Alex Wagner made an eye-popping remark on her MSNBC program on Wednesday, as she hinted that she agreed with former Obama spokesman Bill Burton's assertion that Ronald Reagan would feel out of place in today's GOP. When Burton claimed that "Reagan wouldn't have a chance in this Republican primary right now," Wagner stunningly replied, "I think he'd be a Democrat probably" [audio available here; video below the jump].
The anchor, a former employee of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, also touted a quote from Thomas Mann of The Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of AEI, who claim in an upcoming book that the Republican Party has become "an insurgent outlier- ideologically extreme...scornful of compromise...and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
After reading the quote, Wagner turned to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker, who published the excerpt from Mann and Ornstein in a recent article titled "The Obama Memos: The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency." Lizza channeled an oft-repeated talking point by liberals that the GOP has moved far to the right:
LIZZA: ...You start looking at how the two parties have separated- how they've become more homogeneous and ideologically distant. And I've always thought of this as a story of two- happening equally on both sides. It's just not true. One party has moved further to the right than the other party has moved to the left, and I think this is a really difficult concept for reporters to wrap their head around, because it doesn't seem fair to point that out. And I think it's important to note that. If you look at the political science on ideology, the Republican Party in the House has moved six times further to the right than the Democrats have on the left since the '70s. You can't understand politics right now without recognizing that...Mann and Ornstein...point that out...and it does explain why Obama's had some difficulty.
I think, on the other side, Obama himself in the White House was, frankly, naive about their ability to overcome that. I think the way Obama described the problem- both in his speeches, and his books before he got to Washington- was in a way that didn't recognize how far the Republican Party had gone to the right. And I think the first three years of his administration are a lesson in that subject
Later in the segment, which began 21 minutes into the 12 pm Eastern hour, Burton, who was Obama's 2008 campaign press secretary, and was later deputy White House press secretary, used Lizza's point as a springboard to make his claim about Reagan, which led to Wagner's head-turning line, which she seemingly made in a half-joking manner:
BURTON: Look, I think there's a bigger dynamic in play than just what's happening in the House and what happened this time around. If you look at- you know, Richard Nixon started the EPA, Ronald Reagan was for a nuclear-free world- I mean, Ronald Reagan wouldn't have a chance in this Republican primary right now, and now, you've got-
WAGNER: I think he'd be a Democrat probably-
BURTON: (laughs) He certainly- there would certainly be no room for him. He would be in the Huntsman wing of the party, if anything, and not have a shot. And now, you've got candidates like Mitt Romney, who says, you know, many immigrants are just here for a free ride. And Newt Gingrich, who thinks that we got to bring capital gains [taxes] down to zero percent-
Despite The New Yorker journalist's earlier contention about the Republican Party, the MSNBC anchor then acknowledged that there has been more of a mutual polarization:
WAGNER: ...It's worth mentioning, though, in terms of demographics and redistricting- I mean, that is supporting, sort of, ideological extremes, right? Pew- 2008 study- shows that in 2008, 48% of voters lived in counties where either Obama or McCain won by at least 20 percentage points. In 1976, it was 27% of all voters lived in those landslide counties. So it's increasingly, you know, it's- sort of, ideological extremes are favored.