CNN’s Rick Sanchez Highlights ‘Defecting’ Conservatives Against Palin

Rick Sanchez, CNN Anchor, & Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Senior Editor | NewsBusters.orgDuring Wednesday’s Newsroom program, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez tried to portray that there were many so-called conservatives who were "defecting," in his words, from John McCain over his selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. His list of conservatives, which he read prior to an interview of National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, included homosexual activist Andrew Sullivan, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and satirist Christopher Buckley, who recently left National Review over his endorsement of Barack Obama. Sanchez later backtracked from this labeling after Ponnuru pointed out that "a lot of those people who are critical of Palin are not defecting from McCain:" "I'll take it back. Let's take out the word ‘defection,’ and just say Republicans who have been critical of John McCain. Is that more fair?"

After this correction, Ponnuru stated how "a lot of conservatives have had concerns about the selection of Palin. It's also true that some people who are already against McCain have seized on Palin. Andrew Sullivan, for example, has been on a pro-Obama tear for about three years now" (Sullivan and Ponnuru have been clashing over various topics during the past several years). Sanchez then asked about the National Review editor’s own words about Palin: "You say that she has been governor about two minutes. This is what you wrote right after she was selected, and you told our producers that you're sticking with that. Look, a lot of folks would say to you, Ramesh -- yeah, that's why we like her, because she's not inside the Beltway, man...."

Ponnuru responded by criticizing an inconsistency in the McCain campaign’s tactics:

PONNURU ...I think that the peculiarity of the McCain campaign is that they often make these gestures and then, they don't follow through on them. The Palin pick, to the extent it made sense, made sense in the way of portraying McCain and Palin as reformers willing to take on their own party, but -- because Palin, of course, does have a record of doing that. But then they put her into this traditional attack dog role, where she is basically going around tearing down Obama, which is a perfectly fine traditional role for a vice presidential candidate to take, but it does not help her or McCain present themselves as reformers, and makes it harder for her to close the sale on her readiness to be vice president.

Sanchez and Ponnuru concluded the interview by discussing the supposed "20% in the middle who are quote, ‘undecideds,’ or moderates, or whatever the term is being used today to describe those people," and how Palin has factored into reaching out to these people. Sanchez hypothesized that Palin’s job was to solidify the Republican base, and that it was McCain’s job to reach out the moderates. Ponnuru replied, "...[I]f Senator McCain loses, it's not going to be because of Governor Palin. It's going to be because he... wasn't able to overcome the strong headwinds against any Republican this year" and that Palin’s attempt to raise doubts about Obama among these moderates "has not been as successful as it would be under normal circumstances because of this financial crisis."

About an hour and a half before the segment, Ponnuru wrote on The Corner portion of his publication’s website about how CNN’s booker wanted him to focus on Palin’s negatives during the segment: "I was invited very recently to appear on a cable-news show to talk about Sarah Palin. The booker very nicely said, ‘I understand you've written about the pros and cons. We were hoping you could come on and talk about the cons.’...We'll see how it goes. All that by way of saying that sometimes the story of how conservatives get into the mainstream media really is a right-wing parodists’ idea of that story."

The full transcript of the Sanchez/Ponnuru segment, which began 28 minutes into the 3 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday’s Newsroom program:

RICK SANCHEZ: ...And, by the way, let's talk now about what many are doing in the conservative camp -- those who are quote, ‘defecting,’ so to speak, from John McCain's campaign. In fact, I've got a list for you. I'll take you through them. First, Andrew Sullivan -- put it up, he says -- obviously, he's from Atlantic magazine, a conservative. He says, 'Palin has helped McCain among conservatives, left Democrats unfazed, but moved the undecideds against him quite sharply.' Remember, that is Andrew Sullivan -- conservative. Let's go to Mike Murphy -- conservative, former McCain strategist: ‘bad strategic choice,’referring to Palin. David Frum, National Review -- he says, ‘a bold pick, [and] probably a shrewd one. It's not nearly clear that she is a responsible pick or a wise one’ -- David Frum, conservative. David Brooks, New York Times columnist -- quote, ‘represents a fatal cancer to the Republican Party.’ Let's go to Christopher Buckley, formerly of National Review -- actually left over this. ‘What on earth can he, [McCain] have been thinking.' By the way, I believe that's the wrong picture. That's his dad in that picture, if I'm not mistaken. And Peggy Noonan, overheard -- she was a Reagan speechwriter, as you know -- overheard during an MSNBC broadcast saying, ‘It is over.’

Let's bring into this conversation now Ramesh Ponnuru -- he's a senior editor of the National Review. You are, fair to say, a conservative, right?

RAMESH PONNURU: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: Is it fair to blame Sarah Palin, as so many of these people are doing?

PONNURU: Well, I'm a little unclear about the concept behind this segment, because in fact, a lot of those people who are critical of Palin are not defecting from McCain. They're just critical of the selection. I mean, David Frum, for example --

SANCHEZ: That's a fair point. All right, I'll tell you what --

PONNURU: Still supporting the McCain ticket.

SANCHEZ: I'll take it back. Let's take out the word ‘defection,’ and just say Republicans who have been critical of John McCain. Is that more fair?

PONNURU: Sure. There are -- it is certainly true that a lot of conservatives have had concerns about the selection of Palin. It's also true that some people who are already against McCain have seized on Palin. Andrew Sullivan, for example, has been on a pro-Obama tear for about three years now.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you about your own comment. You say that she has been governor about two minutes. This is what you wrote right after she was selected, and you told our producers that you're sticking with that. Look, a lot of folks would say to you, Ramesh -- yeah, that's why we like her, because she's not inside the Beltway, man. She's outside, and that's what we like about her. That is what McCain told us in the beginning, was it not?

PONNURU: Well, that's right. I mean, I think that the peculiarity of the McCain campaign is that they often make these gestures and then, they don't follow through on them. The Palin pick, to the extent it made sense, made sense in the way of portraying McCain and Palin as reformers willing to take on their own party, but -- because Palin, of course, does have a record of doing that. But then they put her into this traditional attack dog role, where she is basically going around tearing down Obama, which is a perfectly fine traditional role for a vice presidential candidate to take, but it does not help her or McCain present themselves as reformers, and makes it harder for her to close the sale on her readiness to be vice president.

SANCHEZ: Let's just do numbers here if we can.

PONNURU: Sure.

SANCHEZ: Are you ready? 40% of the American people are conservative Republicans who like McCain. Let's just take that guess. 40% of the American people are Democrats and liberals who are going to vote for Obama no matter what. Then you got that 20% in the middle who are quote, 'undecideds,' or moderates, or whatever the term is being used today to describe those people. Her job was to solidify that 40% at the top. She has done her job, and you could argue she has done it well. Isn't it up to John McCain to get that other 20%? He's the guy who's supposed to be a moderate -- he's supposed to be the maverick, right?

PONNURU: Well, sure. Look, if governor -- I mean, if Senator McCain loses, it's not going to be because of Governor Palin. It's going to be because he himself did not come up with a compelling rationale for his candidacy, and wasn't able to overcome the strong headwinds against any Republican this year.

SANCHEZ: It's interesting you would say that, because it does fall contrary to at least some -- some of what she -- what some people are saying. You believe that she has done her job then -- that she has gotten the 40% she was supposed to solidify.

PONNURU: She's done that. She's also with -- among that other 20%, been trying to raise doubts about Senator Obama --

SANCHEZ: But it hasn't worked?

PONNURU: I think that it has not been as successful as it would be under normal circumstances because of this financial crisis.

SANCHEZ: Ramesh Ponnuru, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

PONNURU: You're welcome.

SANCHEZ: Good job.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center