GOP candidates are training to better talk about women and women's issues following the disastrous 2012 elections -- but this new rebranding effort will be difficult, given conservative media's toxic rhetoric on women.
Politico reported on December 5 that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is meeting with congressional Republicans and their aides to "teach them what to say -- or not to say -- on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman":
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to "rebrand" the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they're not entirely confident the job is done.
So they're getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they're ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Akin dropped the phrase "legitimate rape" during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP "War on Women" that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
This new phase in the GOP's attempt to rebrand the party comes months after the Republican National Committee's (RNC) March 18 post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned the party was "increasingly marginalizing itself" by alienating women, Hispanics, African Americans, and younger voters.
As Media Matters noted at the time, the rebranding effort always faced a significant obstacle: conservative media. Right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh played a significant role in popularizing the very brand of Republican politics the party leadership now understands is toxic -- and they are unlikely to change their rhetoric on women just because the RNC and NRCC suggest it.
After all, Limbaugh is the man who launched 46 personal attacks on Sandra Fluke in 2012, including calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of affordable contraception, and little has changed since then. Just in the month of November, Limbaugh compared filibuster reform in the Senate to "allow[ing] women to be raped"; suggested that women in the military synchronize their menstrual cycles so they'd be "ready to be banshees"; read from a misogynistic parody site mocking marital rape; claimed ads promoting Obamacare's coverage of birth control told young women "if you like being a prostitute, then have at it"; and claimed Democrats are turning women "into nothing but abortion machines."
Limbaugh is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has mocked efforts to combat the immense problem of sexual assault in the military, and claimed "female sexual freedom" led to a "war on men." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attempted to tie the "War on Christmas" to "unfettered abortion." Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson has called Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis "abortion Barbie" and attempted to smear her campaign by suggesting she was mentally unfit for office. And a Fox Business host recently asked if there is "something about the female brain that is a deterrent" to women working as tech executives.
That's just a few of the most recent examples. The list goes on.
If the NRCC is concerned about Republicans being labeled "anti-women," Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments are perhaps the least of their concerns. Conservative media's daily drumbeat of demeaning attacks on women could do more damage to the party's efforts than any single gaffe.
After all, the GOP rebranding effort also included a call for greater Latino outreach, to which conservative media responded with increased anti-immigrant demagoguery and a full-throated effort to destroy immigration reform. At the moment, it seems the conservative media is successfully thwarting the Republican "rebrand" -- leaving the GOP right back where they were in November 2012.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a Scottsdale, AZ-based legal group committed to rolling back the rights of women and LGBT people on the grounds of "religious liberty." The organization has played a leading role in combatting marriage equality and non-discrimination policies in the U.S. while working internationally to criminalize homosexuality. Despite its rabid anti-LGBT extremism, ADF receives reliably friendly treatment from Fox News.
Established as the Alliance Defense Fund in 1994, ADF's founders include such religious right leaders as Focus on the Family's James C. Dobson and Campus Crusade for Christ's Bill Bright. According to ADF's website, the organization changed its name to Alliance Defending Freedom in 2012 to highlight its "enduring mission to gain justice for those whose faith has been unconstitutionally denied in the areas of religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family."
Headed by President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears, staffed by more than 40 attorneys, and boasting an annual budget in excess of $30 million, ADF bills itself as "a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system." As part of its effort to remake the American legal system along quasi-theocratic lines, ADF has:
ADF's relentless legal campaign against LGBT equality led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to describe the organization as "virulently anti-gay." SPLC proved instrumental in exposing an aspect of ADF's work that the organization chooses not to tout on its website - its international work to criminalize homosexuality.
After an agreement was reached with Iran to halt parts of their nuclear program, right-wing media figures responded by calling the compromise "abject surrender by the United States" and comparing negotiations between the United States and Iran to British appeasement of Nazi aggression in the lead up to the Second World War.
National Review Online has joined Fox News contributor Erick Erickson in smearing Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, for using boilerplate legal language in a defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) lawsuit filed on her behalf against a local Fort Worth newspaper nearly 20 years ago.
Earlier this week, Erickson questioned Davis' "mental health" and corresponding suitability for public office after learning about a civil lawsuit her lawyers filed in 1996 in response to disparaging editorials directed at Davis during her unsuccessful run for city council, information he sourced to a website run by the Republican Party of Texas. NRO picked up the story, clumsily characterizing the complaint as "light on subtlety and nuance," without realizing that the language it highlighted are standard legal elements for an IIED claim. From NRO:
Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Fort Worth city council in 1996, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, along with parent companies ABC and Disney, for libel, alleging that the paper's coverage of her campaign had been biased and "demonizing," caused harm to her physical and mental health, and infringed on her "right to pursue public offices in the past and in the future." Davis demanded "significant exemplary damages" in return.
The suit, which was roundly dismissed on three separate occasions after Davis appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, centered on a series of "libelous and defamatory" articles about her candidacy, which, she alleged, were authored "with an intent to inflict emotional distress" and to deny her rights under the First Amendment.
The complaint itself was light on subtlety and nuance, arguing that the paper's conduct "was extreme and outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." As a result of the paper's actions, Davis alleged, she had "suffered and is continuing to suffer damages to her mental health, her physical health, her right to pursue public offices in the past and in the future, and to her legal career" and deserved financial compensation.
Like Erickson, NRO failed to mention the role the Texas GOP played in pushing this 20 year-old non-story. Moreover, it ignores the fact that the suit follows basic pleading practice for this type of personal injury -- any plaintiff claiming IIED would file substantially similar boilerplate language with the court. In fact, plaintiffs who claim IIED must plead an almost identical variation of the "extreme and outrageous ... in a civilized community" phrasing that NRO quoted. This is the sort of thing covered in the first year of law school, or that can be easily discovered on Google. Elementary competence in writing legal complaints on the part of her lawyers doesn't make Davis "crazy or a liar," as Erickson erroneously claimed -- it makes her an average plaintiff.
Right-wing media have relentlessly attacked Davis, including going after her record on reproductive justice and referring to her as "Abortion Barbie." This latest smear based on her purported unsuitability for office due to alleged emotional distress in 1996 demonstrates that, at least in this case, their ignorance is catching up to their viciousness.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson launched his latest personal attack on Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, whom he proudly labeled "Abortion Barbie," by absurdly suggesting that a 1996 lawsuit in which Davis made a routine legal claim in a defamation lawsuit disqualified her to hold public office.
In a post on his conservative website RedState, Erickson highlighted a 1996 lawsuit in which Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for defamation. Erickson seized on language from the suit, in which Davis claimed the editorial had caused "damages to her mental health," a required element of her alternate Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claim, to argue Democrats would regret supporting her campaign for governor:
Back in 1996, Wendy Davis lost an election for the Fort Worth, TX City Council. After the election, she sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the local newspaper, for defamation. In short, Davis did not like being criticized by the media (something she won't have to worry about this go round), so she sued for those criticisms claiming they defamed her.
The Texas Court of Appeals and then the Texas Supreme Court both threw out her case. But it is worth noting that Davis, in making her case, claimed that the nasty newspaper, by virtue of criticizing her, damaged her "mental health."
More worrisome regarding her mental stability, Davis sued the newspaper months after losing her city council and claimed that she "ha[d] suffered and [was] continuing to suffer damages to her mental health."
Think about that. The best candidate the Texas Democrats could find to run is a lady who admits in open court that a newspaper editorial caused her mental health to be damaged.
As explained by the Digital Media Law Project of Harvard University's Berman Center for Internet & Society, "Plaintiffs who file defamation lawsuits often add an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim as an alternative theory of liability." Within these IIED claims, a plaintiff must prove the emotional distress, or "damages to her mental health." In other words, Erickson wants his subscribers to "think about" the routine legal boilerplate of Wendy Davis' lawyers from 1996.
Erickson's suggestion that Davis is unfit for public office because of a defamation lawsuit is only the latest in his string of absurd or vicious personal attacks against her. In August, Erickson labeled Davis "Abortion Barbie" after she declined to comment on the case of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell:
Following Republican Ken Cuccinelli's defeat in the Virginia gubernatorial race, conservative media blamed the Republican Party establishment for not supporting Cuccinelli's right-wing agenda.
Right-wing media that demanded the Republican Party shut down the government and put the debt ceiling at risk as a strategy to damage ObamaCare are already signaling that they blame members of Congress who were insufficiently supportive for the plan's failure.
That's consistent with the theory Media Matters laid out yesterday that the right-wing media has become convinced that conservatism cannot lose, and thus any evidence suggesting that a conservative strategy failed will be rejected on the grounds that either the strategy didn't really lose, or the real fault lies with its implementers who somehow betrayed the plan.
Last night, the House GOP failed to coalesce around a bill that would have funded the government, raised the debt ceiling, and implemented various conservative policies. Current reporting indicates that both Houses of Congress will now pass the Senate's bill, which will fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, but without the sort of Republican demands that have stalled those objectives for weeks.
Observers across the spectrum are calling this a crushing defeat for the Tea Party strategy that linked must-pass legislation to defunding or delaying ObamaCare, and it's easy to see why. For weeks it's been clear that because Republicans control only the House of Representatives, the only deal that could pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law by President Obama would be one that relied largely on Democratic votes in the House. House Speaker Boehner's attempt to pass a bill with only Republican support never had a chance, led to devastating poll numbers for his party, and in the end the GOP couldn't even find a set of demands that they all agreed with.
But among the members of the right-wing media who promoted this strategy, it's not the plan that was at fault, it's the failure of Republican leaders to stick it out. Fox News contributor Erick Erickson responded to the latest developments by blaming the House Republicans who "have signaled they are giving up" and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was "outsmarted" by Majority Leader Harry Reid (who also happens to control the majority of the Senate). His next step?
We only need a few good small businessmen and women to stand up and challenge these Republicans who are caving. If they refuse to fight for us, we must fight them. It is the only way we will finally be able to fight against Obamacare.
I am tired of funding Republicans who campaign against Obamacare then refuse to fight. It's time to find a new batch of Republicans to actually practice what the current crop preaches.
On the morning of October 14, after two weeks of the GOP's government shutdown had cratered the party's standing in the polls and with the debt ceiling looming, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson sent his daily email to subscribers. "Keep Fighting" was the message from the conservative media mogul, whose strategies are frequently adopted by his party's right wing.
Erickson's daily briefing urged readers to press Senate leaders not to accept a deal that didn't defund or delay Obamacare. He also demanded House leaders pass a debt limit increase while holding firm on refusing to pass a bill to fund the government unless it is tied to defunding health care reform. And crucially, he wrote that he had just donated to two conservative PACs "at the forefront of the fight" and to primary opponents of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and urged his readers to do the same.
The conservative wing of the party has been dictating its strategy since at least mid-August, when vocal minorities in both houses implored congressional leadership not to defund the health care law as the price for passing short-term government funding legislation. To outside observers, it seems clear that the strategy has been an abysmal failure. And yet, prominent right-wing media figures not only want to double down on that strategy, but punish members of the party who seem the least bit hesitant to pursue it.
How to explain these wildly disparate assessments? A large faction of the right-wing media -- Erickson, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity Breitbart News, and a host of others -- has become trapped in the political embodiment of a variant of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.
Under that logical fallacy, adherents shift definitions and appeal to purity when confronted with evidence that disproves their beliefs rather than accepting reality. In this case, the right-wing media has become convinced that a central pillar of modern conservatism is that it cannot lose. Any evidence suggesting that a conservative strategy has failed is thus rejected on the grounds that either the strategy didn't really lose, or its implementers weren't true conservatives and thus betrayed the plan by failing to promote it with quite enough fervor. That mindset has locked the right-wing media and through it many activists and lawmakers into a seemingly endless pattern of crisis politics with potentially devastating consequences for the country.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson is urging conservatives in Congress to separate the debt ceiling and budget fights as part of a strategy to "undermine Obamacare," and is attacking Republican leaders who he claims want to merge them and preserve Obamacare.
Under the headline "This is the Strategy. Now Do It.", Erickson, whose bellicose strategies are often favored by Tea Party members, writes on his RedState blog that "Republican Leaders are begging us to merge the continuing resolution fight and debt ceiling fight" because "They want to conflate it with the debt ceiling so they can do a grand bargain and leave Obamacare alone. He singles out Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for criticism over his October 8 Wall Street Journal op-ed on debt ceiling negotiations, stating that that Ryan "wants a grand bargain and not once mentions Obamacare. Not once."
Conservative media viciously attacked Texas State Senator Wendy Davis after she announced her candidacy for governor, linking Davis to infanticide and calling an image of her with kids "sick" and "disgusting."
As the government shutdown loomed and then became a reality, right-wing media figures have called for maintained Republican commitment to keeping the government closed until Democrats agree to significant changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Hawking shady products - gold coins sold at a 30-percent markup, "survival seeds," and financial newsletters only designed to enrich their authors -- has long been the core strategy of funding the conservative media enterprise.
But the deleterious effect of the latest conservative media scam threatens to be far greater than a tube of seeds that will yield no fruit.
The conservative media, along with Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), have conned their base into believing that shutting down the government -- unless Barack Obama agrees to stop the implementation of Obamacare -- is a strategically and politically salient idea for the GOP and the conservative movement. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) earlier this summer dubbed it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
Fueled by television ads starring Cruz and paid for by the Senate Conservative Fund -- a PAC initially founded by Heritage President Jim DeMint to shift the Senate GOP Conference rightward -- this movement was buoyed by an active campaign from the conservative media that began months ago. In July, Rush Limbaugh called the effort to block funding the government a "crucial thing" and the "one last chance to stop" Obamacare.
Sean Hannity called for a government shutdown months ago, telling his audience:
"I think they ought to just put their foot down, stand on principal and stop calculating what political impact is going to be felt here. Fund the rest of the government, but just defund Obamacare. And then if the Democrats want to shut down the government, then let them shut it down."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson has used his blog, RedState.com, to call for the "scalps" of Republican politicians who do not "fight" to defund Obamacare with a government shutdown.
This has set off an internal GOP war, with some on the right expressing doubt that a government shutdown is a viable or effective strategy. This was on display Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation when Tom Coburn (R-OK) implied that his colleagues in the Senate pushing for a government shutdown weren't living in the "real world."
"Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this," Coburn told host Bob Schieffer. "We're not about to shut the government down over the fact that we cannot, only controlling one house of Congress, tell the president that we're not going to fund any portion of this. Because we can't do that."
Karl Rove also took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that defunding the government over Obamacare "would strengthen the president while alienating independents," ultimately leading the GOP towards electoral defeat.
Coburn, Rove, and others calling for restraint now are simply trying to slay a monster of their own creation. In early 2009, with momentum carrying the Obama administration forward, the Tea Party and its champions fought to create this toxic environment in which forcing a government shut down over Obamacare seemed like a viable option.
August town hall meetings degenerated into chaos as grassroots conservatives screamed at their members about a government takeover of healthcare. Obamacare was not simply a new health insurance system; the conservative base believed it was an all-out effort by Democrats to kill their grandmothers and children with disabilities. It needed to be defeated at all costs.
Tea Party members in Congress and the conservative media continued to use this rhetoric with their base long after their lies had been debunked and long after the bill's passage.
They cheered as this rhetoric enabled the GOP to win 63 seats in the House of Representatives, six in the Senate, and 675 state legislative seats -- allowing them to control the redistricting process.
They pushed their state governments to reject the law's Medicaid provisions and exchanges and looked the other way as conservative groups attempted to sabotage the implementation of the law by convincing young people it would be better to go without health insurance than sign up for Obamacare.
Admittedly, some groused when tea party extremists rejected candidates such as Mike Castle in Delaware in favor of sure losers like Christine O'Donnell, but they stood silent as tea party members in the House made the chamber ungovernable.
This week these strategies have finally come to a head. With the deadline for funding the government days away, the House has passed a bill sure to be rejected in the Senate and one the President won't sign. The Republican Caucus in the House is primarily made up of Tea Party members, whose districts, due to gerrymandering, are more subservient to the rhetoric of the conservative media than to the needs of the country.
Even those in the GOP and the conservative media lamenting this latest potential government shutdown bear responsibility for it. They have stood by and cheered since 2009 as the conservative base was spoon-fed lies about healthcare. Now that they recognize these lies have metastasized, not simply into false promises about gold coins or gardens that will feed your family after a financial apocalypse but into a political movement that will do long-term damage to the GOP, they are crying for its end.
However, the faulty calculation sold, and continuing to be sold, by many in the right-wing media is clear: if you can stop the federal government from murdering your grandmother and child, then a government shutdown and even electoral defeat is a small price to pay.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson used the "female reproductive system" as a metaphor to chide Washington, D.C. Republicans over defunding Obamacare.
In a September 17 post at his RedState blog, Erickson wrote that he "cannot use the word" he wanted to use to describe Washington Republicans who are supposedly "surrender[ing]" on the issue of defunding Obamacare. Accompanied by a photo of Code Pink protesters dressed as female reproductive parts, Erickson likened the GOP to the word he apparently couldn't use:
More Americans oppose Obamacare now than at any time. As rhetoric on defunding Obamacare has gone up, so has Republican popularity and opposition to Obamacare. A full quarter of the American public wants Congress to actually blow up Obamacare. When is the last time a full quarter of the whole population wanted Congress to do any one thing?
More than half want Obamacare either destroyed or substantially changed.
But the GOP, its allies in the press and pundit core, and its very leadership are such [insert euphemism of choice related to the female reproductive system] that they'd rather plan their surrender before making their retreat. [emphasis added]
Erickson has a history of sexist comparisons, including referring to the first night of the Democratic National Convention in September 2012 as the "Vagina Monologues." Recently, he claimed that people who defend female breadwinners are "anti-science" because males are "typically...the dominant role," and referred to Texas State Senator Wendy Davis as "Abortion Barbie."
From the September 13 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Repeating the right-wing trope that the mainstream media "leans to the left," Fox News contributor Erick Erickson criticized media outlets for describing animus towards LGBT people as "bias" and falsely suggested that most Americans oppose LGBT equality.
In a September 13 blog post for his RedState.com website, Erickson misleadingly claimedthat a majority of Americans oppose the affirmation of "alternative lifestyles" - and that media outlets should therefore avoid describing people who condemn homosexuality as harboring "bias":
Erin Burnett of CNN and formerly of CNBC is a wonderful person and a great reporter. But I'll never forget being on air the night of June 5, 2012.
John King and Erin Burnett were chatting as Erin promoted what was coming up on her show. A pastor was losing his church because he supported gay marriage. His congregation had left and there was too little money coming in. "It's a pretty powerful story of conviction and also the bias that is still very prevalent in certain places in this country," Burnett gravely stated. "Bias ... in certain places."
At the top of the seven o'clock hour, Burnett ran a David Mattingly story about Grace Community United Church of Christ in St. Paul, Minnesota. The real story happened seven years earlier. The pastor of the African-American church, way back then, supported gay marriage at the 2005 national meeting of the United Church of Christ over the desires of his congregation. Most of the congregation left his church. The week of June 5, 2012, would be perhaps, in David Mattingly's words, "the last service before the church closes its doors for good. What I saw was a far cry from the days when the seats were full."
It is not that Erin Burnett and David Mattingly's report clearly made the pastor who defied his congregation the hero and his congregants who demanded faithful adherence to their scripture the bigots. The media does this all the time. In a nation whose voters routinely tells pollsters they support gay marriage while routinely voting against gay marriage, most of the media is very much in favor of gay marriage. Stories about Christian pastors seem to focus on the bigoted and hateful few contrasted with a few open minded, tolerant Christians whose churches are dwindling as they embrace alternative lifestyles.
But we are a nation where a majority of states, through democratic processes, prohibit gay marriage. And the story was cast not as a preacher disobeying his congregation and dealing with the consequences, but as "bias ... in certain places" causing a church to close down. The presupposition of the story was against the congregation, not against the pastor who directly disobeyed the wishes of his congregation. [emphasis added]