The Tin-Eared Talk Show Wing's Declining Influence
It's been evident the past two months. The tin ear and declining influence of the so-called "talk show wing" of the Republican Party. That's the agglomeration of conservative talk show hosts, pundits, and bloggers who play the doppelganger role (and vice versa) to the "netroots" of the Democratic Party, would-be enforcers of an ideological political correctness. Like their lefty counterparts, they're good at stirring up anger in their hyperpartisan echo chambers. And like their lefty counterparts, they failed utterly in the presidential primaries.
This is because they have political tin ears.
This week, we saw it again, when a yahoo Cincinnati talk show host decided to whip up the crowd at a John McCain rally by going off on Barack Hussein Obama. I won't repeat any more of his blather, because in real world politics, it's an irritating waste of time. In real world politics, this is a plus for Mr. Hussein Obama bin Laden, don't you know?
McCain, knowing full well that this sort of swill is anathema to mainstream voters, couldn't apologize fast enough. Then a state Republican party in Tennessee, infected as some other state parties are by this virus of nitwit hyperpartisan invective, put on a repetition. Only to be jumped on by the Republican National Committee and Karl Rove, no bleeding heart lib he.
Last week, the tin ear of the king of the talk show wing, El Rushbo himself, was on vivid hi-fi display. Rush Limbaugh was ranting on about the New York Times' attempted hit job on McCain, which I dissected at the beginning of the week. This, to Limbaugh, was proof that McCain had been oh-so-wrong in cultivating the American press rather than kow-towing to him and his colleagues. Limbaugh sneered that the Times and Chris Matthews, himself a yakker of a certain renown, were just out to do McCain in, like all the rest of the dread MSM.
As fate would have it, in the real world of politics, Matthews was, at that very moment, busily defending McCain from the NYT hit job. As did, frankly, most of the press that Limbaugh painted as mindless left-wing automatons.
While the Times effort, a ludicrous piece of innuendo masquerading as journalism more fit for the hyperpartisan blogosphere than a major newspaper, succeeded in helping McCain get some very tardy backing from the talk show wing of his fractious party, the truth is that the story was beaten down not by hyperpartisans, but by mainstream thinkers. And in large measure by the press itself.
So Limbaugh will have to wait about as long for John McCain to become a regular on his show as Mitt Romney will have to wait to get the vice presidential nod on the national Republican ticket. Which is to say, forever.
Which brings me to the enormous example of the talk show wing's tin ear.
The Republican presidential primaries.
In their attempts to enforce a stifling political correctness of the far right, the talk show wing set about their relentless task of destroying one John Sidney McCain III, Captain USN (Ret.)
Folks, I give you your Republican presidential nominee.
They also went about the dismantling of Mike Huckabee.
And set themselves the task of nominating the candidate who was by far the best-funded and hewed, as it were to their strict dogma, Mitt Romney.
They ramped up these efforts into a fever pitch in the run-up to Super Tuesday.
But the Rushes, Seans, Lauras, Anns, etc. of this singular universe failed quite utterly. For on Super Tuesday, McCain and Huckabee, the two targets of their various barrages of the past months, did by far the best.
And Romney? Well, the man who I can tell you with utter certainty will most assuredly not be the Republican vice presidential nominee spent far more money than Mac and Huck combined. And was knocked out of the race for his pains, after suffering a crushing defeat in California, where McCain won all but a handful of delegates.
This, mind you, was a closed Republican primary, excluding any of the independents who comprise the fastest growing constituency in the Golden State. A primary designed specifically by talk show wing acolytes who narrow control the California Republican executive board to advantage a conservative candidate, namely Romney, the favorite of most of the Orange County conservative money crowd.
It was a perfect set-up for the talk show wing to demonstrate its power. And it was a near perfect failure. Of course, Romney's megabucks California campaign was up against not only McCain's Vietnam War hero/maverick Western senator persona, but also McCain's endorsement by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who last year called Limbaugh "irrelevant."
Any generalization distorts. But here is one of the least distorting of all political generalizations: Independent voters hold the balance of power in American politics, now and even more so in the future.
Smart political analysts know this. Smart politicians know this. Hyperpartisans don't.
The talk show wing discovered that it is really in the infotainment business. Whip people into an ideological frenzy in their echo chambers. Some listeners and readers take it very seriously. Others tune in for the entertainment value, then continue on in the real world to vote for John McCain, Mike Huckabee, whomever. There's no question that Rush Limbaugh, at least, is entertaining, though some of the other folks are just angry. Although, personally, I thought Limbaugh was a lot more entertaining in the early years, before he took himself so seriously as a political power broker.
Now, of course, their equally angry counterparts on the hyperpartisan left, the so-called netroots, were no more successful in the Democratic presidential primaries than the talk show wing was in the Republican primaries.
Mitt Romney, meet John Edwards.
Edwards, who was actually highly electable in his earlier incarnation as a center-left Southern Democrat, moved well to the left in an effort to find some traction when he realized he would be up against superstars in the form of Obama and the Clintons. He was the clear choice of the netroots in the primaries. But after he lost Iowa to Obama, his only effect in the race before dropping out at the beginning of February was to siphon off enough votes in New Hampshire to enable Hillary Clinton to save her candidacy with a narrow win.
Which was not exactly what the netroots wanted, needless to say.
There's a lot of sound and fury in those hyperpartisan echo chambers. But in the end, to paraphrase a line from the immortal bard -- lest I be accused of plagiarism by a certain ever charming campaign -- it doesn't signify all that much.
Bill Bradley is a Pajamas Media correspondent. His Xpress blog is New West Notes.