As Mitt Romney's team continues to try to defuse the recent conservative rebellion regarding the state of his campaign, it's telling that the right-wing media led the rear-guard charge.
Traditionally, when campaign revolts bubble up they're reported in the media, not initiated there. In the past, it was nervous party elites, major donors, state party chairmen, members of Congress and their top aides who aired complaints, through the media, when they felt their party's candidate was falling down, or that his campaign was in need of a course correction.
This time it's the right-wing media that's taken upon itself to launch a running critique of Romney's campaign:
-Fox's Eric Bolling says Romney should fire his whole staff
-Fox's Brian Kilmeade suggests Romney has to "toughen up"
-Fox's Bill Kristol compares Rommey to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry and says he needs to "get off autopilot."
-Fox owner Rupert Murdoch tweets that Romney needs to shake up his staff
-Murdoch's Wall Street Journal editorial page eviscerates Romney's campaign team as being incompetent
-Fox's Laura Ingraham mocks Romney's jet-skiing ways
Did you spot the trend?
It's amazing how the conservative press feels completely empowered at this point to brazenly dictate how the Republican Party candidate ought to run for the White House. (No matter how kooky the suggestions.)
Sure, pundits in the past have critiqued candidates and complained about shortcomings, but not on the coordinated scale that recently unfolded in conservative circles. And we certainly haven't seen many examples of media critiques in and of themselves being treated as news.
Note that within days of Murdoch dashing off a couple barbed tweets aimed at the Romney campaign, the New York Times treated the taunts as news. By comparison, four years ago did anyone really care what Rupert Murdoch thought of the McCain campaign?
Today though, with Murdoch's Fox-led properties replacing the Republican National Committee as the hub of partisan activity on the right, Murdoch is treated as a king maker in America. (This, while his reputation in Britain lay in tatters.)
And that's why Murdoch's 140-character dispatches are deemed newsworthy. Since Obama's inauguration, the conservative movement in America has become, first and foremost, a media movement. And that's where the Republican Party and its presidential campaign are now taking commands from; the far-right press.
Watching the Romney campaign react to the recent undressing, blogger Andrew Sullivan noted, "What we're seeing is a candidate not strong enough to stand up to his base, but a candidate so weak he has to ventriloquize it." But by the "base," Sullivan could have been referring to the GOP press because that's what Romney's now forced to mimic; that's the "base" he must respond to.
This is their election. They invented Obama Derangement Syndrome and they're the ones leading the irrational campaign against the incumbent president. Mitt Romney, as it's becoming increasingly clear, is just their vehicle. The right-wing media desperately want him to act as a high-profile clearinghouse for their radical nature.
This week, Limbaugh, his voice dripping with anger and contempt, announced "Obama is a thugocracy." Four years in, and that kind of name-calling has become rote. But keep in mind that's the mindset of the people dictating terms to the Romney campaign. It's a mindset anchored in fear and hatred and a complete divorce from common sense. So not only have we never seen a media movement call the shots in a presidential campaign quite like this before, but we've certainly never seen such a radical media movement be given this much influence for a White House run.
With Romney appearing to have to bow down to Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, the Drudge Report and other feverish outlets, tension has emerged. Romney is trying to win elections by picking up independent voters in swing states, while they're trying to exercise weird Obama demons by peddling nonsensical propaganda.
Media conservatives, for instance, are obsessed with the idea of repealing Obama's health care reform and want it to be a defining centerpiece of Romney general election campaign, just like it's been a Tea Party centerpiece for years. But in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, a clear majority of Americans want politicians to move onto other issues, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
What must be so upsetting for conservatives is that up until recently Romney was basking in their praise and the right-wing media was crushing on the candidate. Last month, partisan players cheered when the Romney campaign sent staffers to yell and boo Obama strategist David Axelrod at a press conference, and when a Romney campaign bus drove round and round honking at Obama supporters. For far-right fans, those juvenile antics signaled determination and willingness by the Romney campaign to do away with etiquette and the type of simple decorum that conservatives were so angry McCain abided by in 2008.
"I'm telling you," Limbaugh announced on the day after the heckling spectacle, "This is not the McCain campaign." The talker meant it as a compliment, as BuzzFeed noted how Romney was "uniting the right by playing the role of the bomb-thrower."
They loved that the presumptive Republican nominee's campaign was fueled, in part, by a dose of ODS. Also, that Romney refused to distance himself from Donald Trump and his birther madness, which has long been a staple of the far-right press, especially on Fox News.
In May, Romney and his wife even met for two hours with conspiracy-minded GOP bloggers to map out how they could aide and abet his campaign. The admiration was flowing just a few weeks ago when Breitbart editor Larry O'Connor typed up quotes from Romney strategists about how wonderful and influential the right-wing media has become (especially Breitbart.com!) and how it was working seamlessly with the Republican candidate on messaging to defeat Obama.
But that has since changed. The Obama haters feel betrayed on key policy issues and by Romney's tepid response to the recent immigration and health care rulings by the Supreme Court.
The right-wing media complained loudly. Message: They want their campaign back.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.