a perfect picture of what a lot of the electorate feels about all elected politicians right now.

LAUER: Let me stick with you for a second. You wrote an article for New York magazine. You talked about Sarah Palin and the possibility, we're looking forward now to 2012, the possibility that not only could she win the Republican nomination, but that given a certain scenario, she might be able to win the presidency. And that scenario involves the mayor of New York. Just take us throw it.

HEILEMANN: Well it's a little bit of a three carom bank shot. But look there, there are three steps to it. The first is the notion that a lot of Republicans now, contrary to a year ago, think that she is, in fact, setting herself up to run for president, given her schedule, given her fundraising, given her endorsements, all that stuff. The second is that, could she win the Republican nomination? Well she is - if you think of the Republican nomination fight as an NCAA tournament with two brackets. An anti-establishment, populist Tea Party bracket and an establishment bracket, she's the frontrunner on that anti-establishment bracket. So in a one-on-one race, could she win if the Tea Party is emboldened? Yes. Then the question is could she beat President Obama? That is gonna be tough to do, unless the economy is a lot worse off than it is today, but if a third party candidate came in, with a lot of money and a lot of credibility, somebody like a Mike Bloomberg, you could see a situation where no one would get enough electoral votes to claim the presidency. And then the thing would get thrown to the House, where Republicans are likely to be in control.

LAUER: And just 10 seconds left, I'll end with you. Does his theory make any sense when you look at the approval numbers right now for Sarah Palin?

HALPERIN: Yes, because winning the Republican nomination is something you can do with her current approval rating in the overall voter populace. And in a three-way race, anything can happen. This is an unpredictable election year, just wait until 2012.

LAUER: He had a chance to throw you right under the bus there and he didn't.

HEILEMANN: He's a good partner, he's a good partner.

HALPERIN: We're partners, we're partners.

LAUER: He's a good partner. John and Mark, nice to see you both. Thanks for coming in.

HEILEMANN: Thanks Matt.

HALPERIN: Thanks Matt.

—Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here

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