Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mitt Romney and The State Of The News

Today is another good day for everyone in politics to stop what they're doing and read James Fallows's seminal 1996 essay "Why Americans Hate the Media". Once you've done that, you can come back and read the rest of this post.

It appears today is the day that a large chunk of the press, even right-leaning pundits such as Josh Barro, David Brooks and Bill Kristol, have decided to shoot the Romney Presidential campaign in the head. For mainstream journalists, there seems to be an intense competition to be the one to write the article that emerges as the seminal "is this the moment where Mitt Romney lost the election?" piece of this campaign. For conservative elites, my guess is that they've  known for some time that Romney is behind the eight ball. The "47%" video is a convenient point where they can jump ship. The economic fundamentals are not great, but they're actually good enough that we should expect Obama to be reelected, especially given that the foreign policy fundamentals are pretty good. So rather than continue to waste energy and SuperPAC dollars propping up a doomed Presidential campaign, conservative activists are probably better of paying more attention to the Senate. I don't know that I believe Harry Reid's threat to curtail the filibuster if Democrats control the world's lamest deliberative body, but the threats exist, so if Obama is reelected, the Senate becomes the most important lever of power that is still in play this election. (I'm assuming the House stays in Republican hands, and even if it doesn't, Democratic control there will still depend on placating the handful of Blue Dogs who still hold office, plus the financial-sector-dependent Democrats in the Northeast).

Part of me is a little sad at the way the campaign has unfolded, and empathize a little with Romney, who I feel like is often actually trying to answer the question asked of him rather than pivot back to the campaign's message. Certainly, the Romney campaign deserves some of the blame for failing to wrangle the media. But the bulk of the negative coverage of Mitt Romney that has penetrated the minds of those who have better things to do with their lives than follow politics on a daily basis has focused not on his limited policy proposals or unwillingness to offer more than vague platitudes, but instead of campaign trivialities like the story of Seamus Romney, leaked videos from a closed-door fundraiser, somewhat inartful assessments of London's preparedness for the Olympics, Clint Eastwood's empty chair, and so forth. If Romney loses, conservatives will be able to point the finger at an inability to wrangle the press, as well as the fact that he wasn't a particularly authentic conservative, rather than pay attention to David Frum's critique that the conservative agenda no longer offers anything that can credibly improve the lives of many voters. It may take yet additional Presidential defeats for the party to get the message that their platform has to change.
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