After largely avoiding the topic during the Republican Party's first two nationally televised debate, GOP candidates and the right-wing media erupted in a spasm of outrage last night over supposedly liberal media bias, and how the CNBC moderators Wednesday night were so mean to Republican players on the stage.
Donald Trump even launched a preemptive attack, labeling the debate as “unfair” before it began.
The debate was certainly a raucous one, and at times was marked by disjointed questions and regular interruptions. (Some mainstream observers praised moments from the moderators, but most others belittled them.) But seeing darker forces at work, conservatives not only called out the business news channel moderators for losing control of the event, but went further, critiquing supposed liberal bias and a fanciful collaboration with Democratic forces to spoil the GOP night.
“The CNBC moderators acted less like journalists and more like Clinton campaign operatives,” bellowed liberal media bias cop Brent Bozell. “They clearly war-gamed this thinking that a relentless series of personal attacks on the candidates would somehow drive their ratings and help Hillary Clinton.”
The layers of irony surrounding the eruption are many. Let's count them.
First, CNBC, which chronicles and celebrates the exploits of Wall Street tycoons, is hardly a bastion of liberalism. Among the six total CNBC questioners last night were Jim Cramer, who once famously announced President Obama was destroying wealth in America, and Rick Santelli, whose anti-Obama screed in 2009 was credited with sparking the Tea Party movement. (Santelli then paraded around talk radio claiming the White House had targeted him.)
That's who Brent Bozell and company are claiming conspired with their fellow questioners and liberals to quash the GOP last night.
Third, the one person who would have a completely legitimate beef with the press this campaign season, and the one person who has been the target of an unprecedented barrage of negatives attacks is, of course, Hillary Clinton. Yet Marco Rubio last night complained that the press is doing her bidding.
Also, too many “snide” and “hostile” questions at the debate last night, according to Fox's Howard Kurtz? Did conservatives not watch Clinton's marathon appearance before the Benghazi Select Committee, where she endured hour after hour of gotcha questions? Afterwards, I didn't hear Fox News bemoan the tone.
Fourth, lots and lots of Republican candidates have been on the receiving end of fawning press coverage for a very, very long time. Over the years, Republicans such as Marco Rubio and, until his bridge troubles, Chris Christie, banked on glowing, free press coverage to build their brands.
Does this sound like a D.C. press corps trying to do damage to GOP hopefuls?
* “Marco Rubio, the charismatic senator-elect from Florida” (Nov. 26, 2010, New York Times]
* “Mr. Rubio, a charismatic Latino senator from a crucial swing state” (March 29, 2012. New York Times)
* "[A] charismatic young Republican senator from Miami, Marco Rubio" (March 22, 2015. New York Times)
* “Marco Rubio, the charismatic young Cuban American who has captured the hearts of conservatives around the country” (April 10, 2010. Washington Post)
* “The charismatic Cuban American lawmaker from Florida,” (Oct. 26, 2011. Washington Post)
* “The 43-year-old senator from Florida and charismatic son of immigrants” (April 6, 2015. Washington Post)
Or this, pre-BridgeGate?
In the last month alone, TIME magazine has declared that Christie governed with “kind of bipartisan dealmaking that no one seems to do anymore.” MSNBC's Morning Joe called the governor “different,” “fresh,” and “sort of a change from public people that you see coming out of Washington.” In a GQ profile, Christie was deemed “that most unlikely of pols: a happy warrior,” while National Journal described him as “the Republican governor with a can-do attitude” who “made it through 2013 largely unscathed. No scandals, no embarrassments or gaffes.” ABC's Barbara Walters crowned Christie as one of her 10 Most Fascinating People, casting him as a “passionate and compassionate” politician who cannot lie.
Meanwhile, when was the last time we witnessed a post-debate, all-consuming conservative movement roar like this aimed at a moderator? It came in October 2012, when the conservative press declared war on CNN's Candy Crowley after she had the audacity to publically acknowledge during the debate that yes, President Obama had called the Benghazi attack an act of terror.
Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson immediately compared Crowley to John Wilkes Booth assassinating Abraham Lincoln, while Rush Limbaugh announced, "What she did last night would have been the equivalent of blowing up her career like a suicide bomber."
That spasm seemed to be triggered by flashes of fear; fear that Obama had defeated Mitt Romney during the debate and fear that Obama was poised for re-election.
So what sparked this recent eruption? My hunch is the real reasons for the self-pity party were off-stage. I think it's because of Hillary Clinton's sudden surge in the polls and her widely-applauded appearance before the Republican's misguided Benghazi Select Committee. I think it's because there's growing anxiety and panic over the idea that Donald Trump might be the party's nominee and because of the creeping prospect for four (eight?) more years of a Democratic president that ignited the return to the right-wing roots.
For conservatives, 'liberal media bias' represents the ultimate comfort blanket.