At National Review Institute Summit, GOP Searches For A Non-Fox News Approach

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

In the wake of recent election failures are more Republican leaders now counseling a break from Fox News' patented style of relentless partisan attack? Are they suggesting the party distance itself from the monotonous mode of Obama attacks that Fox has made synonymous with the GOP?

According to reports from the National Review Institute's recent gathering in Washington, D.C, some calls for common sense moderation seem to be making the rounds. They're being coupled with the admission that the type of campaign stories Fox obsessed over last year turned out to distractions at best, and electoral losers at worst.

With Fox this month posting its worst primetime ratings in more than a decade, the time would seem right for a Republican re-examination of its near total dependence on the cable outlet and its unique brand of paranoid programming.

Last week I wrote about how one prominent conservative voice, Erick Erickson, was begging fellow partisans to ditch the faux outrage that's become so prevalent in right-wing circles. Erickson urged them to move into areas of more substantial debate and argued the self-pitying shtick does nothing to build a movement or get candidates elected. It also doesn't do any good for the Republican Party's image, as its recent 26 percent approval rating indicates. (Whether Erickson believes his own advice has come into question; he's now leaving CNN to go to work for Fox, the operators of the dubious Outrage Machine)

Some of the chatter from the National Review Institute's summit was in the same vein, as Republicans seek to build, and project, a movement that doesn't revolve entirely around Obama name-calling and extended televised freak-outs over imaginary White House slights. (And yes, some of the chatter was just more right-wing extremism, like the claim from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia isn't conservative enough.)

"Just being 'no,' just being a stopgap isn't enough," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told attendees, according to a report in Politico, which stressed "GOP standard-bearers" wanted members to "take a deep breath" and concentrate on more than simply loudly opposing Obama. "We have to show prudence," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who warned Republicans about avoiding Obama's attempts to divide them.

That certainly doesn't sound like the Fox obstructionist approach. In fact, let's agree that exhibiting "prudence," discretion, and caution doesn't  appear anywhere in the Fox News programming blueprint. It's pretty much been banned since January 2009, which is what allowed Fox talkers to depict the president as a "Marxist" "racist" who hates America.

Urging Republicans to throttle back on the Obama Derangement Syndrome act makes sense politically though, since the president remains personally quite popular. Avoiding the Fox-manufactured distractions would also help the GOP.

Reporting from the weekend summit, The New Republic's Alec MacGillis wrote about the traces of 2012 introspection that were on display from conservatives. He listed ten campaign examples that Republicans said were mistakes.

Here are last five:

6. Maybe empirical measures matter after all.

7. Living without health insurance is a bummer, and saying you're going to repeal Obamacare doesn't do much for voters in that situation.

8. "You didn't build that" was a poorly-chosen fixation.

9. The Obama administration's move to require contraception coverage in most insurance plans was perhaps not a suicidal overreach after all.

10. The voter-fraud bogeyman was a distraction.

Notice the connection? Fox News was central in pushing all those distractions; diversion that Republicans now say hurt the party's election chances.  

Empirical measures? Fox News didn't need any! The polls that showed Romney trailing were skewed, Obama's team was in a state of "panic," and Republicans were preparing for a "landslide" victory on Election Night.

Health care reform? It was "unconstitutional"! And if Obama's plan didn't get overturned it would mean "the end of America." Meanwhile, the White House contraception initiative was akin to something imported from "Red China."

And "you didn't build that"? Fox succeeded in creating a campaign uproar over a single sentence from an Obama July 13 campaign appearance, and by ripping that one sentence out of context to make it appear the president had dismissed business owners. The maneuver was called out by a string of fact-checkers ("out of context," "taken wildly out of context," and "ignores the larger context of the president's meaning"), but the channel persisted.

In just two days time last summer Fox devoted 42 segments (!!) to "build that," a talk marathon that totaled more than two hours of airtime.

Karl Rove's anti-Obama super PAC, the Romney campaign, and the entire Republican National Convention soon all joined Fox in  misleading viewers and voters about what Obama said. In other words, the entire conservative/Republican movement in America got behind Fox's "build that" lead and used up untold time and energy hyping it.

Today though, a Republican senator from Texas concedes the whole thing was a waste of time; a squandered fixation. Ted Cruz told MacGillis "build that" didn't resonate with voters because most people don't own their own businesses, they work for people who do.

Cruz's assessment shouldn't have come as a surprise. Despite Fox's obsession, an NBC/WSJ poll in October found that only 32 percent of respondents said the Obama "build that" quote made them feel more negative towards the president.

Even in the wake of Obama's easy re-election win, Fox's grip on the Republican Party appears sturdy. But as party leaders plot the future, will there be room for Fox's failed approach?

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, National Review
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