This is a very subtle mashup. Rachel Maddow (again) was referring to Dean Acheson’s speech and said it might have “played a factor” in leading to the Korean War. This is a congruent conflation of “played a role (or part)” and “is a factor in (or factored in)”, both meaning to have a specific involvement or participation in something. Based on google hits, this is a very common malaphor. Thanks again to Frank King for hearing this one and dropping me a line.
Talk shows (particularly political talk shows) are full of malaphors. You can read more of them in my book, “He Smokes Like a Fish and other Malaphors”, available on Amazon. Makes a great addition to any bathroom library!