As Eric Boehlert pointed out earlier today, a significant fissure is opening up on the Right. The increasing influence of extremists like Fox News' Glenn Beck and radio host Rush Limbaugh has shaken more mainstream conservatives who are searching for a new set of leaders -- and the conservative establishment is lashing out. Consider some of the recent comments from prominent conservative media personalities and elected officials:
- Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks describing Beck, Limbaugh, and radio talker Mark Levin as "loons" who are "harmful for America."
- Former Bush and McCain adviser Mark McKinnon denouncing Levin's "jaw-dropping hate language about the president."
- MSNBC commentator and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough blasting Limbaugh's cheers after Chicago lost its Olympic bid: "Republicans have gone off the deep end"
These are just a few examples of a serious trend. Right-wing media figures are now routinely attacking each other's tactics and relevancy. On Friday, Brooks (nonsensically) dedicated an entire column to explaining why conservative media leaders like Beck and Limbaugh are not worthy of attention. He argued that we are once again witnessing "the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche -- even of the Republican Party." It's a point he made several weeks earlier, when he said that "[i]f the Republican Party is sane, they will say no to these people." Beck, in turn, responded by reading Brooks' editorial on the air and mocking the idea that he was the overlord of thoughtless, right-wing radio audiences who will "kill people because we tell you to." Feeling defensive, Glenn?
Numerous other conservatives are speaking out as well, with Beck taking a good deal of the heat. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said to Fox News' Bret Baier that Beck "doesn't represent the Republican Party," adding, "You can listen to him if you like. I choose not to, because quite frankly, I don't want to go down the road of thinking our best days are behind us."
On September 22, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough went after Beck specifically. "You need to call out this type of hatred, because it always blows up in your face," he said. "You cannot preach hatred. You cannot say the president's a racist. You cannot stir up things that could have very deadly consequences."
Peter Wehner, a former Bush speechwriter and a regular blogger for Commentary, wrote in September that the content of Beck's broadcasts "should worry the conservative movement," and that some of his attacks "are quite unfair and not good for the country." Another former Bush speechwriter, David Frum, has employed even harsher language:
Glenn Beck is not the first to make a pleasant living for himself by reckless defamation. We have seen his kind before in American journalism and American politics, and the good news is that their careers never last long. But the bad news is that while their careers do last, such people do terrible damage.
The View's Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Charles Johnson of the popular conservative blog Little Green Footballs, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) have all offered similar assessments. Even Mark Levin himself seems to dislike Beck and has called him "mindless," "incoherent," "pandering," and "pathetic."
It will be very interesting to watch the growing disharmony on the Right play out. But for now, it wouldn't be too surprising if the ego-driven, media-led conservative movement continued forming its firing squad into a circle.