MSNBC host Chris Matthews is no Republican sympathizer, but he is not doing the Democratic Party any favors by making three of its key members squirm on live television with a simple question: What's the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?
Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, have gotten the Matthews treatment with that question, and each came off looking uncomfortable.
Schultz refused to distinguish the two in July, saying that the real debate in the race would be the contrasts between Republicans and Democrats. When Meet the Press host Chuck Todd offered her a reprieve a few days later, she still failed to answer the question.
Clinton, who is trying to counter a challenge from avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in what has become an embarrassingly close primary fight, was unnerved by the question this month, ultimately offering that she was not a socialist but a "progressive Democrat." She did not outline the differences.
Matthews posed the same question to Schumer on Tuesday as part of a preview for President Obama's State of the Union address. Schumer dodged, saying, "Oh, it depends how you define each one, doesn't it?"
It got more uncomfortable from there:
"Well, you do it," Matthews said with a fat grin.
"Well, I’m not going to get into it," Schumer said with an equally fat—though probably strained—grin.
Matthews didn’t drop the subject without a fight.
"You guys are well-schooled in political language and nomenclature. You’re quite capable of defining the difference between a socialist, self-described and a Democrat self-described. What is it?" Matthews asked.
Schumer responded that he had nothing bad to say about his socialist colleague Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), but did not address the difference between a socialist and a Democrat.
Matthews seemed to think this omission was telling.
"You’ve told me so much. Whenever I hear you not speak, it teaches me a great deal," Matthews said.
As Clinton and Sanders battle for the soul of the Democratic Party in 2016, the distinctions between liberals and far-left socialists seem to be blurring.