Patrick Ruffini and the Next Right:
What will it take to turn this around? If you’re a conservative blogger, the question you need to ask yourself is this. Is the main purpose of your blog to express your personal opinion? Or is its primary purpose to build political power for a cause? If you cannot answer yes to the latter, you’re probably not going to be comfortable with making the changes necessary to make online conservatism a political force to be reckoned with.
This is not a criticism, but an observation. Most conservative blogs are still stuck in 2003 — both in terms of the overwhelming focus on media criticism and punditry, and the tendency to outsource electoral politics to the Republican Party. This was in some ways legitimate response to what was happening in 2003-4, when media surrender-monkeys were undermining the War on Terror, Republicans had a kick-butt political operation, and Kos was going 0 for 16.
I don’t fault bloggers for holding on to this point of view in 2003 and 2004. What is unfortunate is that they clinged to it in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 and failed to pivot to the new reality, leaving the Republican Party without a powerful enough force to rein in the self-destructive tendencies of its elite.
Sadly, it’s human nature to cling to the frame in which you came up — traditional media people will never fully reconcile themselves to the blogosphere, talk radio people will always tend to view it as the center of the universe, and even denizens of the “new media” can become easily set in their ways. This is not unlike people who got rich on the housing bubble thinking it could never end. When things first start going wrong, it’s always just a momentary blip, not a sign of an impending crash. Only a catastrophic collapse is usually enough to make people rethink matters.
None of this matters a whit when you have no message, and that is the unenviable position the Republicans are in right now. What is John McCain’s core message? I will tell you, as it is very simple- “Not Obama.” That is it. That is the sum total of the message. He and the Wasilla Wingnut have done nothing for the past two months but provide weak and ugly reasons why you should not vote for Obama, starting with the sneer de force at the RNC and continuing on to the present, where we learn that we should not vote for Obama because some plumber (but not really) is worried about socialism and because Obama knows a guy named Khalidi who does not agree with everything Bill Kristol says about Israel.
That is the Republican message, when they are not busy yelling how different they are from the current President, who just so happens to be a Republican. You would think the folks who routinely mocked DKOS for going 0-16 would figure out the similarity between what happened to the Democats in 2004 and what is happening to the Republicans right now. In 2004, the sum total of the Democratic message was “Not Bush.” You saw how that worked out.
And that is why talks about building a grass roots movement for the Republicans are right now premature- should Obama/Biden win on Tuesday, what needs to happen next is an actual bloodletting in the GOP. They need to figure out what they stand for, and once they figure that out, then a grass roots movement might work. But, for now, when the vast majority of the middle feels alienated by the current GOP, when moderate Republicans are running for the hills and an endangered species in Congress (who is left? Chris Shays?), and the bitter base is calcifying around crazy dead-enders like Michele Bachman and Sarah Palin and Eric Cantor, you need more than a good online presence.
And that is where Republicans are now- they have a fractured and thinning party with no real ideas, loads of purity tests, and a good number of people who could form the intellectual base of the party fleeing for parts unknown. Over the past few weeks, we have learned that the GOP is apparently not big enough for Chris Buckley, Peggy Noonan, George Will, Daniel Larison, Kathleen Parker, and on and on and on. Meanwhile, in typical short-sighted fashion, they are elevating a know-nothing who the vast majority of the center finds appalling to be the new heir to the GOP throne, and the leading lights of intellectual conservatism at the National Review have spent the last few months donning tinfoil hats and screaming about Ayers, Khalidi, Obama’s birth certificate, and a load of other shit that no one cares about, while the bloggers chase down the dozen or so videotapes that are going to really bring an end to this whole Obama thing.
What the Republicans need are not organizational skills. Hell, mention one potential bombshell scandal that will hurt Obama, and every right-wing blogger has their obligatory link up at memeorandum predicting the end. Have any of them sat down and thought how silly they look- by my count, there are any number of videotapes out there that are supposed to end it all. The Michelle whitey tape, the tape of Obama’s mistress, the tape of Obama screaming about how much he hates Israel, the tape of Michelle ranting at API, and on and on and on. But back to the point- as far as echoing messages, right-wing bloggers are great. Remember the old Dan Bartlett quote:
That’s what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.
When it comes to message delivery, these guys are solid. I swear to God there are multiple wingnut blog email lists, because the moment one of them has a crazy idea, it is repeated on every high profile right wing blog within the hour. As a group, they are just not very good at building things, although their skill in tearing people down is unparalleled. Ask Graeme Frost. A quick example:
By my count, this is the umpteenth silver bullet that will finally bring Obama down, and our intrepid right-wing bloggers are on it like ugly on an ape. That callous Obama wants to redistribute the wealth, but he refuses to take care of some distant relative he met once and didn’t even know was in the country. And notice, the gang is all there- Malkin, Hot Air, the National Review, Pammy Atlas- the entire base turned out for this one. Go, conservatives!
A funny thing happened last night, and conservatives missed it, apparently. Last night, a major party candidate bought 30 minutes of time on multiple stations, and presented himself and his vision to the American people. If you missed it, you can watch it here:
Notice what is missing from that, conservatives? Attacks on John McCain. For 30 minutes, Barack Obama talked about what he thinks are the problems currently facing the country, about what he thinks he can do to help fix them, how you can help him, and why it is important to elect him. He did not spend his time telling you why you should not vote for McCain, he spent his time telling why you should vote for him. You may not agree with his ideas, but you can not argue he has them and is presenting them to the country in a clear and nonthreatening manner.
Now, for a moment, consider what the Republican 30 minute infomercial would look like this year- if I had to guess, it would be ten minutes about McCain as a POW, ten minutes of McCain saying he isn’t Bush, and then ten minutes of bullshit smears about Ayers, Khalidi, socialism, celebrity, and maybe Rick Davis could go before the cameras and pull a tire gauge out of his ass. For sheer nostalgia, maybe the lead McCain blogger could put those table-top gamers back in their place again. All the while, McCain could pepper his speech with folksy rejoinders about earmarks. And now that we are done with a hypothetical Republican 30 minutes, how did McCain actually respond to the commercial? In case you missed it, he whinged about public financing (when did that become a Republican cause) and then muttered something about Obama delaying the World Series, and even that was a lie.
What you all need are some ideas. Considering how much you hate people who think, and instead seem to consistently rely on people who act from the gut and don’t blink, I am not sure how you are going to work your way out of the hole anytime soon. Without any ideas, it does not matter what kind of online presence you have. If you don’t believe me, ask John Kerry. This election is not over yet, and anything can happen (I still think McCain has a 50% chance at winning, but I am a pessimist), but there is a reason things are going the way they are going right now. Only a miracle can save John McCain, and miracles, by nature, are not an organizing principle.