MSNBC viewers are used to seeing Hardball host Chris Matthews take on Republicans from the left, but in a new twist, he'll being doing the same this weekend on NBC's Sunday drama, The West Wing. As shown on Friday's Hardball, Matthews plays himself in a scene in which the “Josh Lyman” character, the campaign manager for imaginary left-wing Democratic presidential candidate “Matt Santos” (played by Jimmy Smits), cheers on Matthews for his questions to “Arnie Vinick,” the very un-conservative Republican presidential candidate played by Alan Alda. “Lyman” exclaims, "Yeah, welcome to Hardball, Arnie!" and "Chris, baby, keep slugging!"
Following the preview, MSNBC aired a taped interview by Matthews with Alda from the West Wing set. Matthews conceded “the script was written for me,” but he that he “thought it was really smart.” Matthews applauded Hollywood's ideal GOP candidate: “You come off as kind of a Giuliani guy. You're for abortion rights, but you don't like the idea of partial birth. You're kind of a maverick Republican, you're from California. You shine your own shoes. What an interesting guy you are.” Matthews admired how “your character this last season [said] he'd studied the Bible...and you just couldn't go along with having people die because they didn't go to church or didn't honor the Sabbath, but yet slavery was okay in the Bible back in those days.” Matthews fretted: “It's a very thoughtful sort of inquiry, but do you think a guy like that could ever be elected President in this church-going country of ours?"
Indeed, as recounted in an April MRC CyberAlert item: “Hollywood's ideal Republican President, as brought to life two weeks ago by NBC's The West Wing, is 'pro-choice,' 'pro-environment,' will save the party from the 'right wing,' engineers a deal to raise the minimum wage and lectures about keeping religion out of politics.” (See full rundown below)
The plots on The West Wing (Sundays at 8pm EDT/PDT, 7pm CDT/MDT) have largely moved out of the White House, with the first couple of episodes this fall devoted mostly to the presidential campaign of liberal Democratic Congressman “Matt Santos.” In the imaginary NBC timeline, we are now a couple of weeks after the summer party conventions.
Matthews set up the October 7 Hardball segment, as corrected against the closed captioning by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
"This season, NBC's The West Wing heats up with a tough presidential campaign between Jimmy Smits' character, Matt Santos, who's the Democrat, and Alan Alda's character, Arnold Vinick, who's the Republican Senator running for President. This Sunday on West Wing, I get into the middle of the fray by playing Hardball with the Republican candidate. Let's take a look:"
Scene from October 9 West Wing, with "Josh Lyman,” played by Bradley Whitford, watching “Vinick” on Hardball:Matthews: "Haven't you come up with a guest worker program before? Aren't you suddenly leaning on these Mexican border issues because your opponent is Latino and you figure he can't talk tough about the border patrol or risk saying anything that sounds like amnesty for illegals."END of preview of scene
"Josh Lyman," manager of Democrat "Matt Santos'" campaign: "Yeah, welcome to Hardball, Arnie!"
Alan Alda as "Arnie Vinick": "I think I counted five questions that time, Chris."Matthews: "Come on, Senator, you're trying to jam Santos, right?"
Lyman: "Chris, baby, keep slugging!"
Matthews, to Alda on West Wing set: "Well, what did you think of Hardball, Alan Alda?"
Alda praised Matthews: "I think that this clip that you just showed, that's going to be on the air Sunday night, really shows you to be the most knowledgeable, quick-on-your-feet person in your spot in America. There I was trying to get out of a tough spot, and you picked up on exactly what was, we had been strategizing, we fictional characters had been strategizing how to get out of a tough spot and you saw right through it. And for the rest of the story, I have to make up for lost time. Look how smart you were."
Matthews: "Well, the script was written for me, but I thought it was really smart. Basically, what I'm doing is the commentator, the guy on the show saying, 'I know what you're up to. The other guy is an Hispanic. You want to remind everybody of that, so what you do is you go tough on the border issues with Mexico and then you go lenient on amnesty. Either way, you get the guy hooked. You get him talking like a Mexican-American. That's all you wanted to do, right, tactically?'"
Alda: "Yeah, yeah, and then you figure out that he's, you corner him on the question of whether or not he's going to do a litmus test or worse than a litmus test, let a separate group of people pick his Supreme Court justices for him."
Matthews: "That's right. Who's going to win, Alan Alda?"
Alda: "You know, it's very interesting. The people who write the show, and John Wells, who's the head of it, are telling people that they don't know who's going to win. And I don't know whether that's a good disinformation technique or they actually don't know."
Matthews: "I love the characters. I think Jimmy Smits playing this charismatic young, the only clue to me was I can't see a Congressman getting elected President. If they made him a Senator from Texas, well, maybe he can pull this thing off. You come off as kind of a Giuliani guy. You're for abortion rights, but you don't like the idea of partial birth. You're kind of a maverick Republican, you're from California. You shine your own shoes. What an interesting guy you are. Do you like the guy you're playing?"
Alda: "Yeah, I think he's a really interesting character because one of the things I admire about this character, the way they're writing him, is that he not only wants to bring his whole party together, he wants to bring the whole country together once he gets elected to the presidency. And he really has an eye on that while he's running. So he's trying not to cut off people who he wants to do business with later. He doesn't want to do attack ads. He doesn't want to destroy, doesn't want to have a kind of, you know, a march through the South, you know, and destroy everything in his path. He wants to, he wants to keep talking to the people and keep working with them. I think that's an admirable idea."
Matthews: "Yeah. Well, there is a fight in the Republican Party right now that's going to come to a head obviously in 2008 between the sort of suburban secular Republicans who want lower taxes and less government in their face, the sort of libertarians, and then the church people. And I was just amazed by your character this last season saying he'd studied the Bible, your character had studied the Bible, the New Testament, and you just couldn't go along with having people die because they didn't go to church or didn't honor the sabbath, but yet slavery was okay in the Bible back in those days. And, God, it's a very thoughtful sort of inquiry, but do you think a guy like that could ever be elected President in this church-going country of ours?"
Alda: "I don't know because I think he, this character himself is religious, has religious beliefs. But I think he's, I think he tries to make the point that people's private religious beliefs are separate from and ought to be separate from their political moorings. But the other point of view, the other side of the argument, one of the reasons I'm proud of West Wing and the people who write it, is the other argument, the argument against, against that, was presented, I thought, very well, very convincingly, oddly enough by the Democrat who was a very religious Catholic and feels that there's, you know, there's no, you don't have to be too worried about people expressing their religious views."
Now, an excerpt from the April 6 CyberAlert rundown of the March 23 episode, the next to last of last season:
A Democratic consultant told Republican presidential candidate, "Senator Arnold Vinick," played by Alan Alda, that he can win in a landslide because he's "moving the Republicans away from the right wing. You're not saying Democrats are not patriotic." After a pro-life Republican, who is so intolerant that he rejects Vinick's offer of the vice presidency, invites Vinick to join him in church, Vinick lectures a gaggle of reporters: "I don't see how we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religious test to get in this government."
The West Wing's ideal Democrat would also be more liberal. This season the show introduced "Congressman Matt Santos," played by Jimmy Smits, as a long-shot presidential candidate who soars ahead with the guidance of "Josh Lyman," a top aide to Democratic President "Josiah Bartlet" who doesn't have the guts to take on the health care system. In the course of the campaign, Santos advocates the elimination of insurance companies in health care in a new "single-payer" system....
The March 23 episode picked up with Republican Senator Vinick (played by the left-wing actor Alan Alda) having won enough delegates to become the GOP nominee.
Some highlights of how the West Wing portrayed Vinick and some other Republicans, in scenes with the dialogue corrected against the closed-captioning by the MRC's Megan McCormack.
# Scene in Vinick's Senate office in which Democratic/Bartlet consultant "Bruno Gianelli," played by the somewhat conservative actor Ron Silver, tells the Senator how since he's not very conservative he could win in all 50 states:
Gianelli: "This campaign should be all about you, the reasons you should be President. And those reasons are exactly where 60 percent of the voters are: Pro-choice, anti-partial birth, pro-death penalty, anti-tax, pro-environment and pro-business, pro-balanced budget, and I could go on and on."
Senator Arnold Vinick: "Please do."
Gianelli: "You're in a unique position to run a completely positive campaign because most of the country agrees with you on most of the issues. The only thing you could do to ruin that now is to pick Don Butler [conservative candidate whom Vinick beat] as your VP. So you tell me you're not even thinking about that, I'll shut up. You've seen the papers. Everybody says Butler's on the short list. Every talking head on TV says that is brilliant; guarantees you a win, which it does, but not a big win."
Vinick: "I have to reach out to the pro-life Republican base. We have to give them some reason to come to the polls. I'm never gonna be that reason."
Bruno: "There are many pro-life Republicans who are more qualified for VP than Don Butler."
Vinick: "What do you know about Republican politics?"
Bruno: "I don't care about Republican politics."
Vinick: "Well, that I believe."
Bruno: "I don't care about Democratic politics, either. Okay, I do care about the Democrats. Look, they don't know it yet, you are the best thing to ever happen to them. You're moving the Republicans away from the right wing. You're not saying Democrats are not patriotic; you're just saying that your approach is better than theirs. You are making politics a fair fight again. What, you think I'm a spy? I snuck in here. I'm trying to steer you wrong?"
Vinick: "The thought has crossed my mind."
Bruno: "I've spent the last 20 years ripping this country apart, finding wedge issues to separate the voters. You don't have to do that to win; not this time. You do this right, you can do a lot more than win. You can stop using politics to divide this country. You can show us how much we agree instead of how much we disagree. You can put this country back together."
# Meeting between the "Reverend Don Butler" and Vinick in which Vinick plans to offer him the VP slot:
Reverend Don Butler: "I hit you pretty hard during the primaries, and I just want you to know it was never personal. Abortion is not a political issue with me."
Vinick: "I know. I respect that."
Butler: "I've been thinking about how we could work around our differences, and put 'em behind us, and head toward November together."
Vinick: "That's funny, so have I. Don, I think you can help me take the White House back for the party. You won states I never could win and I think, in the general election, with you on the ticket-"
Butler: "Arnie, let me stop you right there. Now, I suppose I could go along with you on the environmental issues."
Vinick: "We agree on oil drilling in ANWR."
Butler: "And we could probably get closer together on trade."
Vinick: "Maybe split the difference on textile tariffs. And we could just keep talking tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts."
Butler: "Yeah, we're in lockstep on that one. But then we come back to abortion. And I am here to tell you, Arnie, I do not respect your position on abortion, and there's just no way in the world I could run on a ticket with you, no way. Now, I wanted to be a good soldier. I wanted to help the party. I really did. I prayed on it, prayed a lot. That's where I came out. This isn't easy for a kid who grew up in a trailer in Appalachia and finds himself within shouting distance of the vice presidency of the United States, next in line. It's not easy."
# Butler in the hallway outside of Vinick's office after the meeting:
Reporter: "Reverend, will you pray for him [Vinick] to change his mind [on abortion]?"
Butler: "Sorry. You really surprised me with that one. Yeah, I never heard a good idea from a reporter before. Yes. Yes, I will pray for Senator Vinick, and he's welcome to come down to my church anytime he wants and pray with me. Now, I'll be back in the pulpit this Sunday. And there will always be a place for the Senator in the front row. Thank you."
# Reporters in hallway with Vinick:
Reporter: "Senator Vinick? Senator, were you surprised at Reverend Butler's invitation?"
Vinick: "Sorry, guys, I got to go vote."
Reporter: "Are you going to accept his invitation?"
Vinick: "I'm sorry. I really have to go. Sorry."
Reporter: "Are you going to accept his invitation to come to his church this Sunday?"
Vinick: "Uh, I think I'm gonna, I have some TV commitments that day."
Reporter: "Meet the Press is more important than going to Reverend Butler's church?"
Vinick: "Look, I really don't, I don't know what my schedule is on Sunday. Sorry about that."
Sheila, aide to Vinick: "Get us out of here."
Reporter: "Are you going to another church on Sunday?"
Vinick: "Look, I-"
Reporter, in a question you'd never hear from a real reporter: "Do you think that doing Sunday morning TV shows is more important than going to church?"
Vinick: "Look, listen-"
Reporter: "Where do you go to church, Senator?"
# President Barlet invites Vinick to the White House to propose a deal in which Democratic Senators would support a rise in the debt ceiling if Republicans would back a hike in the minimum wage. As the two sit in the Oval Office:
President Bartlet: "Democrats withdraw the minimum wage amendment from the debt ceiling bill. You pass the bill, then you give them a vote on the minimum wage."
Vinick: "You'll lose a vote on the minimum wage."
Bartlett: "We might be able to shame enough Republicans into doing the right thing in an election year."
Vinick goes the Democratic President one better: "How about you withdraw the minimum wage amendment, we pass the debt ceiling clean, then I round up enough Republican votes to pass the minimum wage increase?"
Bartlet: "You can get that done?"
Vinick: "We have Republican Senators in seven states with higher minimum wages than the federal level. California, it's a buck fifty higher. We don't want jobs moving to lower wage states. I can get you the votes."
Bartlet: "What do you want from me?"
Vinick: "I announce the deal."
Bartlett: "I know a few Democratic candidates for President who wouldn't be happy watching you take credit for this."
Vinick: "Then let them pass the debt ceiling for you and get you the minimum wage increase."
Bartlett: "Anything else?"
Vinick: "Help me keep a secret."
Bartlett: "What's that?"
Vinick: "That I just gave you more than you asked for. Let me hang around for a while, as if we're really slugging it out in here."
# Bartlet and Vinick eat ice cream in the White House kitchen and commiserate about religion in politics:
Vinick: "Whatever happened to separation of church and state?"
Bartlet: "It's hanging in there, but I'm afraid the Constitution doesn't say anything about the separation of church and politics."
Vinick: "You saying that's a good thing?"
Bartlett: "I'm saying it's the way it is; always has been."
Vinick: "You think the voter really needs to know if I go to church?"Bartlet: "I don't need to know, but then I'm not going to vote for you, anyway."
# Final scene of the episode, Vinick in front of the White House at night with a gaggle of reporters, picking up after he touts his championing a hike in the minimum wage:
Reporter: "Senator, are you going to reconsider Reverend Butler's invitation to his church this weekend?"
Vinick: "I fully respect Reverend Butler's position. I mean, I appreciate his invitation and, look, I respect Reverend Butler and I respect his church too much to use it for my own political purposes. And that's exactly what I'd be doing if I went down there this Sunday, because the truth is it would just be an act of political phoniness. I may be wrong, but I suspect our churches already have enough political phonies in them."
Reporter: "Senator, do you or do you not-"
Vinick: "I don't see how we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religious test to get in this government. And I want to warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there. If you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They won't all lie to you, but a lot of them will, and it'll be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes. So, every day until the end of this campaign, I'll answer any question anyone has on government. But if you have a question on religion, please, go to church. Thank you."