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.