Harvard Historian Niall Ferguson Schools Morning Joe Panel on Obama and Budget Negotiations

British historian Niall Ferguson brought a breath of fresh air to the set of MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday, effortlessly cutting through the show’s typical left-wing spin.

Co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were engaged in their new favorite pastime – slamming Ted Cruz and other GOP “extremists” – when Ferguson jumped in and suggested that President Obama may also be culpable in the current budget impasse: [See video below.]


"Mika, what worries me slightly is that the president may be convinced this is the way he can destroy the Republican Party by pinning a default, and a default recession, on them, and that may be what some Democratic strategists are thinking. We shouldn’t put it all on Ted Cruz."
 

Brzezinski just brushed aside the idea that Obama was trying to destroy the GOP: “Niall, I think the Republican Party is doing a good job of that themselves.”

When MSNBC analyst and former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs spoke up a few moments later, he agreed with Brzezinski and forcefully defended his old boss:
 

"The irrational actors right now are running the Republican Party. They’re running it. They’re not -- the president isn't destroying it, the Republicans are destroying the Republican Party."
 

Ferguson also made one other point about President Obama’s role in all of this. He said that, while he wasn’t defending the Tea Party’s actions, he believed Obama has been so “disengaged” from Congress that he can’t discipline the Democrats. Ferguson elaborated:
 

"Remember, it's not that the Republicans have defeated the Larry Summers nomination for the Fed chairmanship. That was the Democrats, so party discipline has broken down on both sides. And I think that has to lie in some measure at the feet of the president. We can't blame it all on Ted Cruz."
 

That was brilliant. We’ve all become accustomed to hearing liberal pundits talk over and over about divisions in the Republican Party, so it was great to hear someone call out the Democrats for a similar lack of party unity. Indeed, the more liberal members of Obama’s own party were the ones who eventually pressured Larry Summers into withdrawing his name from consideration for the Federal Reserve chairmanship.



Gibbs, being the Democrat he is, insisted that Democrats did not have a problem with party discipline. He then attacked Ferguson’s belief that Obama should engage more with Congress: “[Y]ou somehow believe if we all have these guys over for tea they’ll agree with everybody else’s ideas and I think that's – I mean, I just think that’s wildly naive.”

Uh-oh. If we have these guys over for tea? If you asked fellow MSNBCer Chris Matthews, given Ferguson’s ethnicity, that might be an anti-British dog whistle!

Brzezinski couldn’t end the discussion without one more shot at the GOP, so she commented to Ferguson, “And by the way, the president has invited Republicans to the White House many times and I believe Speaker Boehner has not accepted the invitation.” She made this comment on the same day that Boehner and 17 other GOP congressmen were scheduled to meet with the president at the White House. And it was certainly not the first time Boehner had met with Obama at the White House, either. The Speaker and other Republican leaders attended such a meeting only last week.

Below is a transcript of the discussion:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: And by the way the Congressional Budget Office is saying if there's a default, regardless of what some of these people on the extreme are saying, it could lead to a recession in as little as two months. And it could be a deep recession.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. They argue how bad it could be and some say at this point that's not the issue. I mean, we're talking about Ted Cruz. He is convinced – still – at this point that he is 100 percent right.

NIALL FERGUSON: Mika, what worries me slightly is that the president may be convinced this is the way he can destroy the Republican Party by pinning a default, and a default recession, on them, and that may be what some Democratic strategists are thinking. We shouldn’t put it all on Ted Cruz.

BRZEZINSKI: Niall, I think the Republican Party is doing a good job of that themselves.

FERGUSON: Both sides, I think, are playing an equally high-stakes game.

BRZEZINSKI: I don’t think he goes to bed at night thinking about destroying the Republican Party. Just my opinion.

SCARBOROUGH: I disagree with you.

FERGUSON: I hope you're right. I sincerely hope you’re right.

SCARBOROUGH: No, I disagree with you. I think this president and a lot of Democrats think they need to destroy a lot of these people in the Republican Party so they can win in 2014 and the president can get his agenda through his last two years. I mean, please, we are talking about Washington, D.C. here. These are not saints on either side.

HAROLD FORD JR: At the end of the day, there’s no doubt politics plays a role. Everybody wants to win. Democrats can hurt Republicans – we’d love to do that – Republicans hurt Democrats the same. But the question I have is if Republicans believe that Ryan's ideas –  and I happen to think there’s some room for real agreement there – why can't they rally around him? If they all arrived at the White House for this meeting and say, ‘Mr. President, we’re for Paul Ryan’s ideas. Accept this as our starting point and perhaps our ending point. You give us where you want to go and let's get a deal done.’

WILLIE GEIST: Hey Robert, I heard you want to jump in here, go ahead.

[crosstalk]



ROBERT GIBBS: Yeah, just the notion -- I mean, I think the notion – somebody said rationality. Somebody used the word ‘rationality’ in this argument. Republicans -- nobody is destroying the Republican Party but the Republican Party. They’ve taken this foolish decision on first to try to defund Obamacare, now they’re trying to default. They think –  they’re running around saying that default really isn't default. This notion that somehow the president is trying to destroy the Republican Party –  you know, you have rational actors and you have irrational actors. The irrational actors right now are running the Republican Party. They’re running it. They’re not -- the president isn't destroying it, the Republicans are destroying the Republican Party.

SCARBOROUGH: Niall?

FERGUSON: I don't defend the Tea Party. I think this is being very, very dangerous the way that they’ve played it. But we can't just ignore the fact that this president has been so disengaged from the legislature that he can't discipline his own party.

GIBBS: Niall, do you think if –

FERGUSON: Can I just finish? Remember, it's not that the Republicans have defeated the Larry Summers nomination for the Fed chairmanship. That was the Democrats, so party discipline has broken down on both sides. And I think that has to lie in some measure or at the feet of the president. We can't blame it all on Ted Cruz. That is just too simple, and frankly it’s the Democrats’ narrative.

GIBBS: So you think if Democrats were more unified we’d somehow have a solution to this?

FERGUSON: No, I'm trying to make the point that there is a breakdown of party discipline on both sides and that has to be in some measure the responsibility of the president. That’s all.

GIBBS: I don't think there's a breakdown in party discipline at all in this –

FERGUSON: So why did Elizabeth Warren veto Larry Summers’ chairmanship of the Fed? You know, that's a breakdown in party discipline if a freshman senator can actually call the shots about that kind of an appointment.

GIBBS: We're not talking about the nomination to the Fed. We’re talking about the shutdown and the default, and you somehow believe if we all have these guys over for tea they’ll agree with everybody else’s ideas and I think that's – I mean, I just think that’s wildly naive.

BRZEZINSKI: And by the way, the president has invited Republicans to the White House many times and I believe Speaker Boehner has not accepted the invitation.

FERGUSON: We'll see if the president accepts the Paul Ryan initiative. Then I’ll be very persuaded by that.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.