Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles examining what went wrong for the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential election and where the GOP goes from here. Please visit our special section GOP: What Next? to follow the series of stories and find related content.
A report that Fox News contributors Karl Rove and Dick Morris have been put on the backburner by higher ups at the network feeds into the theory that at least some of the blame for Republicans’ recent electoral failures rests with the conservative media. Is there any merit to it?
It’s an idea that was kicked around by several high-profile Republicans immediately after Mitt Romney lost the election to President Barack Obama and Democrats picked up seats in both the Senate and the House.
On MSNBC a few days after the election, Morning Joe co-host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough said “Conservatives have been lied to” by what columnist David Frum called “the conservative entertainment complex.”
GOP strategist and blogger for The Hill John Feehery echoed the sentiment in an interview with The Daily Beast in which he repeated what is becoming a common refrain: “We have a talk-show culture,” Feehery said. “The Rush Limbaughs of the world, I find them very entertaining. But we cannot be cowed by them.” He also said there has been “too much timidity” in Republican leaders to stand up to conservative commentators.
“Entertainment and mockery” isn’t enough, said Ben Domenech, co-founder of the conservative grassroots blog RedState.com. Domenech told BuzzFeed last month that throughout Obama’s first term, conservative media was not invested often enough in “the critical and hard work of investigation.”
Conservative Author Ann Coulter doesn’t disagree but she says it’s more complicated than that.
“It’s not the conservative media per se, but a few purer-than-thou right-wingers,” she wrote in an email to TheBlaze. “Yes, that’s a problem.”
She said, however, conservatives in the chattering class who promoted candidates that lost their races, such as Rep. Todd Akin and Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, were “not helpful.” Akin and Mourdock’s defeats are widely chalked up to public comments they made about rape and abortion.
“The conservatives who promoted these characters also never really stopped attacking Romney to prove their own bona fides, unrelated to substance,” Coulter said. In addition to some conservative candidates being less than advantageous to the GOP in the long run, she said Romney’s defeat is in large part due to the rarity of unseating an incumbent and the changing demographics of the country.
Detroit-based conservative radio host Doc Thompson blames the old guard in the GOP rather than conservative commentators. “It’s not the devout conservatives, in the media or not, that have hurt the Republicans,” he told TheBlaze. “It’s the dinosaurs like Dick Morris and Karl Rove that are more interested in promoting the Republicans (and themselves) than conservatives.”
Thompson said the Republican problem is that the party has “failed at marketing,” ineffectively articulating its message of “personal freedoms and free markets.”
Rove and Morris are perhaps the two most notable examples of conservatives in the media hitting off the mark. Up to the very end, Morris said Romney would decisively win the election. When Morris turned out to be wrong, he went on Fox News and explained that he saw it as his “duty” to boost morale among Romney backers. “And at the time that I said it, I believe I was right,” he said.
And in what will be one of the most memorable moments in history of an election night, Rove, who was sitting in as an analyst during Fox News’ coverage, questioned on air the network’s decision to call the win for Obama. Anchor Megyn Kelly got up from her seat and made the trip through a long hallway to directly speak with the “decision desk.” The analysts at the desk defended their call, shutting Rove down.
Rove’s team told us he was “not available right now” to comment for this story.
The lengthy list of conservative commentators who predicted a landslide victory for Romney won’t soon be forgotten. In addition to Rove and Morris, conservative columnists George Will and Michael Barone; and CNBC anchor Larry Kudlow and (full disclosure) Glenn Beck, who owns TheBlaze, also projected an electoral landslide for Romney.
Still, Erik Wemple, media reporter for the Washington Post, doesn’t think those missed calls will be too damaging to conservative commentators. “I guess they’ll be just fine,” he said. “Are they being paid to deliver accurate forecasts? Or was that all just sort of rooting? I wouldn’t want to tar them all with the same brush. They’re not all of the same integrity on that front. But I do think there’s a call for people who are just going to tell you what you want to hear. I think that’s a lot of what entertainment news is about.”
On the question of whether conservative media has disproportionate sway in the GOP, Wemple doesn’t see it. “The Republicans probably appreciate that they whip up a certain part of the base,” he told TheBlaze. “If you’re a moderate Republican, you’re careful of your association with them. But whether they have undue influence… I don’t see enough cross pollination to make that call.”
Morris and Limbaugh did not respond to requests for comment.