Mitt Romney's campaign isn't the only conservative foundation taking a hit this election season, so is the GOP Noise Machine.
This campaign, this ousting of Obama, was supposed to the crowning achievement of the retooled conservative movement that's now powered unquestionably by right-wing media outlets. No longer primarily fueled by think tanks, or authors, or activists, or even politicians, it's driven by media entities. Republicans were going to ride the wave of Fox News' cable ratings dominance, tap into Rush Limbaugh's millions of listeners, enlist an army of far-right bloggers and they were going to rewrite the rules of campaigning in the New Media age.
In late June, Romney's campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar boasted to Breitbart.com how the alliance was going to change the face of politics; how “this combination has created a new political reality.” He announced, “The rise of Breitbart, Drudge and others, combined with an aggressive Romney campaign is a powerful tool in the arsenal of the conservative movement.”
But instead of being part of Romney's campaign solution, the GOP Noise Machine has become part of Romney's campaign problem.
And a very big part.
The trouble is that Romney apparently believes the misinformation the Noise Machine churns out on an hourly and daily basis. (i.e. Obama gutted welfare reform!) Or at least he pretends to believe it, and then he actively campaigns on the falsehoods.
As The Atlantic's Elspeth Reeve notes in her piece this week, “Conservative Bloggers Are Losing This Election”:
There's a pattern emerging to Mitt Romney's worst gaffes: his biggest political missteps come whenever he repeats something the conservative opinion complex has already repeated endlessly. Instead of being the candidate that conservative bloggers feared as a moderate, he's been exactly the candidate they wanted. And he's losing.
At the outset of the campaign season, the assumption was that far-right bloggers and professional talkers would help echo and drive Romney's message, not that Romney would get his messaging from them; not that Romney would be dependent on them for campaign strategy. But incredibly, that's how the relationship has unfolded.
This summer, Andrew Sullivan accused Romney of being such a weak candidate that he was forced to “ventriloquize” his base. In this case, that means Romney mimicking the far-right press and regurgitating whatever off-kilter Obama attacks that have been dreamt up within the fever swamp. Like the claim that the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income tax only take a break from their never-ending search for government handouts in order to vote exclusively Democratic.
How prevalent is that contemptuous voter attack Romney made famous with his donor comments? Hours before the donor video was posted by online Monday, Romney surrogate Donald Trump appeared on Fox News and hit the same noxious talking point [emphasis added]:
TRUMP: Don't forget, Obama has a big constituency and everybody that doesn't work is voting for Obama, and that's a lot of people. So I don't know why. It should be the opposite. People that aren't working should be voting for the Republicans. You know, you look at what's going on in the inner city, where he [Obama] is a tremendously ahead in the inner city, and yet they have 50 and 60% unemployment. It should be the opposite.
There is no daylight between the Republican campaign and the toxicity the right-wing media generate. But is this how presidential campaigns ought to be conducted, by amplifying debunked accusations circulated by AM talkers and factually challenged Fox News hosts? (By and large, the McCain campaign refrained from trafficking in the right-wing conspiratorial nonsense that was certainly available, and popular, during the 2008 race.)
Yesterday, conservative Jonah Goldberg lamented Romney's donor remarks, suggesting they reflected the candidate's political naïveté:
The problem is he doesn't have an organic understanding for politics or conservatism -- I think I was the first to say a while back, he speaks conservatism as a second language. So when he tries to express his ideas he either sounds too detached or as if he's parroting the idiom of a language he doesn't fully understand.
That makes sense. But in the past, when national candidates needed to learn a political language they sought out experts in the field, and respected opinion-makers. They didn't rely on half-witted bloggers, cable TV wake-up personalities, and talk show hosts who push sludge in the form of 'debate.' (i.e. Obama's allegiance is to the Quran!)
Back in May, Romney met for two hours with right-wing bloggers and online writers. “Romney told attendees that the campaign intended to work closely with their outlets and will even help conservative outlets writing about Obama with opposition research,” the Huffington Post reported.
As Media Matters previously pointed out, this represents a small sampling of the contributions those writers and publications have made to America's political debate:
- On Fox, American Spectator's Tyrrell Says Obama Is A “Stealth Socialist” Who Is “Going To Lose” Re-Election
- Townhall's D'Souza speculates that Obama used religion to “move up the greasy pole of Chicago politics”
- Powerline defends the belief that President Obama is Muslim, insists: “he certainly isn't one of us”
As Reeve noted in The Atlantic, in neither of Obama's two White House campaigns have we seen the candidate lift wild, baseless attacks off the Internet and use them as stump speech applause lines. But on the conservative side, that's what the Romney campaign has been reduced to. And with the “47 percent” debacle, the campaign's paying the price for allowing itself to get lost in the right-wing media fog.