Should Chris Matthews be fired for 'race card' rant at RNC chief?

MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews unleashed a rant at Republican National Committee Chief Reince Priebus Monday, leading to calls among some conservatives that he be fired. 

Charles Dharapak/AP
Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus gavels the Republican National Convention open in Tampa, Fla., on Monday.

Should Chris Matthews get fired for his “race card” rant at RNC chief Reince Priebus? That’s a big discussion on Twitter and in various other social media at the moment. In case you haven’t heard about it, Matthews went thermo-ballistic at Mr. Priebus on MSNBC Monday morning, yelling that some Republican campaign memes are meant to appeal to racial prejudice.

On the “Morning Joe” appearance Mr. Matthews began with Mitt Romney’s bad joke about his own birth certificate, moved somewhat nonsensically through Mr. Romney’s prep school education and financial background, and then ended up with the Romney ad that falsely claims Obama is repealing work requirements for welfare. All these things depict the incumbent as the “other,” someone not like us, and thus constitute race-baiting, alleged Matthews.

“It is an embarrassment to your party to play that card,” Matthews muttered at Priebus, who clearly had not expected to be hit by a Category 3 word-icane.

“Garbage, garbage,” Priebus replied.

“It’s your garbage,” said Matthews.

Hmm. OK then. That brightened up everybody’s bagel and hot beverage, didn’t it?

We’ve got a couple of things to say in response to this.

First, all you conservatives out there calling for Matthews to suddenly experience unemployment, you’re going to be disappointed. MSNBC wants to be the anti-Fox, and this only helps that branding. From the network executive point of view, the whole thing was great television. Matthews was surprisingly angry; Priebus was dumbfounded, like somebody who’s found a bug in their jam jar; and the supporting cast was shocked, and tried to rein in their co-broadcaster.

They were unsuccessful.

Second, this doesn’t mean the incident is good for Matthews’ media career. Yes, he’s well known for rants – people make highlight tapes of them to post on YouTube, as if they were hockey fights. Yes, his bosses might even praise him, and he’ll get lots of “atta-boys” from liberals.

“I’ve never heard – never heard – such a positive response,” said Matthews in an interview with Politico.

But live by the rant, die by the rant. Metaphorically speaking. Republican guests are going to be increasingly wary of appearing with Matthews, and those that do may come rhetorically armed. Matthews got a taste of that a few hours later on Monday when he tangled with Newt Gingrich. The ex-GOP hopeful is pretty good at insults too, and he accused Matthews himself of being a “racist” because he (Matthews) said the phrase “food stamp president” is racial code, too.

“Why do you assume ‘food stamp’ refers to black? What kind of racist thinking do you have?” said Mr. Gingrich.

Matthews may get tired of his interviews all degenerating into Word Fight Club. Though come to think of it, a Matthews-Gingrich show could be pretty compelling.

Meanwhile, Tom Brokaw’s been lost in the shuffle here. He was sitting next to Matthews on Monday when the fuse burned down. Eventually, he crawled out from under the Matthews-caused wreckage to pronounce that he didn’t think Romney’s birth certificate joke was racial. It was “awkward,” said the former anchor. But he went on to castigate Priebus, and by extension the Republican leadership, for allowing a lot of ugly stuff to pass unchallenged during the GOP primaries, dealing with the president’s heritage, his “socialism,” and so forth.

“I think [that stuff] comes the other way, too, from Democrats to Republicans,” said Mr. Brokaw. “That’s what’s made Americans fed up with politics.”

Amen to that. See you along the way, Tom.

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