On the November 19 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, Matthews and his panel, which included syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, New York Times columnist David Brooks, U.S. News & World Report contributing editor and CBS News national political correspondent Gloria Borger, and journalist John Heilemann, heaped praise on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who recently announced that he has formed a presidential exploratory committee. Parker said McCain is willing to go "out on a limb. So that's a leader"; Brooks praised McCain's energy, saying: "He's running around; he's never sitting down"; Borger called McCain "a smart hawk -- not just a hawk -- but a smart hawk"; and Matthews said McCain is "kind of like a Martin Luther ... reforming and finding the pure conservative movement." Matthews even praised McCain's office as "really a senator's office out of the movies." Heilemann added that McCain "is willing to just do his own thing." Media Matters for America has documented other instances of Matthews gratuitously praising Republicans, such as President Bush (here, here, here, here, and here) and McCain (here and here).
From the November 19 edition of The Chris Matthews Show, syndicated by NBC:
BORGER: You know, he's a reformer, that works now, given what we've seen in this election. He's also a smart hawk -- not just a hawk -- but he is a smart hawk. He says, you know, "I want more troops in Iraq. Let me tell you why. I know it's not a popular position, but the way we leave is really important to America." And I think he can sell that.
MATTHEWS: He's kind of like a Martin Luther. He's going back and reforming and finding the pure conservative movement -- no extra spending, no earmarks and a very clear idea of going after the enemy. Like we had, remember, when the president was at the rubble right after 9-11 -- that sense of purity and toughness.
BROOKS: The main reason Republicans think they lost is because all they cared about was hanging onto power. They had no attachment to principles. And McCain's not an "I'm all for power" guy. He does have a core.
BORGER: He likes power.
BROOKS: Well he's a politician, of course.
MATTHEWS: So do you, Gloria. Let me go to Kathleen here.
PARKER: Yeah, but his position on the war is a perfect example. He's saying put in more troops, when everybody clearly doesn't think that's a great idea. But McCain can say, "Look, I'm a man of principle. This is what we have to do. I'm not looking here to please everybody. I'm not going to sit around and wait for everybody to say, 'Kumbaya, isn't this a great idea.' " He thinks that's the right thing to do and he's going out on a limb. So that's a leader.
MATTHEWS: This is so great. But, you know, the thing about him is, I think there's a thing he has that people like me like, people -- a lot of journalists like. Because journalists are supposed to be really independent. They're supposed to be. "Don't owe anybody nothing," right? He seems to have that quirky sense of the fighter pilot out there. "I'm still out there all alone." But isn't that what bugs the Republican establishment most?
HEILEMANN: Yeah, it totally bugs the Republican establishment. And, you know, David made the point that there are large -- still large segments of the Republican coalition that don't like John McCain. And every time that he has tried to move to the right -- very visibly over the course of the last year -- you still find movement conservatives -- obviously the Christian right -- they look at him and they say, "We don't care if he speaks at Falwell University. We still don't trust him because he betrayed us in 2000. We'll never trust him."
MATTHEWS: Is that his personality they don't trust? The fighter pilot, the man out there on his own mission? Or is it his position -- his secular brand of politics? Let's be honest, he's sort of a Barry Goldwater, secular politician.
HEILEMANN: Well, for some of them, I think. I mean, for the Christian right, obviously, it is that, you know, they feel that he's secular and that makes them really upset. The maverick thing, there are obviously Republican regulars who don't like the fact that McCain is willing to do whatever the hell he wants on various issues. But there's also, you know, this fact that is, you know, he is willing to just do his own thing. You know, and that makes them nuts.
MATTHEWS: This is something you guys are very good at. Tell me the formula he's applying. When you look at these speeches, like the one we just looked at this Thursday night. What's his formula for getting back -- what's the combination he's working to get back in? Is it, "I'm a better hawk than anybody else, I'm a super hawk. I'm not buckling like everybody else." And, "I'm a cleaner guy in terms of spending, earmarking, all the bad things of this Congress." Is that the formula that will work? Will it work?
BROOKS: Right. It's hawk, hawk, hawk on defense, hawk on spending. And, you know, I think the core problem he faces, frankly, is he is not in his core a religious conservative. He's a conservative. But he's not in his core a religious conservative. And if he lets some of his dislike for some of the things the religious conservatives have stood for bubble out, as he did in South Carolina in 2000, then that really hurts him.
MATTHEWS: What's his biggest selling point? "I can beat Hillary?" Is Hillary what he needs to win that nomination?
HEILEMANN: Yeah, I mean the 2006 elections were just a huge boon to John McCain, it seems to me. The best thing that could have happened to his nomination, possible nomination, was for the Democrats to win the House, Democrats to win the Senate, and to make Republicans suddenly stand up and think of themselves, "We must be pragmatic. We must find a candidate who can run in the middle and appeal to those independents that were so crucial to the election a week and a half ago."
[begin video clip]
MARIA SHRIVER (NBC correspondent at the time): How do you feel?
McCAIN: Please get out of here.
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MATTTHEWS: John, there is something about that that's somewhat appealing unless you don't want to have to deal with Arnold Schwarzenegger [Shriver's husband]. But what do you think?
HEILEMANN: Well, he's -- you know, I think it's actually incredibly appealing, you know. But there is -- he is a very tightly coiled guy, and you see that in almost every setting, even in the most relaxed settings. He's very tightly coiled. And at any moment, you think he could just snap like a dry Frito.
PARKER: Everybody's got a McCain story, you know.
MATTHEWS: Well, let's hear yours.
PARKER: Everybody's got an anger story. I don't personally have one. He's actually always been very nice to me.
MATTHEWS: What's that say?
PARKER: But I think that, you know, there's another way that this is going to be presented. They're going to cast this not as an anger problem but as a passion issue. He is passionate about everything, and he's not going to sit around and hold hands and sweet-talk everybody.
BROOKS: I think the health thing will be solved when people look at him. You go into his office -- most senators have their office in the corner, the senator is sort of reclusive -- his office is right in the middle of his suite of offices. He's running around; he's never sitting down. And so the energy thing, I think, will show up to people.
MATTHEWS: I love his office. He has the most -- it is really a senator's office out of the movies.