Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

A fragile alliance

Jerry Stratton, November 3, 2010

There’s an old saying that Republicans are always ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They certainly seemed out to prove it this election. A popular uprising energized conservative and libertarian-leaning voters to take part in Republican primaries and vote Republican in the general, and the Republican leadership blatantly viewed this as a one-way relationship: one requiring tea partiers to support Republican, but requiring no support from Republicans when tea party candidates won.

Democrats and the media recognized it. While they kept trying to pin the tea party on the Republicans on one hand, they also kept trying to drive a wedge between the tea party and Republicans on the other. They knew the tea party movement is not controlled by the Republican party but rather is attempting to forge a useful alliance with it.

The media was running scared this year. All their usual tricks were failing. And then up comes the Republican leadership and even some conservative bloggers saying, hey, you know what? Use your usual tricks on Christine O’Donnell. We won’t mind. Of course it became a shark feeding. They couldn’t use their misogynistic attacks against Carly Fiorina or against Sharon Angle, and they really wanted to, because those were (and obviously are) Democratic strongholds. They couldn’t use them against Nikki Haley: they just made her stronger. They kept getting trounced by Sarah Palin.1 Given the cover to feed on a conservative woman in Delaware, they went all in. Suddenly, every ridiculously silly thing they could fling at her, Republican leadership accepted unquestioningly. She was goth in high school? Unelectable! She’s Catholic? Unelectable! She doesn’t maintain a dedicated campaign office like a career politician? Unelectable!

If Nikki Haley had lived in Delaware and had beaten Mike Castle, the Republican leadership would have believed Will Folks. Republican bloggers would have posted his allegations without snark. And they would have encouraged more lies against her by their approval.

Why did the media misreport Chris Coons mangling the constitution and Christine O’Donnell calling him on it as if O’Donnell had been the one to not know the first amendment? Because they knew they could.

This is bullshit that even the mainstream media wouldn’t be reporting on if they didn’t have cover from ruling class Republicans and establishment bloggers. When I first heard that she’d lied on her resume, I thought, whoah, maybe they’ve actually dug something serious up. Turns out it was some stupid-ass social network with a confusing UI. I’ve used LinkedIn. It isn’t a resume, it isn’t easy to use, and it loves to guess at what you really meant. If I could figure out how to remove my account on it, I’d have canceled my account long ago. Most people with accounts on LinkedIn ignore their accounts on LinkedIn. This would have been a dead issue if it weren’t for the cover that the media was already receiving from establishment Republicans.

So I’m not one of those who are willing to give the Republicans a pass just because it wasn’t close. That kind of a feeding frenzy makes its own numbers. To say otherwise would make all of the conservative complaints about media coverage in the past pointless.

The polls from before the primary don’t matter. Before the primary, the narrative was winner wins, loser loses. All the polls meant was that people were going to vote Republican and they knew that Mike Castle was the top dog.2 If the Republican leadership had waited even a few days to study the ground situation, those polls would have turned around; that narrative is a version of dog bites man; it is one of the weakest narratives you can find, which is why only the most complacent and out-of-touch candidates are satisfied with it. It is far too easily upended.

O’Donnell upended it with David vs. Goliath, and when she won in the primary that became David beats Goliath. This is a variation of man bites dog, one of the most powerful narratives you could hope to successfully use. It’s especially powerful in this election cycle because the media itself is part of the dog coalition. Once they get stuck on the downside of that narrative, everything that they try to throw at the candidate just isn’t news.3

Enter the Republican leadership, who, minutes after O’Donnell’s stunning victory, went deeper into man bites dog and provided the media with the narrative they needed: party leadership says their own candidate is unelectable and unfit for office. That’s man-bites-dog with no filters, and since it wasn’t coming from the media they were able to run with it successfully.

Whether it was incompetence or maliciousness, I don’t know, but without the Republican leadership playing to lose, O’Donnell would have won in Delaware with the same lead that Mike Castle was forecast as having.

Folks, if you truly believed your lines about how she might have been a good candidate in comparison to Castle, just not in Delaware, then you should have supported her once the primary was over. You want to convince us that the primary voters in Delaware made the wrong choice and should have listened to you? That’s an argument for after the general election.

You might have had a point if you hadn’t enabled the feeding frenzy in the first place. But you can’t hamstring a competitor and then claim you did it because you knew she couldn’t win the race. That’s bullshit. If you want the grassroots to listen to you in the future, then you hold off with the bullshit criticisms of grassroots candidates until they win or lose on their own strengths and weaknesses.

You know how important the narrative is. The Delaware grassroots put up an electable fiscally conservative candidate against a giant in the Republican establishment. And won. The grassroots knew it was going to be a tight race, but they assumed you wanted to win. Instead, you took a victory, and you turned it into a defeat. Congratulations. You took a David vs. Goliath narrative, and turned it into a narrative of unelectability. You didn’t even just let the media do this: you did it yourself. Primary candidates say that their opponent is unelectable all the time; opponents in the general do as well. The media will, of course, report this to hurt a Republican as best they can, but really, it just isn’t news and they know it. But party leadership saying that their own candidate is unelectable? That’s news with staying power, regardless of whether it’s true. And you knew that.

The Republican candidate would have won if you had just been gracious enough to congratulate the primary winner on a hard-won victory. The next time you want to say “I told you so”, remember that it only works if you wait until after the election. And remember that Republicans are still a minority. You’re only a majority with us. You “won” in Delaware. But you lost in Alaska and you lost in Florida.

Republican blogs love to point out polls that show lots of non-Republicans in tea party rallies. But an alliance like that has to go both ways. The media had two goals. The obvious was making sure O’Donnell lost. But the media also recognizes that the alliance between tea partiers and the Republican Party is a fragile one. It’s something the Republican leadership doesn’t seem to get. If they don’t want to become an irrelevant party, they’d better learn fast.

We supported establishment candidates when they won the primary. We supported Meg Whitman. We supported Carly Fiorina (I even liked her). We supported Mark Kirk when he beat Patrick Hughes in Illinois, and we supported Matt Doheny when he beat Doug Hoffman in New York. If you want us to support candidates that probably aren’t the best reflection of our positions but are still better than the opposition; you need to do the same for our candidates.4

Remember, as you complain about a few lost races: we gave you this wave. We’re looking for principled candidates. If you can help us, we’ll help you. If you want to turn this into a partisan pissing match, we’ll continue looking for principled candidates.

Think about that as you set your agenda for the next two years.

November 30, 2010: Republican establishment: spite and sour grapes

Over at Goldfish and Clowns, Jerry Wilson writes about something I’ve been noticing and trying to avoid writing about since A Fragile Alliance:

Once the primary was over and O’Donnell has won, the Castle side proved itself pathologically incapable of either letting go or laying off the slams against O’Donnell supporters. Be it the high flyers like Karl Rove or peashooters like Patterico, they simply couldn’t let it go. They piled on O’Donnell non-stop, whenever called out on it bleating it was all “honest debate.” No. It wasn’t all honest debate. There was nothing honest about any aspect of the discussion. It was spite and sour grapes masquerading as debate. It was personal and pathetic. It did nothing but further divide at a time when division was the last thing that was needed.

It was even worse to see this coming from bloggers who understand how the media constructs their narrative to always oppose the Republican—and yet they chose to ignore how the argument was feeding into this narrative, and how the media was stoking it. They chose to buy the media narrative that they would have deflated had it been any other candidate.

I’ve been reading Ari Fleischer’s Taking Heat, and ran across this line:

Nothing makes juicer news than a good, old-fashioned Republican vs. Republican, or Democrat vs. Democrat fight. Intraparty splits make interesting story lines.

Fleischer wrote that back in about 2003, 2004, or so, back when it was still possible to believe that the major portion of the media’s bias came from a love of conflict, but it otherwise echoes what I wrote, that “that kind of a feeding frenzy makes its own numbers”:

Enter the Republican leadership, who, minutes after O’Donnell’s stunning victory, went deeper into man bites dog and provided the media with the narrative they needed: party leadership says their own candidate is unelectable and unfit for office. That’s man-bites-dog with no filters, and since it wasn’t coming from the media they were able to run with it successfully.

If you want independent voters to keep voting with you, you’re going to need to recognize that what you did was wrong, and never do it again.

  1. They tried to use their tricks on Meg Whitman, but nobody cared.

  2. The one thing we know about those poll responders: they claimed to be willing to vote for a Republican candidate.

  3. Case in point: a few days before the election, CBS affiliate KTVA in Alaska was caught considering a ginned-up child molester charge against the Miller campaign. That should have been front page news in every news source across the country; but nowadays media outlets making stuff up about Republican candidates is dog-bites-man. It isn’t news.

  4. At the very least, you need to not cut them off at the knees.

  1. <- San Diego proposition D
  2. California vs. America ->