“The race for the White House through the eyes of Carville, Matalin, Murphy and Shrum…” would have been more than enough to send me scrambling to change the channel Sunday morning…were it not my job to watch stuff like NBC’s Meet the Press.


So what does the presidential contest look like from the catbird seat that is “through the eyes of” those four individuals (with helpful moderation from Tim Russert)?


Some highlights:


Russert welcomed the familiar crew “back to the table” and then intoned, eyebrows arched, hands rubbing together in anticipation of the feast ahead, “Let’s carve up the politics.”


As ever, Russert got tough right out of the gate, forcing Carville to disclose that he is—giggles all around—a “maxed-out donor” to Hillary Clinton, and then got the group going on a discussion of whether or not Clinton is a “good candidate.”


Input from Mary Matalin (who, per Russert, “worked for Bush 41 and Bush 43 and now supports Fred Thompson”):


The best thing that could happen to Hillary Clinton is to lose Iowa. And I’m not being a contrarian or a wisenheimer… She needs to have some new narrative, the comeback kid. That’s how you guys did it, and it’s a good narrative, and it’s one—it’s one that would work for her.


(Take note, narrative-sniffing campaign reporters!)


Thoughts from Republican strategist Mike Murphy:


I think Hillary Clinton…would be a very good White House chief of staff. She’s very smart, she’s very tough…But I’m not sure she’s a very good candidate… [And later:] The reason I say she’s a weak candidate is she doesn’t fit the times, she’s not naturally charismatic. She is a tiger behind the scenes, she’s very effective, she’s very smart. But getting—the minute you walk in the room, owning it and making people like you is the magic fairy dust presidential candidates have, and she doesn’t have it…


(One assumes that one-time Murphy employers John McCain and Mitt Romney have the “magic fairy dust” of which Murphy speaks?)


Carville’s contribution:


And if I could come in and say that she, she has performed superbly well across the debates…


Which opened the door for Russert to brag about wounding Hillary at a recent debate with his “gotcha!” question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants:


But James Carville, after the Philadelphia debate you were willing to acknowledge that day it was not one of her best performances. Do you think that her answer on the driver’s license immigration issue and on other issues, or her reluctance to answer, hurt her with the honest, trustworthy questions that were asked in this poll?


At one point Russert asked this Very Important Question of the Republican race: “So who attacks whom, and how does that play?”


When both Shrum and Murphy each offered less-than-hopeful assessments of Matalin’s man Fred Thompson (Shrum: “First of all, with all due respect, I think Fred Thompson’s running like a dry creek most anywhere he goes in the country.” And Murphy: “…watching him campaign is like watching a big bear stand up and try to dance on ice.”) Matalin pushed back in this confusing exchange:


MATALIN: Here, here, here’s the difference between conservatives and Democrats. All right? There’s a parallel narrative on Fred. There’s the Beltway bloviators. They don’t like the process. They don’t like all of us. Right?

SHRUM: Mary, aren’t you one of those?


MATALIN: I am—I am a mini-bloviator…

An unapologetic maxi-bloviator, Murphy offered this breathless appraisal of the Republican contest (just try to follow this, outside-the-Beltway rube!):


… If Fred can beat Rudy in Iowa where, despite the expectations, skullduggery, where Rudy says, “Iowa, never heard of it,” he’s putting a lot of resources, then Fred’s back to life. That’s like the jumper cables that’ll get Fred back in the race, and he’ll be able to go to New Hampshire as one of the big three, and he’ll have his shot. I think, with all due respect, he’s going to need more than issue papers. He’s got to get that Fred charisma back that we know he had in ‘94. But, but that’s going to be the question, and third place in Iowa would earn him that opportunity.


Still not convinced that this was a show to be avoided, one of stale analysts offering stale analysis (not to mention self-promotion and a fixation on what Mark Halperin decreed a “campaigner equals leader” mindset?)


Sunday’s program ended with Russert wishing Carville and Matalin a happy fourteenth wedding anniversary. Where were Carville and Matalin on this romantic day in, say, 1995?

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.