To some Republican strategists and communications operatives, Boehner's insular media strategy in recent weeks — a smattering of press conferences on Capitol Hill, and a sit-down with Chris Wallace at Fox News Sunday — is emblematic of what one called the GOP's "choir-preaching problem."Implicit in this is the premise that Republicans just do not appear on television enough, which given the average constituency of any Sunday talk show, any network, any week you care to name, is a damn interesting little theory. Is the Republican voice being drowned out? Are we not being properly exposed to what the Republican, conservative establishment in Washington thinks about things? It is true that for every George Will, or John McCain, or Erick Lowest Common Denominator Erickson that graces the news networks with incessant, brow-furrowing authoritativeness, there are still some people on the airwaves that are not George Will, John McCain, or Erick No-Seriously-CNN-Was-Kidding-With-This-One-Right Erickson, but the list of people that are not George Will or John McCain or that other guy is getting vanishingly small; I'm not sure that the Republican problem is that the American public just has not been sufficiently exposed to Republican chatterboxes. It seems a poor diagnosis.
"He should have blitzed all five Sunday shows, and then done the Today show the next morning. Are you telling me he can't handle Matt Lauer?" asked veteran conservative media strategist Keith Appell, adding, "He could have maximized his narrative and really driven home the points that resonate with the broader public."
"This is always a problem for our party," complained another Republican strategist, citing several candidates he's worked with over the years. "You get hundreds of [media] invitations, and you go with the one you're most comfortable with. ... We need to be more aggressive."
A rather more plausible theory would be that Republicans are spoiled by their Fox News "interviews," and so their rhetorical muscles have atrophied to the point of silliness. The same politician can go on Fox News and make whatever batshit proclamations he or she wants to, or go on any other network and take the slightest risk that the interviewer will dare a follow-up question that might not take Republican assertions as simple gospel truths, and that would be the worstest thing ever. Many in the Republican crackpot (i.e. tea party) brigades tend to avoid straying from the Fox tent, it is true, but that probably is good news for the Republicans, not bad. Their "serious" thinkers, the McCains and Boehners, make the wider network rounds, but when a Republican wants to say something egregiously stupid, Fox provides a much safer location for that.
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And, given that Republican orthodoxy now includes such gems as "lowering tax rates for rich people will plug the deficit hole that lowering tax rates for rich people created" and "this deficit-cutting fiscal thingy that we demanded in our last debt ceiling hostage-taking session is outrageous, and we demand we not do that after all," not to mention such greats as death panels, and birth certificates, and a complete list of who may or may not be secretly in league with the Muslim hordes, it stands to reason that the Fox News studios would be getting a hell of a workout, in these last few years. The problem is not that Republican voices are not heard; the problem is that Republicans have less and less to offer to anyone not deeply entrenched in their own base. For example:
As the Grand Old Party looks to convert a new generation of conservatives, some Republican strategists are urging their leaders to start carrying their message to media outlets that aren't named after a certain bushy-tailed woodland carnivore.Oh, so much to unpack there—but tersely, the reason Republicans do not sit down with Univision or BET is that Republicans have nothing to offer these audiences. Go there and say what, exactly? "Oh, sorry about that crazy-ass racism, fellas, but my party is quite convinced that if we lower corporate tax rates, our base will stop declaring your various ethnic groups to be damnable hindrances to the true and proper America."
"Fox is great," Appell said. "But those viewers already agree with us. ... I think you have to take the attitude with the media that no one is going to just give you anything; you have to go out there and get it. Whether that's sitting down with Univision, or BET, or visiting college campuses and doing an interview at each one with student-run media. How else are different demographics going to get to know you if you never reach out to them?"
"The Democrats have been much better at this than we have," he added.
No, I think the truer picture lies here:
As operatives are increasingly realizing, many of these outlets have limited reach beyond the fervent Republican base, and the talking points politicians declaim often resonate only in the conservative echo chamber.That is a damn fine epiphany, right there, or would have been had it been sussed out just a bit further. Yes, many of the stories Republicans rattle around in their own echo chamber in order to frighten themselves, their children, and whoever is passing by their little street corner apple crate fail to gain momentum when exposed to a wider, non-batshit-insane audience. The same stories that Fox News or conservative talk radio run with as signs of upcoming apocalypse (and there is always at least one, every damn week) often do not even pass the laugh test in less obsessively ideological circles. One might surmise, as most of the Fox audience has, that it is because the entire rest of the world is wrong and/or in on all of the conspiracies. Either that, or perhaps the recent conservative conspiracies are all embarrassing, stupid and suck. Take your pick.
One Republican official recalled working earlier this year to get a potentially damaging story about a Democratic candidate into The New York Times — only to have an impatient colleague leak the scoop to a conservative website. The story shot through the online right, but failed to gain mainstream traction.
But that's the real problem here, and it's not one that can be solved by seeing more from John Boehner on my already Boehner-filled TV screen. The Republican Party has emerged from the last 10 years as a bifurcated force. The arguments and assertions that are a staple of Fox News Republicanism simply do not work in a larger audience; leaving the confines of the tea party behind (and remember Fox's role in that little fiasco) means giving up half or more of conservatism's favorite story lines—or at least having to, gasp, defend them the slightest little bit. It is hard work.
Even there, though, the Republican soul-searching on this is off base. As it turns out, they did just have an election season that pitted their tea party darlings against their more serious, big money establishment types; the tea party darlings were dispatched with in short order. And the Republicans did, in fact, just hold an entire convention that was held in the Fox News style, with Fox News messages (no, seriously, the entire "you didn't build that" mantra was Fox News construct, that is how tight the embrace was), and Fox News darlings, and Fox News memes about the dirty poors, and the irritating browns, and the apocalyptic apocalypse of whatever the hell Barack Obama had done, minor or major, that meant the end of all America. Clint Eastwood even performed a skit to that effect. None of it worked out. As it turns out, the stuff that makes the Republican base's hearts go all a-twitter do next to nothing for all the rest of America, and there was no "bump," and Mitt Romney came out of the thing looking like he was nothing more than a barely passable sortof-human face slapped on the larger, multi-tentacled whatever-the-hell-that-was-we-just-saw of the Republican id.
So the problem is not that Republicans need to expose more of themselves to America. The problem is that Republicans can only pick one of two groups to publicly serve—their moderates, or their crackpots. The rhetoric needed to woo one is now miles away from the rhetoric needed to placate the other. While Republicans have done very well the last thirty years in holding that odd coalition together, it seems that with the rise of the tea party the crackpots have made it clear that they intend to call the shots.
From a media standpoint, good luck with that.