The conservative punditocracy is all aflutter today about the Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich. Both the newspaper’s publisher, Joseph McQuaid, and those chattering about the endorsement offer the latest evidence to the conservative media being downright daft in this primary — a result, I suspect, of their increasingly self-segregation, which abets tone-deafness.
Let’s start with the endorsement itself. The editorial board’s rationale is based on the conviction that Gingrich is “bold” — I kid you not — and that he should be recognized for “bringing in the first Republican House in 40 years and by forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic President.” In short, this is another case of selective conservative amnesia.
The endorsement includes no recognition that Gingrich was creamed by Bill Clinton in the budget standoff. No mention of the ethics violations and the penchant to compromise away conservative principles. No mention of the House Republicans’ attempted coup against Gingrich’s leadership. And no mention of his post-speakership, which consisted primarily of feathering his nest by shilling for causes and interests the Union Leader opposed (e.g. ethanol subsidies, Freddie Mac, Medicare Part D, immigration reform).
Even sillier than the ill-reasoned endorsement is the reaction of right-leaning pundits who find this development meaningful — decisive, even! Good grief. While the newspaper is New Hampshire’s largest, it has a lousy track record of picking winners. (It has previously endorsed Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan.) Moreover, conservative pundits are usually the ones warning Republicans that newspaper endorsements are declining in value in recent years.
But this episode is hardly isolated. The track record of the right-leaning media (including talk shows and blogs) has been embarrassingly bad this election cycle. Some of the errors are rudimentary ones that get repeated every cycle — the fixation on early national polls and the overemphasis on money.
But in this presidential primary the conservative media has been far worse than many mainstream publications in analyzing the candidates’ weaknesses and recognizing problematic issues and performances. With some notable exceptions (Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review, Quin Hillyer of American Spectator, David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner and Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute come to mind), the conservative media chose to circle the wagons rather than report accurately and analyze smartly the serious missteps of those who, for a time, occupied the top tier in national polls.
Part of this failure to acknowledge the obvious can be attributed to the general antipathy toward Mitt Romney, whom conservative media figures calculated might benefit from a more honest assessment of his opponents. But that’s not the entire story.
The conservative media has become so invested in debunking and decrying the mainstream media, that too many on the right act out of contrariness.
CNN commentators say Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s debate performances stunk, so it must be a plot to deprive the GOP of a conservative standard-bearer.
Politico is uncovering Herman Cain’s past female accusers, so it must be a plot to prevent conservatives from having an African American nominee.
Moreover, because of the aversion to liberal media outlets, blogs and the rest, the conservative media become, with each passing year, more ideologically isolated and inward-looking. It deadens the political antenna and distorts the evaluation of candidates when the audience in mind is one part (the hard right) of the Republican Party.
The conservative movement requires honest analysis and fulsome debate, and the good news is that the GOP voters seem much savvier than much of the coverage in their consideration of the candidates. They may have been overly optimistic about the prospects of Cain or Perry, for example, but they watched, listened and then abandoned highly flawed candidates.
I suspect that especially in the early primary states Republican voters, as they have always done, will test the mettle of the candidate, intently watch the remaining debates and think hard about voting for someone who is capable of winning a general election.