MSNBC host Chris Hayes opened his prime-time show Monday night with a segment about how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the front-runner to be the Democratic presidential nominee and why his success “should not be that surprising.”
This segment wouldn’t have been all that surprising or attracted much attention except that its tone was strikingly different from some of the other high-profile coverage on the network around Sanders.
In recent weeks, MSNBC has featured pundits and guests exhorting Democrats to stop Sanders from getting the nomination. They’ve made comparisons between the senator and President Donald Trump and Nazis. They’ve featured extended interviews with strategists who seemed to be on for no other reason than to bash Sanders. And they’ve engaged in some fuzzy math to argue that Sanders isn’t really the front-runner.
On Monday, Hayes tried to counter some of this coverage.
“Nothing in this race is set yet. People with my job have a tendency to overreact with every new and incremental movement, and it’s over and finished before it is. But it seems like there are many people both inside and outside the Democratic Party who are shocked Bernie Sanders is doing so well. His success, though, should not be that surprising,” Hayes said.
Hayes talked about Sanders’s organization, fundraising, name-recognition and multiracial coalition that have helped lead to his success in the first three voting states so far.
“That’s why he is currently the front-runner in the race,” Hayes said. “And to Democrats who are freaking out, I’d say: This is what democracy looks like. It’s what primaries are for.” (Watch the video above.)
Hayes never mentioned anyone at his network by name, but the segment seemed clearly designed to subtly push back at the anti-Sanders sentiment that seems to have been dominating MSNBC’s coverage. He didn’t endorse Sanders, but he didn’t call for his downfall either.
Later in the show, he had Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager, on for an interview.
MSNBC is known as a left-leaning network, but many of its hosts and guests tend to lean more center-left ― or center ― rather than coming from the Sanders and progressive wings. During the era of Donald Trump, it’s also hired a fair number of Republicans who are critical of the president. The network’s struggles to figure out an identity with Sanders as the possible Democratic nominee ― or even president ― have been playing out publicly, on air.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews has made some of the most controversial comments about Sanders. On Saturday, as results rolled in showing that Sanders was on his way to winning the Nevada caucuses, Matthews said he was reading about the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940, and it reminded him of what was going on with Sanders gaining momentum.
He apologized for those remarks on Monday.
After Sanders’s strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, Matthews expressed his skepticism of socialism, wondering whether Sanders would have liked to see people executed in Central Park.
On Saturday, MSNBC had a 10-minute interview with Democratic strategist James Carville, who was most known for his work with Bill Clinton in the 1990s and recently supported Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) for president. (Bennet dropped out this month after failing to gain any significant momentum.) Carville spent nearly the entire time criticizing Sanders and urging Democrats to stop him.
During the New Hampshire primary, MSNBC host Chuck Todd read an article asking whether Sanders supporters were akin to Nazis.
This Sanders coverage has not gone down well, even with many loyal MSNBC viewers. During the New Hampshire primary, a woman told MSNBC that, although she was a fan of the network, she was so fed up with their coverage of Sanders that she was going to vote for him for that reason alone.
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