MSNBC Tags Liberal Republican Party Defector as 'Conservative,' But She Self IDs as 'Liberal'

On Thursday's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC, substitute host Ari Melber tried to hype former Nevada Lieutenant Governor Sue Wagner, who left office almost 20 years ago, as a "conservative" who recently left the Republican Party because of the Tea Party.

But, as she appeared as a guest, Wagner quickly identified herself as having been "somewhat liberal my entire life," and put the icing on the cake at the end of the interview as she sdmitted to which news network she "always" watches.

Melber sought to undermine the Tea Party as he began the segment:

Many conservatives have credited the Tea Party for energizing the GOP. Tonight, we look at how the right flank may also be shrinking the party.

He misleadingly used the "conservative" label as he added:

This story begins in 1975 in Reno, Nevada. There weren't many young women running for office then, and even fewer young conservative women. But Sue Wagner was an exception.

After bolstering her Republican credentials by calling her a "longtime Republican" for the second time, Melber asked his guest why she left the GOP. She immediately admitted to her liberal history:

Well, I switched because it was just too conservative for me. I have been somewhat liberal my entire life. My dad was very active in the party in Maine where I was born. And in those days, a long time ago, the New England Republicans tended to be more moderate and liberal and that's the way I was.

The segment featured a discussion of her liberal views on abortion, environmental regulations, and "prison reform," which, knowing liberals, probably means releasing criminals from prison. The interview ended with the liberal former Republican outing herself as an MSNBC fan:

SUE WAGNER: Well, thank you very much for having me. I always watch MSNBC.

ARI MELBER: Thank you. Good to know.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Thursday, January 30, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC:

ARI MELBER, BEFORE COMMERCIAL BREAK: Up next, the last straw of a long time Republican, she quit. We have the exclusive interview, up next.

(...)

MELBER: Many conservatives have credited the Tea Party for energizing the GOP. Tonight, we look at how the right flank may also be shrinking the party. This story begins in 1975 in Reno, Nevada. There weren't many young women running for office then, and even fewer young conservative women. But Sue Wagner was an exception. After earning a masters in history and serving as assistant dean of women at Ohio State, Wagner dived into politics.

She won a seat in the Nevada legislature, jumped up to the Senate in 1980, working on ethics reform, public education and funding for women's shelters. A decade later, many Republicans backed her bid for the number two job in the state, lieutenant governor, widely seen as a warm-up to a bid to being Nevada's first female governor. At the time in 1990, only four women served as lieutenant governor in the nation.

And then, if you live in Nevada or follow politics at the time, you may remember when tragedy hit just one day before the primary.

[RECOUNTS A PLANE CRASH THAT SEVERELY INJURED SUE WAGNER AND LED HER TO END HER POLITICAL CAREER AFTER JUST ONE TERM AS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR]

MELBER: And still, Wagner used that office to back conservation policies, prison reform and women's rights. And she never went on to run for that top job, though many said she was destined for it.

This week, the Reno Gazette Journal reported that former Lieutenant Governor Wagner is leaving the Republican Party. The first woman lieutenant governor of Nevada, a lifelong Republican, has announced, they reported, she isn't a Republican anymore. In fact, she told the paper, "It's grown so conservative and Tea Party-oriented and I just can't buy into that. I've left the Republican Party and it's left me at the same time." Joining us now is Sue Wagner for her first television interview as an independent. Welcome.

SUE WAGNER, FORMER NEVADA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Why did you switch parties?

WAGNER: Well, I switched because it was just too conservative for me. I have been somewhat liberal my entire life. My dad was very active in the party in Maine where I was born. And in those days, a long time ago, the New England Republicans tended to be more moderate and liberal and that's the way I was.

I never really felt terribly left out in Nevada politics, although I was somewhat, but it has become so apparent nationally that I don't, I don't fit in anymore anyway. And I don't believe, I hardly agree with anything that they do. I mean, literally.

MELBER: Yeah, you cited the Tea Party there in some of your statements. As I mentioned, the Tea Party is credited for some kind of grassroots enthusiasm. What do you think the Tea Party represents? What about it do you think is problematic for the GOP?

WAGNER: I think that it's actually stilted the party. I think the party would not be, I would hope that it would not be as bad as it is now without the Tea Party element.

It seems like that, I will mention the speaker of the House and other leaders just don't seem to until just recently had enough courage to stand up to the Tea Party members. And I think that's been very unfortunate for the party and for people such as myself who have just had too much.

MELBER: And in looking over your career, what's also interesting was there was a time when not only as a moderate, but as we mentioned, a young woman in at a time when neither party had many women in statewide office, you were being recruited and groomed. And some of your stances on other issues, like the environment, were very different than what the Republican Party seems to tolerate today.

I want to point out the 1988 GOP platform, for example, was much more in line with where you were at. It says, and I'm reading, "We brought record numbers of enforcement case against toxic polluters," established "wildlife refuges in 21 states and territories." Republicans in '88 saying that they would fight to protect endangered species and support strong enforcement of our environmental laws.

We took a look at the Nevada GOP platform today, the party you're exiting. And it says that the party strongly opposes any laws, regulations, or legally binding actions that "diminish the ability of the mining industry" to access minerals and it opposes the designation of additional wilderness areas, national monuments, wildlife refuges or wilderness study areas in Nevada.

That's a long ways from not only where you were when you were in office but from where the Republican Party was. What's wrong with having some, you know, protected lands in Nevada?

WAGNER: You know, it blows my mind, Ari. The fact that just in the last three or four weeks, we've noticed what's happened in the state of West Virginia and the chemical outpouring in the rivers. And the fact that the Republican Party, I won't say unanimously, but to a large extent oppose the Environmental Protection Agency. That just boggles my mind.

I mean, it's those kinds of things that I think are things that I just absolutely cannot support. And, you know, I was very involved in the nature conservancy.  I passed a law which has been used extensively in Nevada, conservation easements, and I'm sure it's used in other states as well.

And, as you mentioned, I was involved in prison reform. I think the one thing that really jumps out at me and has been ever since I've been in the legislature, I would call myself a feminist. That-

MELBER: Let me ask you, do you think feminists are still, self-identified feminists are still welcome in today's GOP?

WAGNER: No, probably not at all. I know some of my friends wouldn't even identify themselves today as a feminist. I do. I think the one thing that just is so hypocritical is the fact that the Republican Party is so opposed to government involvement in our lives in any way except for a woman's body. That to me just blows my mind.

MELBER: Yeah, it's strong words but I know that's what a lot of people feel. Interesting coming from you, once a rising woman leader in the party and obviously still engaged on these issues. And thank you, Sue, for sharing some of your thoughts with us tonight.

WAGNER: Well, thank you very much for having me. I always watch MSNBC.

MELBER: Thank you. Good to know. All right, have a good night.

--Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Brad Wilmouth on Twitter.