Jonathan Martin has a pretty good piece at Politico about the “GOP’s media cocoon.” The piece is worth reading–not least for his observation that Politico shares the blame in the great national tragedy that is Donald Trump’s political celebrity–but I think there are a few additional points about Republicans’ cognitive insularity.
Martin and the Republicans he quotes–campaign operatives and squishy DC/NYC-based writers–are generally right in their assessments of what for the last few years David Frum has been calling the “conservative entertainment complex.” But the problem Martin’s Republicans either don’t get or don’t want to face is that the conservative entertainment complex exists and thrives in part because the conservative base doesn’t like or trust squishes at the New York Times or consultants who caution against anything other than full frontal attacks against Democrats that use the incendiary language of conservative Joe Twelvepack yelling at his TV. The conservative entertainment complex isn’t trying to appeal to grass roots activists who want to be smart and win as much as activists who want their candidates to be tough and say what they really believe (provided they believe the same things).
The Republican base isn’t about winning, if that requires subsuming some of their more inflammatory beliefs. No, it’s about sticking it to the man and “saying what needs to be said.” Much of the GOP base thinks being tough and unafraid to speak the “truth” is how you win elections. But being tough and speaking freely (or, actually inanely and insanely) was the appeal of many of the GOP’s biggest debacles of the last 4 years, such as Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell & Richard Mourdock, or the Hermnewt Santrumpmann primary surges.
But another part of the appeal of those candidates was they were also sticking it to the party elders, the “wise men” who want to keep anger stoked but not have it flame up to incitement. But the cynics who’ve been exploiting what they almost surely think are “the rubes” have lost control of their party, or, in the case of the NYC/DC “ideas” people, they’ve lost any real connection to the decision-makers of the GOP. In fact, it’s resentment toward these people–the more sober, reality-based ideas people who get bored with diffuse outrage, and the pragmatists who want to win more than they want to maintain fealty toward some narrow ideology–that has helped fuel the Tea Party. Rand Paul didn’t win his 2010 Kentucky Senate primary over Martin-quoted Trey Grayson just on whacked-out ideas and being Ron Paul’s son. It was also because Grayson’s supposed great appeal in a Republican primary–his support from the Republican establishment, beginning with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell–was a liability with conservative entertainment complex-influenced primary voters.
Martin’s piece focuses a lot on what’s coming in to the grass roots from media and social networking.
Facebook and Twitter feeds along with email in-boxes have taken the place of the old newspaper front page, except that the consumer is now entirely in charge of what he or she sees each day and can largely shut out dissenting voices. It’s the great irony of the Internet era: People have more access than ever to an array of viewpoints, but also the technological ability to screen out anything that doesn’t reinforce their views.
“The Internet amplifies talk radio and cable news, and provides distribution for other sources like Newsmax,” said Trey Grayson, 40, the former Kentucky secretary of state and the current head of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “Then your friends, who usually agree with you, disseminate the same stories on Facebook and Twitter. And you assume that everyone agrees with you!”
“Social media has made it easier to self-select,” added 45-year-old GOP strategist Bruce Haynes. “Who do you follow on Twitter, who do you friend on Facebook? Do they all look the same and say the same things? If so, you’ve created a universe for yourself that is wedded to its own self-fulfilling prophecies.”
But just as social media has allowed some conservatives to retreat in to a cocoon, it has also empowered conservatives to annoy the shit out of the rational people in their lives.
We’ve all experienced it. Maybe it’s on a plane, maybe its in some long line, maybe it’s at a christening or family picnic. But there’s “that guy,” the over fifty white guy who talks loud, thinks he’s funny, is just “telling the truth,” and is also a socially unaware moron, an uncensored free associator of the conservative id(iocy). That guy was a pain in the ass twenty years ago.
Now, beginning with emails forwarded to his aol account, then with Fox news, and now through online infotainment sources, he has more material, but he also sounds more and more like those another annoying guys. A few weeks ago all he talked about was Benghazi. Then the week before the election he talked about how Nate Silver was a tool of the liberal media keeping conservatives from voting. This week he may be intimating the vote totals seem fishy. Next week it will be something about Michelle Obama forcing raw broccoli down our throats or Eric Holder arming the New Black Panthers and providing them black helicopters for air cover. And he’ll be saying the same thing as all the rest of the people who’ve tethered their brains to Fox, World Net Daily and fevered email forwards.
That guy irritates a lot of people who don’t care all that much about politics. They may roll their eyes a tiny bit when they look at Facebook and see a liberal friend has posted the latest Colbert masterpiece. But those people standing askance of day-to-day politics would probably prefer getting stuck on an elevator with a Colbert lover than standing, drink in hand, at a wedding listening to an uncle, or crazy older brother or guy from work, who thinks Rush Limbaugh’s “jokes” are funny.
Prior to the Obama candidacy in 2008, every two years the RNC or some other Republican group would make a big deal about how they were supposedly reaching out to African Americans and trying to earn their votes. It was bullshit, of course. But it had an important purpose–it was intended to portray the GOP as not beholden to and benefitting from racism. The hoped-for result wasn’t picking up black voters. Rather, it was to assuage the concerns of moderate swing voters who would be apprehensive about being associated with a party that would leave on them a faint whiff of racism.
Message discipline by candidates, officials and talking heads was crucial in keeping the GOP from being seen as a bunch of deranged nutballs obsessed about race, women who work out of the house, or anyone who wasn’t white. And the crazy uncle could only bug you at family gatherings. But now, to that niece who accepted his friend request, he’s on her Facebook feed. He’s spewing stupid garbage. He’s more politically engaged when his party is out of power, because he feeds on, and spreads, outrage. And for a lot of people who don’t breath politics, that guy is the face of the Republican party.
Republicans who want to win probably wish that guy was in a cocoon.