On Tuesday's AC360, CNN's John Roberts labeled Republican candidates who have Tea Party support "very far to the right," and specifically referred to Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott as an "ultraconservative." Guest John Avlon also bemoaned John McCain's tack to the right during the primary campaign, and slammed how the senator has been called a "RINO" by many conservatives.
Roberts, who was filling in for anchor Anderson Cooper, along with Avlon, CNN liberal contributor Roland Martin and Red State's Erick Erickson, discussed Tuesday's primary results from several states for two segments during the first half hour of the 10 pm Eastern hour. Eighteen minutes into the hour, the CNN anchor asked TheDailyBeast.com senior political columnist, "[CNN anchor] John King laid it out there, that it's going to be a challenging year, to say the least, for Democrats. Some people predicting that this will be equal to, if not worse, than 1994. What do you think?"
Avlon replied that the GOP was in "reasonable striking distance" of winning control of the House of Representatives, and later added that "the question is, are the candidates the Republicans have been putting forward in these primaries, some of the more polarizing play-to-the-base candidates, are they going to be Kryptonite when it comes to independent voters and folks in the center? That's really where this battle is going to be won or lost."
Moments later, Roberts asked Erickson about Avlon's analysis and included his "right" label:
ROBERTS: Erick Erickson, speak to what John Avlon was talking to us about. Some of these candidates who are very far to the right, the one- many of the ones who are backed by the Tea Party- are they going to be Kryptonite come November?
The anchor brought back Avlon for a second panel discussion, this time with Republican and former Representative Susan Molinari and Democrat Lisa Caputo, a former press secretary for Hillary Clinton. Roberts raised the issue of the Republican gubernatorial primary in Florida with Molinari 46 minutes into the hour:
ROBERTS: When it comes to Rick Scott, who ran as an ultraconservative against Bill McCollum, does he now have to run slightly to the center, if he wants to win in November? Put it this way: the campaign- the Rick Scott campaign is reaching out to CNN, to say, 'Hey, do you want to have him on tomorrow?'
Four minutes later, Roberts broached the issue of McCain's lurch to the right during the primary race in Arizona against J. D. Hayworth, which ultimately led to Avlon's lament of the whole electoral battle between the two:
ROBERTS: Well, you heard a lot of that- maverick, maverick, maverick, maverick- 2002, his book, 'Worth the Fighting For,' said that it was the 'education of an American maverick.' But now, John McCain saying, 'I'm not a maverick. I never said I was a maverick.' (laughs) And Susan Molinari, I'm wondering how could he say that?
MOLINARI: Well- you know, times change- (both Molinari and Roberts laugh) politics change, and the situation changed. The situation in Arizona, as he explained it- you know, changed, and the President- you know, by his lawsuit in Arizona, I think really kind of raised the ante. Look, John McCain is a smart politician, and he didn't do what a lot of other politicians did, which is to assume that, because he was the party nominee for president, that he didn't have to work hard. And he had sort of the gift which we always think is- you know, a terrible thing of a later primary, to see that some of his incumbent colleagues and others in the House might have taken their election and their reelection in primaries for granted. And so- you know, he ran a smart race. He spent a lot of money, and he did what he needs to do to, presumably, return to the United States Senate.
ROBERTS: But John Avlon, it's almost classic John McCain, where he says, 'I never said I was a maverick,' and then you play the audio tape, and you say, 'Well, with all due respect, Senator, I think you did.'
AVLON: Yeah. No, that's just a dumb thing for him to have said, (Roberts laughs) and it's sort of indefensible, because it's such a core part of his identify, not just one imposed upon him, but one he accepted. And it's dumb, because this was- this was actually a great year for someone to stress their independence- for someone to stress- the John McCain who the American people have come to know and respect, somebody who was standing up against fiscal irresponsibility when Republicans were spending like drunken sailors. He stood up against his own party. That should be a message that's perfect for this year, and perfect for the Tea Party.
The fact that he was independent should be a strength, but being primaried from the right, people kept saying that maverick was code for independent. So we've got to get some clarity right now. The Tea Party folks who say that the number one issue is spending- John McCain should be always a hero to them, and the fact that he's considered a RINO by some speaks to the sickness in our politics and a problem in the Republican Party right now.
ROBERTS: One more quick comment from you, and then we've got to go to John King, Lisa. He doesn't really have to- if John McCain wins the primary, he doesn't have to worry about the general election. I think he won with 75 percent last time.
CAPUTO: Likely not, but what he has to worry about is what's the public perception of John McCain?
CAPUTO: What's his legacy? Which John McCain are we talking about? Are we talking about the maverick, or are we talking about the Reagan Republican? Who are we talking about?
During two July 2009 appearances, Avlon picked "wingnuts of the week" from the right and the left, and was much more critical of his right-wing selections. He also labeled CPAC 2010's "saving freedom" theme as "a little extreme" during two segments on February 18 and 19.