The Elephant in the Room

New media help conservatives get their anti-Obama message out

Erick Erickson, Editor-in-chief of talks about how his site acts as "a central hub for communication in the conservative movement."
By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 2010

In November, the morning after Election Day, a conservative blogger in Georgia blasted an e-mail to 65,000 people.

Erick Erickson's 5 a.m. "Morning Briefing" seemed counterintuitive -- the election of a Democrat to a U.S. House seat in Upstate New York held by Republicans for more than a century, he wrote, was "a huge win for conservatives."

Yet the missive immediately was posted online by the conservative publication Human Events, a corporate sibling of Erickson's blog, RedState. It next reached the Web site of the American Spectator magazine, whose publisher, Alfred S. Regnery, sits on the board of the conservative publishing house that owns RedState and Human Events.

Ricocheting inside the Beltway, Erickson's analysis fueled discussion later that morning at two influential weekly meetings of D.C. conservatives. Next, it was endorsed by radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, considered by many conservatives the ultimate authority. "We kept a horrible Republican from possibly winning," Limbaugh said.

The ability of a single e-mail to shape a message illustrates the power of the conservative network -- loosely affiliated blogs, radio hosts, "tea-party" organizers and D.C. institutions that are binding together to fuel opposition to President Obama and, sometimes, to Republicans.

With the Democratic defeat in the recent special senatorial election in Massachusetts, engineered in part by tea-party activists working with several Beltway-based groups, the conservative movement is more energized than it has been in years.

It is also more unified. Disputes festered between economic and social conservatives during the Bush years, but they have eased amid what all sides decry as Obama's liberal agenda. "Nothing unites like a common enemy," said Colin Hanna, president of the conservative group Let Freedom Ring.

The movement that many date to the 1955 founding of William F. Buckley's venerable National Review now spreads through new media. Learning from the Democratic "Net roots," conservatives use Twitter and Facebook to plan such events as the recent demonstrations against health-care reform at the Capitol.

"We're experts at [finding] pro-lifers on Facebook," said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Arlington-based Students for Life of America, and one of numerous social conservatives who have worked closely with economic conservatives to fight Democratic health bills.

Such coordination is increasing. Inside the Beltway, much of it is fueled by the Conservative Action Project (CAP), a new group of conservative leaders chaired by Reagan-era attorney general Edwin Meese III. CAP, whose influential memos "for the movement" circulate on Capitol Hill, is an offshoot of the Council for National Policy, a highly secretive organization of conservative leaders and donors.

"There is a definite sense that the various parts of the conservative movement are coming together," said Regnery, a leading CAP member.

CAP has worked with some of the movement's key national players, who include bloggers such as Erickson and Michelle Malkin and the State Policy Network, a consortium of 57 conservative and libertarian think tanks. One of them, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy in New Orleans, recently hosted a speech by James O'Keefe, the conservative activist charged last week with entering a federal building under false pretenses in an alleged plot to tamper with telephones in the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

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