Charles Barkley, the former basketball star turned sports commentator and CNN host, called supporters of former President Donald J. Trump “a small little group of nutty people” Wednesday night.
Speaking on “King Charles,” the weekly show he hosts with the “CBS Mornings” anchor Gayle King, Mr. Barkley said that he was concerned by Mr. Trump’s refusal to say in a Fox News interview that he would not be a dictator “except for Day 1” of his presidency.
Mr. Barkley, whose CNN show debuted last week to low ratings, said he worried that Mr. Trump would be more focused on retribution against the media and his political opponents than on the economic concerns of the American public.
“I’m not a big Trump fan. I’m just not. ’Cause like I say, it’s the president of the United States. It ain’t for no small little group of nutty people,” Mr. Barkley said.
When pressed that Mr. Trump’s supporters might object to that label, Mr. Barkley doubled down on his comments. “I only call them that because they are,” he said. “They’re crazy. They’re like your drunk friend. Like, once your friend’s drunk, there’s nothing you can say to him.”
Mr. Barkley’s remarks about Mr. Trump’s political base, which at this point is a significant share of the Republican Party, stood out, given CNN’s recent efforts to broaden its appeal and to court conservative viewers.
Under its previous chief executive, Chris Licht, the network focused on including on-air perspectives from analysts and subjects from across the political spectrum, including more Republican officials and conservative commentators. Mr. Licht was fired from the network in June and replaced by Mark Thompson, the former head of The New York Times and the BBC, in October.
Mr. Barkley has been a sports commentator for more than two decades and considers himself an independent. He was part of Mr. Licht’s strategy to win over a new audience after years of what many media observers say was intensely critical coverage of the Trump administration under the leadership of CNN Worldwide’s former president, Jeff Zucker.
Mr. Barkley, who retired from professional basketball in 2000, had entertained the idea of entering politics — perhaps running for governor of Alabama — but ultimately dismissed the prospect.
He has recently criticized both Mr. Trump and President Biden. In October, he said on a streaming show on Max that he did not think Mr. Trump “represents a statesman, civility, things like that,” while he believed that Mr. Biden was too old to run again.
“I don’t feel really good about either one of them,” Mr. Barkley said.
In the past, broad criticism of Mr. Trump’s supporters has caused a firestorm. Toward the end of the 2016 election campaign, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, called many of Mr. Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables.” Mr. Trump and other Republicans seized on that remark to paint her as out-of-touch with the electorate.
CNN will be hosting two Republican primary debates next month ahead of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.