Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh Stoking GOP Civil War
It's not easy to flip a congressional district that's been Republican since the late 1800s, but after being willingly hijacked by the right-wing media -- after getting steamrolled by Fox News' embrace of third-party candidate Doug Hoffman -- Republicans managed to hand Upstate New York's 23rd District to Democrats last week. And they did it just in time for the newly elected Democrat to help (barely) push health care reform through the House of Representatives during Saturday night's historic vote.
Doug Hoffman was, first and foremost, a media candidate (a media creation), which means we are entering a very new and different realm in American politics. We're entering a sort of Fox News Era where media outlets -- where alleged news organizations -- essentially co-sponsor political campaigns. We've moved well beyond the time when Fox News, for instance, leaned right and gave conservative candidates more air-time and tossed them lots of softball questions. We're now watching unfold a political reality where Fox News literally selects candidates and then markets them through Election Day.
There's a reason Hoffman described Glenn Beck as his "mentor" and pledged his "sacred honor" to uphold the "9 Principles and 12 Values" of Beck's 9/12 Project. There's a reason Sean Hannity wanted to "declare" Hoffman the election winner, and why Fox News' on-screen graphic read "Conservative Revolution?" when Hoffman was being interviewed (i.e. prematurely crowned) by Hannity on the eve of Election Day.
Hoffman's outsider bid, originally opposed by the Republican Party, was a media production, plain and simple, which means his loss was a media loss, as well.
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich had it right when he told The Washington Times that Hoffman's rise as a third party candidate was the "result of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News." Gingrich, who originally opposed Hoffman's candidacy, added: "This was not an isolated amateur; this is an entire movement."
Indeed, it's a media movement that's doing it's best to obliterate the line between journalism and politics.
As I've been noting for some time, Fox News has transformed itself into the Opposition Party of the Obama White House. So it makes sense that, as a purely partisan player, Fox News would immerse itself in backroom horse-trading. It makes sense that rather than covering the campaigns and the candidates, Fox News would insert itself as a political player within Republican contests and throw its support behind a specific candidate, the way it did in NY-23.
The looming problem for the GOP, though, is that the right-wing media can't pick winners and stands poised to rip the Republican Party apart. (Did you notice how Limbaugh last week claimed "Newt" had "screwed the whole [NY-23] thing up"?)
It's yet more evidence that during President Bush's pro-war tenure, far-right radio and TV talkers, along with fringe bloggers, convinced themselves they represented the mainstream -- the majority -- of the GOP. But they don't. They represent the radical CPAC wing of the GOP, and it shows on Election Day. We saw that in 2008, when bloggers and talkers opposed Sen. John McCain in the GOP primaries yet were completely unable to sway Republican voters in the process. In the immortal words of Republican strategist Mike Murphy, "These radio guys can't deliver a pizza, let alone a nomination."
What's different now, though, is that the right-wing media have become even more powerful within conservative circles, while the Republican National Committee and traditional Republican leaders have receded even further into the background. (Does anyone really see Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as the leader of anything?) That power vacuum means it's Fox News that sets the conservative agenda in America. It's at Fox News where partisan strategies are hatched, rallies are marketed, and smear campaigns are launched. And it's Republican politicians and traditional Beltway professionals who are forced to play catch-up to the conservative media.