The Right Side of the Dial: Part III

Jackie Calmes’s study of the radicalism of right-wing American media entities features a number of quotes from Republicans despondent over how crazed conservative commentary has become:

“It’s not just talk radio, but the blogosphere, the Internet – they’re all intertwined now. You’ve got this constant chorus of skepticism about anything the quote-unquote establishment does,” said a longtime former top aide to House Republican leaders, Dave Schnittger. And, he said, the chorus is loudest in opposition to those actions that are fundamental to governing: meeting basic fiscal deadlines for funding the government and allowing it to borrow. “Those are the things that leaders have to get done as part of governing,” the Republican said, “as much as conservative media may hate it.”

Said another Republican, who has worked in the top ranks of congressional and presidential politics, but, like some others, asked to remain unidentified lest he provoke the far-right messengers against his current boss: “It’s so easy these days to go out there and become an Internet celebrity by saying some things, and who cares if it’s true or makes any sense. It’s a new frontier: How far to the right can you get? And there’s no incentive to ever really bother with reality.” Or to compromise: “There’s no money, ratings or clicks in everyone going along to get along.”

Asked whether he could offer examples of legislative outcomes affected by conservative media, this Republican all but snapped, “Sure. All of ‘em.” Does he worry more broadly then about the small-d democratic process? “Yeah, absolutely. Because the loudest voices drown out the sensible ones and there’s no real space to have serious discussions.”…

Those in the maligned Republican Party establishment – including many who not so long ago were themselves proud troublemakers for the conservative cause, and who are conservative still by any rational measure – are left to wonder whether the Republican Party is capable of governing. “I would say there is a serious question of whether or not it’s a governing party,” said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist and former congressman from Minnesota, who in the 1980s was, along with Newt Gingrich, a leader of right-wing, anti-establishment rebels in the House. As he and congressional leaders fear, this winter’s intraparty collision over homeland-security spending and immigration will look trifling compared to likely fights ahead in 2015 over must-pass spending bills and increasing the debt limit again to avert default.

This isn’t the first time Weber has acknowledged that the American right has gone off the deep end. In 2009, just days after the passing of former Representative and Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp (R-NY), Weber told NPR:

Jack felt [the need to diversify the GOP] as a deep passion. Most of us think that that had something to do with the fact that he did spend much of his life as a professional athlete and had to go to work every day with people of different races, particularly a lot of African-Americans, and [he] couldn’t stand the fact that he got into the Republican Party, and it looked like an all-white country club.

So he was very passionate about the Republicans needing to do more to connect with minority voters, particularly African-American voters. And I’m sorry to say, the party did not do well in that regard, and it’s still a huge challenge facing the Republican Party.

“The party did not do well in that regard” because of the Southern Strategy and those who embraced its ethos, including former Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who is, ironically enough, also quoted in Calmes’s study:

“If you stray the slightest from the far right,” said former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who continues to advise Republican congressional leaders, “you get hit by the conservative media.”

It’s impossible to imagine how a man with Lott’s track record could “stray the slightest from the far right.” Having said that, Schnittger, Weber, Matthew Dowd and the Republican strategists who were interviewed for the study but who chose to remain anonymous are presumably not broke, and presumably know some Republicans with resources who are equally chagrined about the ridiculousness and revanchism of right-wing media. If these folks are so depressed by the right-wing press, why not launch an effort to establish a prominent online media platform to advance a less delusional form of conservatism, a less deranged Republican vision?

I’ve noted previously that up until very recently, a number of prominent Republicans were willing to defend (as opposed to defund) Planned Parenthood, and even today, there are Republicans who are willing to support market-based efforts to combat climate change. How about establishing a high-profile forum for Republicans who don’t want to see the coathangers make a comeback, and who recognize that Rush Limbaugh is not a climate expert?

A less irrational Republican Party cannot emerge unless and until there’s a media infrastructure supporting such an effort. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Schnittger, Weber, Dowd and the other Republicans frustrated by Fox and despondent over Drudge to light a few candles, rather than simply cursing the right-wing darkness? If these folks want the American right to look more like Michael Gerson and less like Michael Savage, they’re going to have put some work, some time and some money into achieving this particular goal.

UPDATE: Conservative James Joyner declares, “If the GOP is going to be a serious national party again, it’s got to stop alienating the center. Trump is great entertainment for the lowbrow set but he’s poison for a political party trying to win back broad appeal.” Yeah, ya think?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.