Is the activist wing of the GOP cynical, or stupid?
See, I have to admit that I’ve been assuming that while the “journalists” at FOX News and their related ilk were peddling political bullshit to their viewers and supporters because peddling nonsense made them rich, the elite activists in the party actually knew what they were peddling was bullshit. It is one thing, after all, to know the emperor has no clothes, and quite another to say it.
Now there has been a burst of analysis that suggests that even the elites drank the Koolaid. Dick Morris claims his “analysis” of the 2012 election was based on his estimate that the electorate in 2012 would be like that in 2004 not 2008 (and hence whiter, maler — more pro-Romney). Karl Rove’s infamous disputation of FOX’s election night call of Ohio for the Democrats fits in this vein as well: it was sincere enough and public enough that I am convinced he actually thought several months’ of polling data was wrong, and his analysis of the likely vote in Ohio was right.
This question—are the elites stupid, too?—is important for the future of the GOP. If the leadership of the GOP drank the Koolaid and actually believed the crap they peddled, then they have a great reckoning to face. If, instead, they are selling the “I was fooled” line to protect their own positions at the top of the party, then the other members of the party need to ask whether having cynical losers willing to say anything to stay in power really is the best idea.
In either case, the question that GOP supporters ought to be asking, “were our leaders stupid or cynical?,” is hardly the most positive one going forward.
The sharks have started to circle.
In this play, the role of the sharks are taken by the conservative punditocracy—those commentators who have pushed the Republican Party to be ever-more vigilant in expressing and defending conservative principles. “AMERICA IS A CONSERVATIVE COUNTRY!” they regularly intone. “BE CONSERVATIVE OR GO HOME.”
Now, however, they seem less sure. As Ross Douthat noted in his NY Times column today, many conservative talking heads are beginning to complain about what they see as an impending Romney loss. George Will, for example, stated: “If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics.” FOX talking head Laura Ingraham commented, “If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party.” The American right’s pet academic Britisher, Niall Ferguson, insisted that Obama’s success and Romney’s failure meant “the law of political gravity has been suspended.”
There’s something important going on here: the pundits are working hard to shift the blame for Romney’s seeming inevitable loss.
In the pundits’ growing narrative, their side’s probable loss in 2012 is a result of Romney’s flaws and the party’s incompetence. It’s the result of the failure to be conservative enough. It’s the result of the American people being taken in by Obama’s hypnotic spell.
In other words, IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT.
There’s much wrong in the pundits’ narrative, of course. As it happens, they’re wrong on the nature of American public opinion: Americans are indeed conservative on taxes, but they love government programs like Social Security and Medicare and the military. They’re wrong on Obama’s record, which is much stronger than they imagine it to be.
More, the pundits have conveniently forgotten that the party tossed up an array of nominees to challenge Romney, each seeming more flawed than the one before: the politically damaged Newt Gingrich; the personality challenged Tim Pawlenty; the anti-Republican Ron Paul; the high flying but inexperienced businessman Herman Cain; the right wing red meat of Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and even befuddled Rick Perry. Romney was the only one with the organization and the money to stagger through—with little help from a punditocracy that didn’t really like him.
Still and all, one of the advantages of buying news ink by the barrel (or driving hits to your website) is that once the campaign ends, the pundits will “explain” the loss—and, magically, it won’t be their fault.
When Andrew Breitbart suddenly died, political blogs were filled with the news. This makes sense: he was an important figure in contemporary political life.
But, importantly, many if not most of the comments I saw made quick mention of their decision and/or belief that any comments about Breitbart ought to acknowledge that he was a human being with family and friends who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect—despite, the blogs either said or implied, the fact that Breitbart himself treated no one with dignity and respect.
Which, if you think about it, is a hell of a thing. The best thing even Breitbart’s defenders could say about him was that his wife and children loved him. Which is great and all, but really speaks to a profound change in the way our society seems to work.
See, for much of world history one’s legacy mattered. People wanted to be thought of well by the generations that followed. At one extreme, this led conquering monarchs to slaughter untold masses in grabs for glory, or cruel kings to enslave thousands to build monuments to the king’s wonderfulness. (Think the Pyramids of Giza as one obvious example.)
But far more commonly the desire to be remembered well led people to try to lead good lives based on helping their family and/or their community be a better place. This kind of concern for legacy is reflected when a bench in a park gets named for someone who took extra time every day to feed the ducks in cold snaps, or when a school takes the name of an honored graduate. It is why life in the places we live gets better … if it does.
Unfortunately, many of us have lost this sense of living for one’s legacy. All that matters is the now: the most expressive, most profitable, most dramatic presentation of self possible. In a choice between being the quiet person who takes time to clean up litter in the park everyday, or being Snooki, whose only talent seems to be an unashamed willingness to be filmed while behaving badly, many—too many—people take the Snooki way.
This was Andrew Breitbart’s way. He did not care if something was true or not. He did not care if innocent, good people got crushed as he pursued his agenda. All he cared about—at least in his public persona—was advancing his cause.
Now I know that he would say he had to do it: that the left is so vile and so hateful that he had no choice. I know he would say that in such a world “facts” are fungible in the service of “good” as he defines it.
But I don’t buy it. We all have choices. Breitbart chose to pursue a politics that was nasty and mean—not just in the policies he advocated, but also in the ways he pursued them.
Whatever his personal legacy, Andrew Breitbart’s political legacy is having made American politics worse. His is the legacy of a man who, at the end of a significant public life, has to be remembered in spite of what he did, not because of what he did.
Let the rest of us do better.
As we have the Michigan and Arizona primaries today, I thought we should think back to those halcyon days of, oh, seven weeks ago or so (!) when everybody who was anybody saw a Romney runaway with the Republican presidential nomination.
I, too, argued that Romney was likely to win—a position I still take. He has more organization than anyone else, and historically it has been organization, matched with money, that sustains candidates in long, drawn out fights.
But I didn’t argue the “easy victory” point. I didn’t argue it for a simple reason: NO ONE HAD VOTED YET.
Media and political commentators love to “declare” things well before they happen—such declarations make them seem important and wise. The thing is, military officers are taught a lesson that is entirely applicable to political campaigns. No battle plan, commanders are taught, survives first contact with the enemy because the enemy gets a say in how the battle unfolds.
Much the same is true in elections: no assumptions survive first contact with the voters because it is the voters, not the commentators, who determine who wins and loses elections.
So remember: no matter what commentary one hears tonight, the primaries won’t be over—even if the talking robots on CNN, MSNBC and FOX say they are. To quote the inimitable Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Shhhh. Hear that? That’s right: you don’t really hear anything. It’s as if the presidential campaign is on hold.
It isn’t, of course. There are elections in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado today. Missouri is having a so-called “beauty contest” that will register voters’ support for a candidate but which will not lead to the selection of any actual delegates to the convention; both Minnesota and Colorado are have what amounts to straw polls before selecting delegates in March.
Notably, Rick Santorum is likely to “win” both Missouri and Minnesota today. Meaning that, regardless of delegate counts, he is likely to end today having won about as many states as Romney has.
And no one cares.
We find ourselves in this absurd situation because of the intersection of two remarkable trends, both of which deserve more comment than they are receiving.
Trend 1 is the Republican Party’s desperate effort to beat back the tide of front-loading that has shaped most recent election contests. More and more states have pushed the dates of their primaries forward, trying to have their citizens have a chance to influence the selection of the party’s nominee. Think about it: lots of people want the race to be over ALREADY, when all of 5 states have voted. To have a voice, states have to schedule their primaries early in the campaign season. So states have been changing their dates earlier and earlier in the campaign cycle.
The Republican Party, by contrast, wants to pace the elections out a bit. So it has decided to sanction those states that schedule primaries before March by not seating delegates elected from early voting states (other than those from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, 1/2 of Florida’s delegates, and Nevada). Sound absurd? It is. But it’s true.
Trend 2 is the media’s insistence that it is the story. CNN, FOX and the other media covering the election seem to believe that they “call” the election—that it’s up to them to decide who wins and who loses the nomination. And right now they have a narrative, an explanation for what is going to happen and why. It’s the “Romney is inevitable” narrative.
So what is the media to do when two of three states holding elections in a given day don’t comply with the “Romney is inevitable” narrative? Well that’s easy:
You (don’t) hear it everywhere.