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Right Turn
Posted at 10:15 AM ET, 02/09/2012

Santorum learns how to manage and ignore the press

If you’ve been following the conservative media’s coverage — or mostly lack thereof — of Rick Santorum, you might have a bit of whiplash watching them flip from one extreme to another.

During the summer and fall, and frankly even after his win in Iowa, most of the conservative media ignored Santorum. He received no cover stories and was generally an afterthought, if they thought of him at all, as conservative outlets went to the barricades to defend the inept Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the underprepared and ethically marred Herman Cain and then the combustible Newt Gingrich.

Once Santorum made his move he was derided as a “big governmentconservative. (Right Turn tried to disabuse them of this notion to very little avail.) Now the right-wing blogs, deprived of every other not-Romney candidate have suddenly tossed all of those concerns aside. They now cluck over him like mother hens, warning Mitt Romney not to make this or that argument. (Hint: Santorum can, I am certain, handle those attacks without a cadre of referees.)

It’s indicative of the flighty coverage that the right-wing media has provided. Their present praise would seem more sincere if many of the same voices had not assailed Santorum only weeks ago.

That fickleness, and an appreciation that much of the right blogosphere is not terribly in touch with ordinary GOP voters, has, I suspect, been liberating for the Santorum campaign. Quite bluntly, it has learned to screen out the media chatter and to focus on local press, actual voters and its own agenda. Santorum often takes a swipe at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which treats his pro-manufacturing agenda with disdain. He has avoided the media victimology that other conservatives (e.g., Gingrich, Sarah Palin) have engaged in, perhaps understanding that this has limited resonance with actual voters.

Going forward, Santorum will have no trouble garnering media attention. In that regard he is proof of one of our favorite adages: Republican candidates whine too much and care too much about the media. They are not running as media-critics-in-chief. Conservatives have plenty of outlets that Ronald Reagan, for one, didn’t enjoy (e.g. talk radio, the blogs). Moreover, if they concentrate on their own message and work tirelessly to go over and around the media gatekeepers they can make their case to voters. Blaming the media is too often a handy excuse for a flawed campaign or underwhelming candidate.

It’s a good lesson for other conservative candidates to internalize: Worry less about how the media is treating you, and worry more about your own message and performance.

Santorum now is enjoying a classic honeymoon period, especially in the conservative blogosphere, where some pundits may feel a bit sheepish about their prior disregard of, if not outright hostility to, his candidacy. That’s fine. But just as he did when the media were indifferent to his candidacy, Santorum would be wise to keep on track, ignore the entreaties to drop or reshape parts of his agenda and follow his own gut instincts with regard to his campaign strategy and policy positions. His inner-directed campaign — a campaign run on issues and stances he favors, not on media- or consultant-shaped positions — has gotten him this far, and he’d be silly to jettison that.

No doubt the media, especially the mainstream variety, will grow hostile if he does move past Romney permanently (his utility now to them is mainly to generate headlines such as “results show Romney weak” or “Romney still unliked”). But no matter. Santorum has learned a valuable lesson: The media gatekeepers aren’t very prescient nor are they reflective of public opinion. That realization is going to hold him in good stead.

By  |  10:15 AM ET, 02/09/2012

Categories:  Conservative movement, 2012 campaign, Media

 
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