Keeping it real
Ben Adler has a good piece in CJR about the discipline of the conservative message machine. I had been thinking they were exerting more influence before and this article confirms it. He details a series of backtracks and clarifications once the Limbaugh and Fox News corner exerts themselves:
[T]he power of partisan message enforcement only works in one direction—rightward. Consider Rick Perry’s assertion that it would be “almost treasonous” for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, originally an appointee of George W. Bush, to attempt monetary stimulus a mere 16 months before an election, coupled with a vague threat of mob violence should Bernanke visit Texas. Most conservative pundits gave Perry a pass. Karl Rove, who has a longstanding personal grudge with Perry, took issue with the comments on Fox News. But the rest of the conservative choir stayed mostly silent; Perry was not forced to backtrack to appease outraged talk radio hosts. He never apologized.
Leftward deviations from the party line, on the other hand, are swiftly punished. The issue of immigration provides a perfect case study in the contrast. Just two weeks before the Cain episode, when Perry said that those who disagree with his decision to let illegal immigrants brought to America as children attend Texas public universities at in-state rates “don’t have a heart,” the condemnation in the conservative media was swift and furious. “This isn’t even an immigration issue any more,” wrote Mark Krikorian in a typical blog post for National Review. “This is the same ‘kinder, gentler,’ ‘compassionate conservatism’ contempt for the grassroots that animates much of the Republican party establishment. Perry can shoot coyotes from now till doomsday and he’s never going to live this down.” When Perry inevitably retreated, telling the conservative website Newsmax.com that he had been “over-passionate” in his word choice, blogger Michelle Malkin complained that Perry did not actually use the word “sorry.”
Meanwhile, the speed with which conservative pundits can force a candidate to reverse himself on a relatively moderate view continues to accelerate. On the morning of October 25, while campaigning in Ohio, Romney was asked whether he supported Gov. John Kasich’s anti-union referendum. Not wanting to alienate any voters in a general election swing state, Romney punted. “I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,” Romney said. “Those are up to the people of Ohio.”
By early afternoon the conservative press was apoplectic. “If Romney can’t endorse this common sense reform at the state level, why should conservatives believe he will fight against government unions at the federal level,” wrote Conn Carroll of The Washington Examiner. “This is a huge freaking deal,” wrote Erickson, adding a warning to Romney: “Typically, when a politician stands for nothing except his own election, he winds up not getting elected.” For the rest of the day Romney’s campaign tried to stay away from the issue. “Gov. Romney believes that the citizens of states should be able to make decisions about important matters of policy that affect their states on their own,” his campaign spokesman told National Review.
But by the next day it was clear this evasion wouldn’t fly. At a rally in Virginia, Romney abjectly apologized for straying from his partisan marching orders. “I’m sorry if I created any confusion in that regard,” he said. “I fully support Gov. Kasich, I think it’s called Question 2, in Ohio. Fully support that.” Limbaugh boasted, with reason, that he and his friends were responsible for this turn of events.
Remember after the 2008 rout when Limbaugh showed up at CPAC and made his kooky speech saying that he wanted Obama to fail and all the Villagers said he was a has-been and nobody would ever listen to him again? Yeah, me too.
I think we need to start thinking about Limbaugh and Fox and the rightwing noise machine differently. They aren't an adjunct of the Republican establishment. They are the Republican establishment.(Or, as David Atkins puts it,"Fox News is no longer the propaganda arm for the GOP. The GOP is the legislative arm of the conservative media empire.")