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CBS's Lesley Stahl Imagines 'Huge Potential Advantage' for Democrats Over Rand Paul

On MSNBC's Morning Joe on Friday, CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl sounded positively giddy at the possibility of Democrats exploiting the Rand Paul round of TV interviews. She pushed David Gregory to agree with her that the Democrats can gain a "huge potential advantage" for suggesting the Republicans are extreme on everything.

STAHL: David, don't you think, though, that the Republicans [she must mean Democrats] can use this? You say they, that the Republicans would like it to go back to the economy and debt. But can't they use this sort of extreme image and say that the views on the economy and what the prescription is, for the debt, is even more extreme? Because they want to tamper with Social Security and Medicare, and doesn't this open up a huge potential advantage for the Democrats?

GREGORY: Oh, for the Democrats, certainly, yeah. I mean-

STAHL: But on the economy, specifically. That they can move it over to that and say "Everything they do is extreme."

GREGORY: Yeah. No, I think that's right. I think it can undermine Republicans as a credible alternative.

Stahl sounded especially odd for accusing the Republicans of wanting to "tamper" with Medicare when the ObamaCare architects clearly advocated $500 billion in Medicare cuts as part of their health care "reform." If tampering is "extreme," then so are the Democrats.

Stahl certainly stood in opposition to the old Tim Russert conventional-wisdom refrain that you can't seriously try to reduce the national debt without "tampering" with entitlement spending like Social Security and Medicare.

Here's more of the Rand Paul conversation from the middle of the 7 am hour that drew out Stahl's giddiness.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Has Rand Paul given Democrats and moderate Republicans a little less to worry about?

GREGORY: Well, he's certainly given Republicans something to worry about, and this was the very fear that Republican officials have about the Tea Party. I spoke to officials this week who say "Look, we're riding a tiger here, and we don't know exactly which direction it's going to take us, whether it's going to eat us up." If the Tea Party folks like Rand Paul can pull the party more toward fiscal conservatism and help candidates speak about the budget and taxes in a way that's really going to resonate with voters, fine. If they're going to get off track talking about civil rights and other more fringe discussion, then that's something else, and I think this is the territory that we're in now.

Mark Halperin at Time asked NBC's Chuck Todd about how the Democrats would try and exploit the Paul interviews nationwide, that "you saw as I did, in your inbox, fifty press releases from the Democrats." Todd agreed:

TODD: Democratic Senate candidates in Iowa, and in Missouri, and in Ohio, were all asking if their opponent would take a stand and had reaction to what Rand Paul says.

It goes to what David was referring to, which is, okay, Rand Paul has taken the Tea Party and gone mainstream, or gone national, and the question is are they gonna be, is the Tea Party gonna be seen as this entity that is concerned about the debt, that is concerned about the size of government, or is the Tea Party going to get painted as this extreme, sort of anti-minority - you know, angry at Hispanics, or angry at African-Americans - is that what it's going to be turned into?

And clearly yesterday, Democrats smelled a little bit of blood and were hoping to get Rand Paul, somehow, to be part of the conversation in 15 Senate races around the country.

It's somehow less than uncanny that the Democrats "somehow" trying to make Rand Paul a story coincided with MSNBC putting the story in heavy rotation yesterday. When Democrats "smell blood," MSNBC is there. Fifty e-mails in the liberal media inbox easily translate into MSNBC's Message of the Day, from nine to five - eight segments adding up to 37 minutes - even before the radical talkers kick in.

Gregory spurred Stahl's question with this observation:

GREGORY: The number one thing that mainstream Republicans say about the Tea Party as a positive is if we can get to talking about the debt and fiscal issues and away from social issues, that's what we need as a party. Well, look at where Rand Paul has, as Chuck has alluded to, has landed that discussion. About civil rights. About the party's views about minorities.

And oh, by the way, this is happening in the middle of this debate, sub rosa, in terms of legislation about immigration. The Republican Party does not want to go near immigration reform this year. It's horrible for their party right now because it cleaves them in two, at least in two, and the Tea Party is not going to be helpful to that, necessarily. So again, this takes them in a direction that a lot of Republicans worry about.

It could be a network motto. "MSNBC: Taking the news in a direction that Republicans worry about."

-Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.