When CNN in September hired former White House press secretary Jay Carney as a political analyst, the 24/7 cable network made no bogus promises of neutrality from this Obama confidant and former journalist. “He shares largely, I assume, the viewpoint of the administration, but that doesn’t make him any less valuable,” CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist told the Erik Wemple Blog in September.
With a long history as both pundit and punching bag for Obama critics, Carney, it must be said, doesn’t stumble when it’s his turn to talk on the CNN set. He articulates his points in strong and discrete bursts, and it’s unlikely that he’ll contribute to the cable-news gaffe industry. Those traits Carney shares with his predecessors in the press secretary position, explaining why so many of them — Ari Fleischer, Dana Perino, Dee Dee Myers, Robert Gibbs, for instance — have gone on to cable glory.
The underside to the arrangement is the possibility of cautious commentary that sounds little different from the stuff they used to say while on the government payroll. And last night, Carney made that possibility an actuality by:
Tamping down expectations: Early in the evening, Carney encouraged viewers to “resist” interpreting a Republican seizure of the Senate as “something historic. . . . It won’t be historic if the Republicans pick up six seats, because the average number of seats that the out party has picked up in the sixth year of a presidency is six. So instead it will be average; it won’t be a wave.” It turned out to be a wave.
Shaming Democrats who kept President Obama away in the campaign: “When Michael Bennet pulled out that remarkable victory [for a Colorado Senate seat] back in a very bad year for Democrats [in 2010], Barack Obama campaigned for him. In this cycle. Mark Udall did not want Barack Obama to campaign for him. And now there are a lot of things that go into these narrow, narrow victories and narrow, narrow losses. But I think that speaks to some of the decisions that Democratic candidates made around the country when it came to asking the president to come out.”
Saying some really empty stuff: “I think no matter what happens — and I think it’s likely the Republicans win the Senate — the White House was planning to and will try to engage with the new leaders of the Senate and the Congress and make an effort to demonstrate a willingness to cooperate in a bipartisan fashion.” And in this same category, another sound bite: “I know that Barack Obama is a very competitive person. And I know that he will look at the final two years of his presidency an opportunity to secure his legacy by getting some things done. And if the only way to get something done is by, you know, reaching out and trying to find bipartisan compromise with a Republican Congress, I believe he will try to do that.”
Casting the president as a Washington detractor: “Like a lot of Americans, he’s sick and tired of what’s happening in Washington.”
And, it should be noted, laying out some pretty decent punditry: “The real test will be — will Republicans pass the Paul Ryan budget? And pass it through both houses, and will that become the governing documents that they want to put forward, because the Paul Ryan budget is not a workable document for or budget for the American people. It’s just not popular, it was devastating for Mitt Romney, it rewards wealthy Americans over middle-class Americans and it’s a losing proposition.”
There’s no argument here that Carney’s pro-Obama comments plant an imbalance in CNN’s political conversation, considering that there are plenty of conservative voices — Newt Gingrich, S.E. Cupp and others — to contest him. Feist said that over time, Carney’s viewpoints would “diverge” from those of his ex-employer. Something else to watch for in 2016.