During the first hour and a half following Senator Arlen Specter’s announcement that he was switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic, CNN pushed the “big message” behind the defection, that “the Republican Party has moved so far to the right, that it is making itself uncompetitive in significant parts of the country, like the Northeast,” as the network’s senior political analyst Bill Schneider (shown at right) put it. He continued that the “Democrats, under President Obama, are really moving to claim the center of American politics.” Anchor Kyra Phillips even used the “center” label as an apparent synonym for Democrat.
Phillips’ fellow anchor Tony Harris turned to Schneider three times over the course of fifteen minutes during the 12 pm Eastern hour of the Newsroom program on CNN. During the first appearance 22 minutes into the hour, Harris asked the senior political analyst, “Could we see more of these defections and switches?” Schneider answered, “Tony, this has been going on for years. Republicans in the Northeast have been defeated....They’ve been losing general elections. The Republican Party -- there’s a big message here, which is that the Republican Party has moved so far to the right, that it is making itself uncompetitive in significant parts of the country, like the Northeast. This is really a cannon shot at them, saying this party is no longer competitive in lots of the country.”
Eleven minutes later, the anchor again prompted Schneider for his take on Specter’s move. The analyst expanded on his earlier remarks, making his first use of the “center” label:
SCHNEIDER: Well, first of all, like many Republicans in the Northeast, he was facing a conservative primary opponent. He was clearly worried about his own survival. But there is a much bigger message here. Is there a -- an Obama realignment beginning? Is been going on for some time, that Republicans have become more and more desperate in the Northeast. But President Obama’s election -- the conversion of Arlen Specter means that there’s an indication President Obama is reaching out to the middle of the electorate, which the Republicans have increasingly abandoned with their move to the right. Particularly in the Northeast and on the West Coast, there are a lot of voters who do not feel comfortable with the Republican Party. The reverse happened when Ronald Reagan was president. He brought -- reached out to a lot of conservative Democrats and brought them into the Republican Party, particularly in the South. Well, there may now be an Obama realignment that is parallel to the Reagan realignment, where northeastern and western Republicans are moving more and more to the Democratic Party, and Republicans in those parts of the country are really becoming a trace element.
Later in the same segment, Harris asked about the Pennsylvania senator’s statement, and Schneider got more explicit about Democrats’s “claim [on] the center:”
HARRIS: One of the comments -- we played a portion of the comments from Senator Patrick Leahy. But apparently, he went on to say that in his conversation with Senator Specter, Senator Specter said to him, the party left him -- referring to the Republican Party -- the party left him, he didn’t leave the party. Shed some more light on what you think may be behind that statement.
SCHNEIDER: The statement -- what’s behind that statement is the view of Senator Specter that the Republican Party has moved too far to the right under George Bush and since then. Since then, they lost the 2006 election -- they lost the 2008 election, but the Republicans show no sign of trying to recapture the center. In fact, they’ve hardened their -- their line on the right. They have adamantly opposed everything President Obama -- not everything, but most of the economic policies that President Obama is trying to implement. And his view is, the party has moved so far to the right, it’s abandoned the center where he is, and therefore, he feels that he’d be more comfortable as a Democrat. It’s a signal that the Democrats, under President Obama, are really moving to claim the center of American politics.
Schneider did not appear during the 1 pm Eastern hour of the Newsroom program, but the “center” label he had used apparently had a significant effect on anchor Kyra Phillips, who made a bit of a Freudian slip 13 minutes into that hour:
KYRA PHILLIPS: Well, it’s been our top story of the day. Since 1966, Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania senator, has been a Republican, but today he has switched parties.
Dana Bash, joining us on the phone now. She’s the one that broke this story. Dana, can you hear me okay? [pause] Okay. We lost Dana Bash. We’ll try to bring her back.
Of course, we’re following that top story today, along with the flu -- the swine flu, and that is the fact that Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has switched parties from Republican -- Republican to center -- obviously, creating a shell-shocked feeling, as Dana Bash had told us, within the Republican Party.