For GOP national candidates, navigating the conservative media is kind of like NASA executing a gravitational slingshot: there's a hot, dense center of gravity that you want to get just close enough to so that your campaign rocket ship gets a boost in the right direction. Veer too far and you'll drift into the political void. Get too close and you'll crash hard onto Planet Wingnut.
This complicated act of political physics is becoming a defining characteristic of national Republican politics. Would-be candidates who don't hold elected office or otherwise lack a national platform turn to Fox News for exposure (and in the case of paid contributors, a paycheck). Anyone who wants to make it past the Ames straw poll can't risk drawing the ire of a big name radio host. Of course, as Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum can attest, you can't be too cozy with the activist right either. It's tough to pull off, particularly as talk radio and conservative online media slouch further and further to the right.
Those of us who remember the 2012 election know that presidential candidates who channel the conservative blogosphere and poach talking points from Fox News quickly run into trouble. Mitt Romney's exposition on the 47 percent and his claims about President Obama's global "apology tour" traced their roots back to the conservative blogosphere. Romney (one could argue) indulged in this sort of rhetoric because he felt he had to boost his standing among the Republican base.
With that in mind, we turn to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose trip to Iowa last week stoked a round of 2016 speculation. Cruz is a different matter from the likes of Romney. Conservative activists love the junior senator from Texas, and he's a Fox News favorite (a Nexis search shows he's been on Hannity five times this year already). He'll enthusiastically grab onto conservative media narratives and carry them into Senate hearing rooms.
The polling firm Gallup has agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle civil charges that the company had kept two sets of books in order to overbill federal agencies by millions of dollars. The Daily Caller and Fox News had previously floated a conspiracy theory suggesting that the lawsuit was related to supposed efforts by the Obama campaign to "subtly intimidate" the firm to compel them to produce polling results more favorable to Obama.
The Daily Caller had also helped to smear the whistleblower who first exposed Gallup's alleged practices, Michael Lindley, publishing a variety of unsubstantiated criticisms of Lindley from an unnamed "senior Gallup official." Under the terms of the settlement, Lindley, who says he was fired in July 2009 after warning his superiors that he would go to the Justice Department if the company did not stop illegally overbilling the federal government on their contracts with the U.S. Mint and the State Department, will receive $1.9 million.
In a September 6, 2012, story, headlined "Justice Dept. Gallup lawsuit came after Axelrod criticized pollsters," then-Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle wrote:
Internal emails between senior officials at The Gallup Organization, obtained by The Daily Caller, show senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod attempting to subtly intimidate the respected polling firm when its numbers were unfavorable to the president.
After Gallup declined to change its polling methodology, Obama's Department of Justice hit it with an unrelated lawsuit that appears damning on its face.
Boyle summarized on Twitter:
The alleged "intimidation" cited in the emails Boyle highlighted were complaints among Gallup executives that Obama strategist David Axelrod had sent a tweet criticizing Gallup's "methodological problems" in its polling of the presidential race. In June, Gallup acknowledged that their methodology had indeed been flawed, leading the firm to consistently overestimate Mitt Romney's support.
As even conservative bloggers noted, Boyle's conspiracy theory made little sense: a single tweet from an Obama aide did not suggest Gallup's polling was a priority, there was little upside to trying to intimidate the firm, and the timeline showed that the Justice Department had been involved with the case for years before the tweet was issued.
Nonetheless, Fox quickly adopted Boyle's conspiratorial frame. In a September 7 segment on his Fox Business program, Stuart Varney fabricated direct contacts between Axelrod and the Gallup employees to claim that the Gallup executives "had felt threatened." A few hours later on Fox News' America Live, guest anchor Shannon Bream said the Caller's story "suggests a conspiracy theory" between the filing of the DOJ lawsuit and Axelrod's "angry tweet." Both guests, attorney Brian Claypool and GOP pollster Chris Wilson, agreed that there was a connection between the two events; Wilson said it was indicative of "Chicago-style politics" on the part of President Obama and called it "frightening," while Claypool said the DOJ "needs to hire Houdini right now as a legal consultant" to "get them out of this mess."
In fact, the DOJ's own lawyers were sufficient to convince Gallup to pay more than $10 million rather than risk continued legal action.
In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
On last night's edition of Cam & Company on National Rifle Association News, host Cam Edwards and guest Jim Geraghty of the National Review Online baselessly attacked the methodology of a bipartisan poll that showed voters in Virginia, Colorado, and North Carolina trusted President Obama more on gun policy than Mitt Romney.
A poll by Democratic pollster Momentum Analysis and Republican pollster Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that voters in Virginia trusted President Obama more than Mitt Romney on guns by a 9 point margin, and in Colorado and North Carolina by four and one point margins.
Edwards and Geraghty erroneously claimed that the poll could not have produced meaningful results because they said it only sampled 500 voters across three states, and they questioned whether the sample was representative. In fact, the poll's methodology clearly states that 500 voters were sampled in each of three states polled, a sample size commonly used among professional pollsters. Reached for comment, the pollsters indicated that they used "industry accepted" techniques in conducting the poll.
The latest blow to the media myth that the National Rifle Association has the ability to determine election results is a Politico article reporting the result of a bipartisan poll that showed voters trusted Obama more than Romney on the issue of guns in North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado.
The NRA spent nearly $12 million dollars on an "All In" campaign to remove Obama from office, but was unable to deliver. Voters in Virginia trusted President Obama more than Mitt Romney on guns by a 9 point margin, and in Colorado and North Carolina by four and one point margins. Despite massive ad buys, less than 27 percent of voters in the three states polled recalled seeing the NRA's campaign material.
Politico quoted Mayors Against Illegal Guns director Mark Glaze reacting to the poll, which his organization paid for, as evidence that "the NRA has built a mythology around their ability to swing elections that has little basis in fact."
During the November 18 edition of ABC's This Week, conservative Washington Post columnist George Will suggested that the tax policy of House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has a weightier mandate than President Obama's proposals because Republicans retained a majority in the House in the 2012 elections. In fact, Democratic House candidates received more votes than Republicans, who retained a majority largely because of widespread gerrymandering.
According to Will, House Republicans possess a greater mandate because "almost every member of John Boehner's caucus won his or her seat by a much bigger margin than Mr. Obama won his renewed term."
GEORGE WILL: The President denounced the House Republicans across this country as obstructionists. The country said, "We hear you," and they sent them back to continue being a brake on the President. And almost every member of John Boehner's caucus won his or her seat by a much bigger margin than Mr. Obama won his renewed term.
In making this comment, Will joined a chorus of right-wing media figures who have denied an Obama mandate in the wake of his electoral victory. During the November 7 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Dick Morris claimed that Obama does not have a mandate because "he is the first President of the United States ever to be re-elected by less than he got elected by." The same day, The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that "Speaker John Boehner can negotiate knowing he has as much of a mandate as the President."
These claims ignore that the continued Republican majority in the House is the result of favorable redistricting rather than the will of the people.
Continuing his post-election meltdown, Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent, who is also a National Rifle Association board member, claimed in a November 15 column that America may not be able to survive "four more years of Mr. Obama and his Big Wrecking Crew government liberal jihad."
Nugent also amplified his attack on downtrodden areas of America, claiming that urban cities are "rusting wrecks full of unemployed scavengers." He singled out East St. Louis, Illinois and Detroit, Michigan, which he described as "hell-scapes of dependent hopelessness." In an October 30 interview with the Times, Nugent called the majority of Detroit residents "pimps, whores and welfare brats that have made bloodsucking a lifestyle."
Nugent continued to deride Americans who voted for President Obama in his November 15 column, describing them as only interested in "more free candy from Uncle Sugar Daddy." Following the re-election of Obama, Nugent sent out a series of tweets on November 7 calling Obama voters "subhuman varmint[s]" and "Pimps whores & welfare brats." In a Times column on November 8, he unleashed more invective, describing Obama voters as "thunderously dumb and incredibly naïve."
In the lead up to Election Day, Nugent repeatedly made inflammatory remarks about Obama. While promoting his Discovery Channel special about gun culture, Nugent called Obama "anti-American" and accused him of only feigning respect for veterans. While promoting his special on Twitter, Nugent referred to the Obama administration as "enemies of America" and leveled accusations of treason and "criminal complicity to murder."
Nugent, who drew the scrutiny of the Secret Service in April after promising to be "dead or in jail" if Obama was re-elected, also made waves in July when he wrote in a Times column, "I'm beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War."
The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative (NRA-ILA) issued an election postmortem claiming that the public has been misled by the media "about the effectiveness of NRA campaign spending." The release is the latest attempt by the NRA to sustain what has been a false media narrative about the NRA's ability to influence elections.
Despite the NRA's protestations, the outcome on Election Day could hardly have been worse for the gun organization. The NRA failed to achieve its main goal, the defeat of President Obama, and also backed the losing Senate candidate in six out of seven races where the NRA spent more than $100,000. Over two-thirds of House incumbents who lost their seats were endorsed by the NRA. The non-partisan Sunlight Foundation concluded that less than one percent of $10,536,106 spent by NRA Political Victory Fund went to races where the NRA-backed candidate won.*
These results do not comport with the widely-accepted media narrative that the NRA is an electoral powerhouse. Despite research by American Prospect contributing editor (and former Media Matters staffer) Paul Waldman proving that the impact of both NRA campaign contributions and endorsements is overblown, the fable of NRA influence has persevered. Slate's Brian Palmer encapsulated this narrative in July when he wrote that the NRA "can reliably deliver votes" and "is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country."
Although mythology surrounding the NRA's power has persisted for years in the media, that façade appears to be crumbling in the wake of the 2012 elections. An article by The Hill titled "Report: NRA shoots blanks this election," highlighted the NRA's ineffective spending and noted that the Sunlight Foundation's report "challenge[s] the popular political wisdom that the NRA is among Washington's most influential lobbying forces and that candidates who buck their agenda do so at their own peril." The Washington Post offered similar analysis in an article titled "National Rifle Association shut out on Election Day" that cited the Sunlight Foundation's conclusions.
As an attempt to continue projecting itself as an organization that can determine the outcomes of elections, the NRA is now touting the success of three state ballot initiatives preventing states from banning hunting as evidence that money given to the NRA was well spent.
But the hunting ballot initiatives -- which were not even opposed by NRA nemesis the Humane Society -- are not what the 2012 elections were about for the NRA. In 2011, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre announced an "All In" campaign to remove President Obama from the White House that compared a potential Obama second term to a 2004 tsunami that killed over 250,000 people in South Asia.
In the wake of the 2012 elections, where the National Rifle Association spent $18 million dollars to little effect, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promised to defeat Democrats who do not support his organization's agenda in the 2014 elections. According to LaPierre, a columnist for the organization's publications, Democrats who support gun violence prevention laws will "go out on that plank" with President Obama and "the American public and the NRA will saw it right off."
From the November 9 edition of The Daily News on NRA News:
LAPIERRE: So what [Obama] is going to try to do is walk a lot of Democrats out on that plank with him. Now that Obama has got no more elections in front of him, he is going to try to do the same thing that Bill Clinton did in '92 after he got elected, which is walk a lot of Democrats out on that plank of attacking the Second Amendment. And here's a prediction I make right now. If they go out on that plank with President Obama, he doesn't have any more elections; these Democrats will have more elections in front of them. I predict in 2014, when they are out on that plank, if they walk it with Obama, the American public and the NRA will saw it right off behind him and defend this freedom.
But the NRA had an abysmal track record for the 2012 elections. Besides failing to achieve its primary goal to defeat President Obama, the NRA backed the losing candidate in six out of seven Senate races where it spent more than $100,000. Over two-thirds of incumbent House members who lost re-election bids were endorsed by the NRA.
From the November 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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For years, the media has advanced a false narrative that the National Rifle Association is an electoral powerhouse with a real ability to impact the outcomes of elections. The 2012 elections clearly demonstrate that the conventional wisdom is at odds with reality. While most incumbents in the House of Representatives kept their seats on November 6, over two-thirds of incumbents who lost were backed by the NRA.
Slate's Brian Palmer summed up the media's conventional wisdom on the NRA over the summer, when he wrote that the group "can reliably deliver votes," and this "is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country."
This false media narrative of NRA's supposed influence on elections has persisted, even as an analysis by American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (who previously worked for Media Matters) concluded that both NRA endorsements and campaign contributions have a negligible impact on elections. In a study of House races over four election cycles, Waldman determined that Republican incumbents did not receive a statistically significant advantage if endorsed by the NRA. The average campaign contribution of $2,500 to NRA-endorsed House candidates was also found to have insignificant impact on elections.
Of the 26 incumbent House members who lost on Election Day, 18 were endorsed by the NRA. Defeated incumbents included four Democrats and 14 Republicans. Four of the eight defeated incumbents not endorsed by the NRA were Democrats who lost to other Democrats in California's top-two primary system.
Overall, the NRA fared poorly in the 2012 election. According to open government group the Sunlight Foundation, the NRA Political Victory Fund, the NRA's political action committee, received a less than one percent return on $10,536,106 spent on independent expenditures during the election cycle. The NRA spent 0.44 percent of its money supporting winning candidates and 0.39 percent opposing losing candidates.* The NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the organization's lobbying arm, garnered a 10.25 percent return on $7,448,017 spent on the election. In seven Senate races where the NRA spent more than $100,000, six of the NRA-backed candidates lost.
The following NRA endorsed incumbents were defeated on Election Day. Two incumbents included in this analysis are currently trailing vote tallies, but those races have not been officially called:
Deputy editorial page editor Kevin O'Brien used his weekly platform in the pages of The Cleveland Plain Dealer to parrot national conservatives by encouraging the Republican-led House of Representatives to continue its policies of obstruction and explaining that people who voted for President Obama are either socialists or consider the president to be a "fun fad."
In his November 7 column titled "It's twilight in America," O'Brien also argued that Obama is "bent on [America's] fundamental transformation" -- a prospect furthered by a "rogue Congress" that passed the president's healthcare bill in spite of "what was then popular." O'Brien called on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to continue acting as a "firewall" of obstructionism. He wrote (emphasis added):
For the half of America that understands the peril in which their country stands, the House remains the firewall, just as it has been these last two years. And for at least two more years, the House will not let us down.
It all seems the perfect recipe for gridlock, and gridlock probably will seem to be the result.
But in this presidential term, nothing as healthy as gridlock will be achieved, because Barack Obama's re-election changes everything.
Absent a miracle, the president will achieve the fundamental transformation he desires for America.
The passage of Obamacare by a rogue Congress that ignored what was then the popular will has put this country on a course toward socialism and a different popular will.
Given the chance to change that course with this election, Americans -- by a very thin margin in the popular vote -- declined.
O'Brien also attempted to explain to readers exactly why voters would have chosen Obama over GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (emphasis added):
Some declined because they just don't see a problem. For young voters, especially, Obama is a fun fad -- a celebrity president who promises them all sorts of wonderful things that are either free or that someone else will pay for. Many of them will come to their senses when they realize they're permanently worse off than their parents, but that will take time.
Some declined because they actually see socialism as a desirable outcome. They have been fed the progressive line from kindergarten through graduate school, and they believe it sincerely. They also plan to be among the elites who, in a more enlightened country, will make the decisions for the rest of us. To them, Obama is a kindred spirit.
Some declined because a bigger, more activist, more paternal government benefits them directly, either by employing them or by providing for them in other ways. Mitt Romney may not have been right about their numbers -- his off-the-cuff reference to 47 percent of the population was a little high -- but he was right about their existence, their political priorities and their strength in the voting booth.
But I think most declined because they're simply afraid of what lies ahead. Rather than facing the problems of incipient fiscal calamity and sociocultural rot, they opted for more reassurances from an Obama-led Washington that all will be well if we just tax more and spend more.
O'Brien's message to Ohioans echoes the themes national conservatives have been pushing since Election Night -- to encourage more GOP obstruction and to explain away Obama's re-election by dismissing half of the electorate as wards of the state or people who just want "free stuff."
Meanwhile, editorial boards at Ohio newspapers in nearby Columbus and Toledo argued that the president won re-election because Republicans followed the conservative movement too far to the right. From the Toledo Blade:
Republicans must step out of the shadows of the party's far-right wing. If the Tea Party continues to dictate the Republican Party's platform, the GOP not only will fail to broaden its base, but also will continue to alienate traditional, more moderate Republicans.
And the Columbus Dispatch noted:
Now it's time for responsible Republicans to take their party back from the fringe that loses them elections. It's not true that Republicans needed better candidates. They had excellent contenders. The problem was that the electable ones couldn't leap the lunacy barrier erected by the right wing.
There are few people in politics with more explaining to do right now than Karl Rove. The one-time "architect" of George W. Bush's electoral victories spent the past two years extracting many hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy and angry conservatives for his super PAC American Crossroads, promising the money would be put to good use: ending the presidency of Barack Obama and winning seats in Congress for Republicans. Two days out from Election Day, with President Obama sitting comfortably atop a pile of 303 electoral votes (perhaps more) and Democrats having added seats in the Senate, Rove is looking for someone or something to blame, arguing that the president got "lucky" with a little help from Hurricane Sandy.
His November 8 Wall Street Journal column is a mish-mash of electoral data and stale anti-Obama invective that gives some credit for Obama's reelection to the president's campaign, but also lays heaps of responsibility on exogenous factors:
The president was also lucky. This time, the October surprise was not a dirty trick but an act of God. Hurricane Sandy interrupted Mr. Romney's momentum and allowed Mr. Obama to look presidential and bipartisan.
Then there was the anonymous New York Times headline writer who affixed "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" to Mr. Romney's November 2008 op-ed on reorganizing the auto companies, which the Obama campaign brought up again and again in the industrial Midwest. The president made it appear that Mr. Romney favored liquidation of the companies (which he did not), instead of an orderly reorganization (which he did).
That wasn't all. A hotel employee with a cellphone camera taped Mr. Romney talking at a May fundraiser about the "47%" of the population that do not have any federal income-tax liability. When released in September, the video added to public doubts about Mr. Romney's wealth and character.
Rove's ex-post facto analysis of the election is interesting for a couple of reasons. First off, Rove's column immediately preceding the election insisted that "It comes down to numbers. And in the final days of this presidential race, from polling data to early voting, they favor Mitt Romney." Now he's throwing those once-predictive numbers out the window and arguing that it really came down to the president's campaign strategy (which he spent all year insisting would not work and would actually redound to Romney's benefit) and a healthy dose of deus ex machina.
Second, of the many high-profile conservatives who confidently predicted a comfortable Romney victory, Rove is virtually alone in refusing to acknowledge that his analysis was completely wrong. Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner (who predicted Romney would win 315 electoral votes) wrote yesterday: "The results are in and I was wrong." Even Dick Morris offered a mea culpa for his outlandish assurances of a Romney landslide.
Instead, Rove is insisting that the pre-election arrival of Hurricane Sandy means President Obama was "lucky." Meanwhile, Rove has hundreds of millions in spending to answer for. So if people do really come to believe that President Obama was reelected because of hurricane damage in New York and New Jersey, and not in spite of the millions of dollars spent fruitlessly on Crossroads ads in Ohio and Florida, then it's actually Rove himself who should feel "lucky."
A lengthy South Florida Sun-Sentinel article on Florida's Election Day fiascos whitewashed Republican Gov. Rick Scott's role in creating horrific voting scenarios that have made the state a national laughingstock and disenfranchised parts of the Florida electorate.
The article, published in the November 8 edition of the Sun-Sentinel, buried Scott's refusal to follow a Florida tradition of extending early-voting hours after reports over the weekend that voters stood in long lines waiting for hours to cast a ballot and noted his refusal only in the context of partisan criticism from former governor and "Obama supporter" Charlie Crist. Worse, the article seemed to imply that Scott joined President Obama in expressing a strong desire to fix the system that he left broken. His comments, however, don't reflect the empathy attributed to him by the reporter. From the article (emphasis added):
Images of long, long lines of people in South Florida waiting to cast ballots during early voting dominated the airwaves. Many voters in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties reported waiting several hours. That continued on Election Day with some voters in Miami not getting done at the polls until about 1:30 a.m.
Even Obama seemed to have noticed, making an apparent jab at Florida in his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning.
"I want to thank every American who participated in this election whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time," he said. "By the way, we have to fix that."
And the president is not the only one saying that.
Gov. Rick Scott, when questioned last week about the long voter lines, said that seeing so many people turn out to do their civic duty was "exciting."
On Wednesday, Scott stopped short of criticizing the state election's process, but said he would be reviewing it with Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
"What went right, what can we improve?" Scott said.
From the November 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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