MSNBC’s David Shuster Blames Falling GOP ID on ‘Town Hall Screamers’

David Shuster and Tamron Hall, MSNBC At the top of the 4:00PM ET hour of MSNBC Live, co-anchor David Shuster claimed the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll “numbers appear to back up the concerns of mainstream Republicans worried about the impact of birthers, tenthers, and town hall screamers....moderates have been frightened away and party identification has dropped to the lowest level in nearly three decades, since Nixon and Watergate.”

Shuster later introduced a debate segment on the issue, declaring: “if a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News is any indication, the GOP is in the worst shape it’s been in nearly three decades. Asked which party they identified themselves with, 33% said Democratic while just 20% said Republican.” What he failed to mention was that the poll also showed that those who identified themselves as conservative stood at 38%, a two-point increase from the last poll conducted on September 12. However, liberal identification stood at just 23%, a one-point decrease from the September poll.

Shuster didn’t let those facts stand in the way as he repeated: “Have centrists been frightened away from the Republican Party by the right-wing birthers, tenthers, and town hall screamers?” He then turned to Republican strategist David Winston and asked: “ David, Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, said the Republican Party would pay a price for its association with the fringe. Doesn’t this poll just back up that case, given that so few moderates, centrists, want to be associated right now with the GOP?”

Winston was skeptical of the poll data: “Well, first off, I have to sort of challenge the assumption that 20%. In the last election, Republicans were at 33%. And if we were at 20%, that would mean we would have no chance in the two upcoming gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. We’re leading in one and even in the other.”

Democratic strategist Peter Mirijanian argued: “I think the only people painting themselves into the corner are the Republicans themselves. I mean, the poll shows that the public is not buying the brand. I think the Republican brand is weakened by people like Sarah Palin and Joe Wilson and they’re not buying the product, the ideas.”

Shuster followed Mirijanian’s lead as he again turned to Winston, wondering: “David, what about that point about moderates not seeing a possible home, whether it’s the treatment of Olympia Snowe or whether they see Republicans not speaking out against things a lot of people find crazy, such as people showing up to town halls with guns and there’s crickets from the Republican leaders on that kind of stuff?”

Here is a full transcript of the segment:
4:00PM TEASE:

DAVID SHUSTER: Later, new poll numbers appear to back up the concerns of mainstream Republicans worried about the impact of birthers, tenthers, and town hall screamers. A new survey shows independents and moderates have been frightened away and party identification has dropped to the lowest level in nearly three decades, since Nixon and Watergate.

4:42PM TEASE:

TAMRON HALL: And David, up next, our ‘Face-Off’ on the GOP.

SHUSTER: Yeah, Tamron, just 20% of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans. That is one of the lowest figures in decades. Was it – what does it all mean for the future of the Republican Party?

4:46PM SEGMENT:  

TAMRON HALL: In today’s ‘Face-Off,’ how far as the Republican Party fallen and why?

DAVID SHUSTER: Tamron, if a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News is any indication, the GOP is in the worst shape it’s been in nearly three decades. Asked which party they identified themselves with, 33% said Democratic while just 20% said Republican. Perhaps more telling, 42% said Independent. So what does it all mean? Have centrists been frightened away from the Republican Party by the right-wing birthers, tenthers, and town hall screamers? Here to face-off are Democratic strategist Peter Mirijanian and Republican strategist David Winston. David, Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, said the Republican Party would pay a price for its association with the fringe. Doesn’t this poll just back up that case, given that so few moderates, centrists, want to be associated right now with the GOP?

DAVID WINSTON: Well, first off, I have to sort of challenge the assumption that 20%. In the last election, Republicans were at 33%. And if we were at 20%, that would mean we would have no chance in the two upcoming gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. We’re leading in one and even in the other. Having said that, one of the things the Democrats have done very effectively here is paint the Republican Party as the ‘party of no.’ And the challenge of the Republican Party is this transition. Ultimately, we’ve got to stop being the party of the opposition and be the party of alternatives. That’s going to be the challenge to the Republican Party. If we don’t get there, then we risk having low numbers as you were describing. Although again, I would say they’re significantly higher than 20%.
            
SHUSTER: Peter, isn’t there also a cautionary tale here for Democrats, in that, with only 33% identifying as Democrats, a lot of Democrats acknowledge the Democratic Party would be in a lot of trouble if the Republicans had their act together right now?

PETER MIRIJANIAN: Yeah, that’s true, David, but I think the only people painting themselves into the corner are the Republicans themselves. I mean, the poll shows that the public is not buying the brand. I think the Republican brand is weakened by people like Sarah Palin and Joe Wilson and they’re not buying the product, the ideas. Whether it’s health care, whether it’s the environment, whether it’s education reform, whether it’s job creation, the public – now David may argue it’s not fair – but they don’t view the Republican Party as the party with those answers. So until they lay out a platform – and I do agree with Lindsey Graham that the party does run the risk of running out moderates. They do it already. They’re doing it with Olympia Snowe on health care reform. I mean, look at what the leadership of the Republican Party is threatening to do with her. Take away a chairmanship or a subcommittee position in one of the committees. So, it’s an identify crisis and it’s being, unfortunately, hashed out in the public eye. That’s the problem with the Republican Party right now.

SHUSTER: David, what about that point about moderates not seeing a possible home, whether it’s the treatment of Olympia Snowe or whether they see Republicans not speaking out against things a lot of people find crazy, such as people showing up to town halls with guns and there’s crickets from the Republican leaders on that kind of stuff.

WINSTON: Yeah, but I think – you always see, sort of, the extremes of both parties being sort of more prominently displayed in terms of television and the media. There’s a good, solid chunk of the party that is more centrist. But having said that, actually, Peter’s point was actually well taken in the sense that one of the challenges to the party and party leadership and members is what ideas do you have? If you’re going to engage people and grow your party, you’ve got to, you’ve got to pull people in through ideas. And the problem right now is the Obama team is having a very difficult time. Their health care plan – a majority, more people oppose it than support it. Yet Republicans need to be in a position to say, ‘if that’s the case, here’s your choice,’ and that’s the challenge to the Republican Party. And getting back to Peter’s point, right now we’re not offering that in a way that I think is particularly effective.

MIRIJANIAN: Yeah, and the point I would add to that, David – both David’s – is that you see the Obama administration actually pursuing moderates on the Baucus bill, on health care, and drawing the ire of the progressive wing of the party. I mean, you see the administration trying to strike a balance, trying to at least be bipartisan in some of the solutions to their problems. So they’re not as beholden to their base as the Republicans seem to be to their base. I think the Republican base, unfortunately, kind of cripples them and inhibits them from doing things that are both good government and that would attract more voters.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC