THE BLOG
02/07/2006 05:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Murtha Effect: Why Republicans Are Worried

For further evidence of why Democrats should be falling in behind Jack Murtha and making him the point man for nationalizing the '06 elections, look no further than the editorial page of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

After steadfastly deriding Murtha's call for immediately withdrawal, the conservative daily, fast on the heels of Murtha's Jan. 15th appearance on "60 Minutes," did an abrupt 180* and offered a ringing endorsement of his plan.

What makes this so significant is not the Tribune-Review's reach (circulation 102,000) but its provenance. It's part of a seven-paper chain that is published -- and controlled -- by Richard Mellon Scaife, the arch-conservative icon who has donated so much money to conservative causes and institutions that the Washington Post dubbed him the "Funding Father of the Right."

Besides infamously backing the American Spectator's smear-Clinton Arkansas Project, Scaife has given hundreds of millions of dollars to a who's who of right-leaning groups including the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Judicial Watch, the Federalist Society, Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture, Brent Bozell's Media Research Center, and many others. He's also part owner of NewsMax.

Since Murtha's emergence as a critic of the war, Scaife's flagship paper has been critical of his stance, mirroring the White House talking point that withdrawal will only "embolden America's terrorist enemies."

"We respect Mr. Murtha," the Tribune-Review editorialized on December 7. "We think his call for immediate withdrawal is wrong. And now we think he'd better start measuring his words."

On December 14th, on the eve of Iraq's parliamentary elections, the paper, echoing President Bush, wrote, "Defeatism is not a strategy but a millstone around the necks of brave Americans and Iraqis fighting for freedom. We do not accept cut-and-run."

Then came Murtha"s appearance on "60 Minutes," in which he powerfully made the case that Iraq is not now a war against terror (if it ever was one) but has become a civil war -- a civil war that our presence is only exacerbating.

Two days later, the Tribune-Review abruptly changed course. "We didn't agree with Jack Murtha in November when he called for an immediate withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq. The timing wasn't right. But times have changed... This is not retreat. This is not cut-and-run. This is a recognition of the reality in Iraq -- one that has evolved into an Iraqi problem that only the Iraqis now can solve."

Murtha's ability to coalesce concerns conservatives are already having and move the needle on Iraq is one of the reasons the White House is so worried and trying to define opposition to the war as "isolationism." If Murtha can peel off a die-hard conservative like Scaife, how many hundreds of thousands -- millions? -- of Republicans are on the verge of abandoning the president on his signature initiative?

Karl Rove, who has a PhD in the ways of the conservative mind, knows that a distrust of imperial adventures, nation building, and a blank check approach to government are deeply engrained in it. The claim that bringing democracy to Iraq -- and keeping our troops there to ensure it -- is crucial to our national security is becoming a harder and harder sell.

Richard Mellon Scaife is no longer buying it. How long before others of his ilk follow suit and it becomes increasingly difficult to portray a demand for troop withdrawal as a left-wing, peacenik, unpatriotic position?

The big question remains: Will the Democrats finally recognize the significance of the Murtha Effect and put his message front and center?

P.S. The Republican Majority Leader of the New York Senate, Joseph Bruno, came out against the war late last week: "get the troops out of there."

P.P.S. Contrast the Murtha Effect with the conventional wisdom that the Murtha call for withdrawal backfired on Democrats.

P.P.P.S. Thanks to tokorode and kist93 for pointing out that this should be "abrupt 180" and not "abrupt 360"!!