Newsweek’s Alter on MSNBC: GOP ‘Party of Jell-O’ For Not Standing Up to Limbaugh

During the 3:00PM EST hour on MSNBC on Thursday, anchor Norah O’Donnell teased an upcoming segment on Rush Limbaugh and the Republican Party: "Coming up, is the party of Lincoln in danger of becoming the party of jell-o? Why conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh could be a liability for the Grand Old Party." O’Donnell was referring to an Newsweek article by columnist Jonathan Alter and later spoke to him about it: "I want to read from your piece. You write, 'everyone knows he has jumped the shark culturally, becoming a black-shirted joke even as he dominates the headlines. But it's worse than that for Republicans, Limbaugh has taken the great GOP calling card -- toughness -- and shredded it. The party of Lincoln is in danger of becoming the party jell-o.' Explain further."Alter elaborated on his argument: "Okay. Norah, the great strength of the Republican Party for the last 75 years has been strength. The fact that they are a tough party and their rhetoric has been tough. They were tough against the New Deal. They were tough in a Cold War. They were tough on Monica Lewinsky. If you can't even stand-up to Rush Limbaugh, if the dittoheads come after you and you wilt and then apologize for perfectly legitimate criticism of a radio talk show broadcaster, how tough is that. You look wimpy, you look weak, you look whiney." According to Alter, by not denouncing Rush Limbaugh for being tough on Obama, the Republican Party is not being tough.Later, O’Donnell brought up an appearance by Newt Gingrich on Thursday’s Today: "And he essentially turned his fire on Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff, essentially comparing him to Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. What is with this demonizing of Rahm?" Alter defended Emanuel: "I -- you know, I think it was a perfectly fine thing for Rahm Emanuel to do...So I don't have any problem with Emanuel using that lever. It was -- it was a big fat one over the plate, so to speak, a real winner for the Democrats to go after Rush Limbaugh and obviously, the Republicans are stung." Alter added: "...to compare him to H.R. Haldeman, which is -- it's kind of lame, you know, to compare a guy who was convicted of crimes to the chief of staff at this juncture in an administration." Apparently it’s still early to call Rahm Emanuel a criminal, but maybe in a few years. Here is the full transcript of the segment:

3:38PM TEASE:NORAH O'DONNELL: Coming up, is the party of Lincoln in danger of becoming the party of jell-o? Why conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh could be a liability for the Grand Old Party. 3:43PM SEGMENT: NORAH O'DONNELL: Back to politics now, because it has been a busy day here in Washington. The chairman of the Republican Party says the GOP needs to go into rehab. That's right. As conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh continue their verbal jabs at the White House, Michael Steele says he's trying to put his party in a position to offer positive solutions.MICHAEL STEELE: I'm putting the party on a 12-step program of recovery. And this is going to take some time. It's going to take some effort. But we're prepared to move forward and to state the case, make the case to the American people that we've got something to offer. We're not the party that's just here to say no. We're not the party to be, you know, in opposition just for the sake of being in opposition.O'DONNELL: Jonathan Alter is a senior editor and columnist for Newsweek as well as an NBC News analyst, he writes about this in Newsweek this week. Jonathan, good to see you.JONATHAN ALTER: Hi, Norah.O'DONNELL: I want to get to your article in just a minute and show of the -- what you wrote, because it's great stuff. But what about that latest sound bite from an interview that Steele did with WBAL radio, where he says he's going to put the party in a 12-step program, it's going to rehab?ALTER: Sounds good to me. You know, the whole country's in recovery now, right. That 12-step idea, that could be the Obama plan for economic recovery. We're a nation of therapeutic thinkers and clearly the Republican Party is at a nadir and they need to kind of start over again and come up with some new ideas. So it's good that their chairman is thinking that way. I certainly believe in a strong two-party system.O'DONNELL: I want to read from your piece. You write, 'everyone knows he has jumped the shark culturally, becoming a black-shirted joke even as he dominates the headlines. But it's worse than that for Republicans, Limbaugh has taken the great GOP calling card -- toughness -- and shredded it. The party of Lincoln is in danger of becoming the party jell-o.' Explain further.ALTER: Okay. Norah, the great strength of the Republican Party for the last 75 years has been strength. The fact that they are a tough party and their rhetoric has been tough. They were tough against the New Deal. They were tough in a Cold War. They were tough on Monica Lewinsky. If you can't even stand-up to Rush Limbaugh, if the dittoheads come after you and you wilt and then apologize for perfectly legitimate criticism of a radio talk show broadcaster, how tough is that. You look wimpy, you look weak, you look whiney, you look all the things that they used to say about Democrats. So this has been the great strength of Republicans and they are squandering it by not being able to stand up to Rush Limbaugh.O'DONNELL: I want to get your take on another thing, Jonathan, because I don't know if you got the chance to see Newt Gingrich on the Today show this morning, and he was asked about the state of the Republican Party. And he essentially turned his fire on Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff, essentially comparing him to Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. What is with this demonizing of Rahm? And was it a wise idea for the chief of staff to play the role of political operative and first sort of launch that salvo about Rush Limbaugh being the head of the Republican Party?ALTER: I -- you know, I think it was a perfectly fine thing for Rahm Emanuel to do. The chief of staff is a very political position. Even for all the talk of bipartisanship, staying above the fray, that's something the President needs to do. But forever, Norah, it doesn't matter who's president, his chief of staff, his people, will be political. So I don't have any problem with Emanuel using that lever. It was -- it was a big fat one over the plate, so to speak, a real winner for the Democrats to go after Rush Limbaugh and obviously, the Republicans are stung. So Newt Gingrich is trying to compare him to H.R. Haldeman, which is -- it's kind of lame, you know, to compare a guy who was convicted of crimes to the chief of staff at this juncture in an administration.O'DONNELL: Jonathan Alter with Newsweek, there for the health care summit. Jonathan, good to talk to you, thanks so much. ALTER: Thanks, Norah.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC