Jen Psaki made a big splash in the media landscape when she announced earlier this year she was joining MSNBC after serving 15 months as White House press secretary.
Psaki was highly praised during her tenure as President Biden’s chief spokesperson by her liberal fans in the media but even many of her conservative critics acknowledged she was effective at her job. She became a household name for spinning on behalf of her boss and carrying water for Democrats at large.
But now, as an MSNBC analyst, she no longer sounding like the left’s biggest cheerleader.
In her debut network appearance on “Alex Wagner Tonight,” Psaki cautioned Democrats on the “really risky” strategy they’ve deployed in boosting so-called “MAGA” candidates in GOP primaries in hopes for an easier defeat in the midterm elections.
“You really don’t know how it’s going to turn out. And that’s scary,” Psaki told host Alex Wagner on Sept. 13.
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When asked how she viewed the Democrat prospects in the midterms, Psaki entertained Wagner’s suggestion that the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade can fuel a “referendum” on Republicans instead of the party in control like in previous midterm cycles.
But she later tamped down Wagner’s eagerness for Democrat victories.
“While I think a lot of Democrats are feeling better as they should, there’s a long way to go here,” Psaki said. “If the election were tomorrow, I think the House would be a big uphill battle. That would be a bit of a leap. The Senate, more of a toss-up. But there are different dynamics that we should pay close attention to too.”
Since then, polls that once gave Democrats a glimmer of hope in potentially maintaining control of Congress following the Dobbs decision and a string of legislative victories for the Biden administration quickly shifted back in favor of Republicans.
“Psaki must realize that spinning her way through a session, which was her role as press secretary, no longer will fly,” Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson told Fox News Digital. “She has her own reputation to worry about now, so it’s not surprising she’s putting forth a realistic assessment of where things stand.”
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On “Meet The Press,” Psaki offered a stark warning for Democrats that “they will lose” if voters view the midterms as a referendum on her former boss.
“Look, I think that Democrats, if the election is about who is the most extreme, as we saw, you know, Kevin McCarthy touch on there with Marjorie Taylor Greene, I’ll say her name, sitting over his left side, then they’re going to win. If it is a referendum on the president, they will lose, and they know that,” Psaki said on the Sept. 25 broadcast.
Psaki also sounded the alarm that crime is a “huge vulnerability” for Democrats, pointing to the “millions” in GOP spending towards the Pennsylvania Senate race using the issue of crime to target Democratic candidate John Fetterman.
NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck acknowledged that Psaki was “effective at her job” as White House press secretary and called her a “savvy political operator,” but he cautioned viewers on her tamer commentary, saying Psaki “shouldn’t be confused as a conservative or even a moderate,” telling Fox News Digital that MSNBC “shored up their ranks with the Democratic establishment.”
Last week on “Morning Joe,” Psaki softened her opposition to the Democrat strategy of funding “MAGA” candidates, saying both Democrats and Republicans “have been playing in primaries for decades” and that this can be chalked up as “three-dimensional politics.”
While discussing key Senate races, though, Psaki said it is “mind-bending” that both Georgia Republican Herschel Walker and Pennsylvania candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz are “very much in the running” to win both their races despite their various issues on the campaign trail.
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“And it’s important for us sitting in Washington or New York to remember that in Pennsylvania, in Georgia, in Nevada, people are voting around a range of issues,” Psaki told her MSNBC colleagues last Tuesday.
After recapping Walker’s abortion controversy that dominated headlines, Psaki acknowledged “these are divided states” and “purple states” and “sometimes red-leaning states.”
“And I think we have to be really mindful about the demographics, about the issues at play and about the fact that as we get closer, it’s going to continue to tighten,” Psaki said.
On Sunday’s “Meet The Press,” Psaki predicted that the Georgia Senate race will go into a run-off in December rather than suggesting a decisive victory for Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who she praised for “letting Herschel Walker wallow in his muddy pit of scandal” instead of attacking his GOP rival on it.
“So you don’t think he should take the gloves off at this point,” NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker asked.
“I actually think, for the moment, you always have to reevaluate in campaigns, you evaluate week by week… he may have to decide to take the gloves off at some point, but I don’t think he has to do that now,” Psaki responded.
The former Biden aide later revived her concerns about the issue of crime hurting Democrats, particularly in the Wisconsin Senate race, where she dinged Democratic candidate Mandela Barnes for invoking Jan. 6 during a debate to accuse GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of not supporting police.
“Crime is an issue that Democrats have to speak to,” Psaki said. “I think there was a missed opportunity there from Mandela Barnes. When he talked about the insurrection, I think that was a little disconnected from what people in Wisconsin are feeling. I mean, crime is up in Milwaukee.
“That’s what people are thinking about with their fears when they’re when they go out their door, less than the insurrection honestly,” she added.
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Jacobson suggested that even if Psaki isn’t the firebrand MSNBC thought it hired, the network will be better off with her on the roster.
“MSNBC may never pivot to the center, but perhaps it wants as least some voices of reason among its vitriolic hosting crew. Psaki would help serve that purpose,” Jacobson said.
Houck predicted Psaki’s Peacock show she is set to host will still be a “safe space” for Democrats but the fact that she isn’t a “bomb thrower” like some outspoken MSNBC commentators.
“I think, by doing little in the way of rocking the boat, Psaki can ensure a tenure for as long as she deems fit in the event that MSNBC is forced to come back towards reality and where most Americans stand politically,” Houck said.
MSNBC is taking a big gamble to give a program to talent untested as Jen Psaki, an Obama administration veteran who was previously an CNN analyst before joining the Biden administration.
So far, MSNBC was dealt a bad hand with Symone Sanders, the former top aide to Vice President Kamala Harris who similarly left the Biden administration to join the liberal network to host a weekend show.
In May, “Symone” debuted with only 361,000 viewers and a paltry 29,000 in the advertiser-coveted 25-to-54 demographic. She did even worse on Sunday, reaching just 344,000 total viewers. Since then, her show has rarely cracked 500,000 viewers.
MSNBC is currently undergoing a viewership crisis, which began following the departure of former President Trump. Rachel Maddow, the network’s biggest star who reportedly negotiated a whopping $30 million contract, rolled back her program to Mondays earlier this year, leaving a four-day vacuum in primetime. MSNBC tapped Alex Wagner to fill Maddow’s shoes and her audience is a fraction of her predecessor’s.
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Several other changes have been made at MSNBC. “Morning Joe” was extended to an unprecedented fourth hour of programming, Stephanie Ruhle was moved to anchor “The 11th Hour” following the departure of Brian Williams and Chuck Todd’s weekday show as pulled by the network and moved to NBC’s live-streaming network NBC News Now.
Additionally, Peacock canceled two programs led by MSNBC weekend host Ayman Mohyeldin and analyst Zerlina Maxwell, who has since left the network entirely after her show was axed.