So what happened to Kentucky’s new GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul — the darling and seeming new national symbol of the Tea Party movement — once he beat the GOP establishment backed candidate and a chastened Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after running a campaign embracing the Tea Party’s most cherished tenets?
Was it the mean, bad, evil national media which is liberal (except during times when angry liberals insist it is conservative but let’s not talk about that) working in conjunction with the ideological cable media — and did he ever have a chance as these professional sharks smelled political blood and moved in to attack him? Or could it have been other factors? The Atlantic’s Senior Editor Josh Green, in a post that needs to be read in full, offers a highly logical explanation: it isn’t so much that Paul wasn’t ready for prime time, it’s that the local time to prepare him for prime time was virtually nonexistent so he wasn’t primed for prime time. He explains about Paul’s disastrous national debut:
The first [reason] is that the Rand Paul who emerged post-election–questioning the Civil Rights Act, exonerating BP for the oil spill, and generally setting off grenades in the national media–is nothing like the Rand Paul who campaigned and won the Kentucky GOP primary. What Paul spoke about on the stump was mostly the size of the deficit, his desire for a balanced budget and term limits, and his belief that a lot of what Congress does has no basis in the Constitution. Paul’s favorite example was health care, not civil rights. But the interesting thing to me, as I wrote on Monday, is that he took care to emphasize those parts of the Tea Party agenda that appeal (he claimed) to independents and moderates.
…. The second point, which gets directly to why Rand Paul is suddenly flailing, is that the local Kentucky media–in particular the newspapers, and especially the flagship Louisville Courier-Journal–has been decimated by job cuts, as has happened across the country. This came up several times in discussions with Kentucky politicos and local journalists. The reason it matters is that because there is no longer a healthy, aggressive press corps–and no David Yepson-type dean of political journalists–candidates don’t run the same kind of gauntlet they once did. They’re not challenged by journalists. And since voters aren’t as well informed as they once were (many are “informed” in the sense of having strongly held views about all manner of things–they’re just not “well informed”), they can’t challenge the candidates either.
Thus, when Rand Paul appeared on “Maddow” and the other shows, I expect he was prepared to offer the same sermon I heard on the trail. Problem is, he was encountering an aggressive, experienced press corps that appropriately had its own agenda and was eager to challenge Paul to elaborate on his views.
There is a lot to be said for this theory.
As someone who wrote for newspapers from New Delhi and Madrid for 8 years, worked as a reporter on chain newspapers in the United States for 11 years, and who was trained in journalism graduate school, contrary to ideological conventional wisdom (and partisans’ wishful thinking) most newspaper reporters do NOT approach an interview as a way to decimate someone politically. If they’re on the job they perceive themselves as proxies for a) the public who may have hard questions; and b) their editors who may have asked them to get some answers and who want solid, new, news-making content in their stories.
If newspapers are greatly weakened with staff cuts, and unable to put either the resources or time into some stories — with a diminished staff you can only do so much to try and stay on top of not just the news but the nuts and bolts aspects of putting out a newspaper that require time and personnel — something has to give.
My prediction is that Paul will limit himself to friendly outlets — such as talk radio or appearing on Fox News and taking questions from Mr. Softball (for Republicans) Fox News’ Sean Hannity. He’ll use the Sarah Palin model, which is to get comments out via various media but avoid unfriendly cable and mainstream media when he can, and rally supporters by demonizing the media.
(UPDATE: Be sure to read Bob Stein’s take on this HERE — which is not the same as mine.) This could work in a conservative state such as Kentucky, particularly since Paul is miles ahead in the polls. But he will damage the image of the Tea Party movement and possibly the GOP nationally if the Dems pick up his comments and use them over and over on ads or on talk shows throughout the year. If he can recede from national view a bit and campaign on the principles that swept him to primary victory he could win in Kentucky and won’t damage the GOP or the Tea Party movement. The questions: Can he do that? And will his opponents be able to keep his name in the news?
In short: he can keep the faithful in line by limiting his appearances on conservative talk radio and Fox News where his appearances will most assuredly be coupled by comments about how the media and ideological media are out to get him. (A note on this: I listened to MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow’s interview with Paul live on XM radio. She clearly had her views BUT she also gave him several escape routes to fine tune or finesse his comments and he simply did not take them. She was almost plaintive at times in trying to give him the chance to clarify. So accusations that she just did a hatchet job are not accurate: she was persistent but offered him chances to elaborate, which he did not or would not do).
The bigger issue is that this undermined what could have been a very useful media narrative for the Tea Party movement and those who support it. If Paul had not stuck his foot in his mouth (both on the civil rights act and later on Barack Obama being almost “un-American” for taking a harder line on BP and also for stating that “accidents happen'” in oil spills) the narrative would have been the triumph of the Tea Party with the implication that the movement is indeed mainstream and not an appendage of the GOP or an extreme appendage of it.
We normally run Michael Reagan’s column here on TMV and were ready to run this a few days after the election with some minor updates — but decided not to since the Paul controversy seemed to make it too dated now. But here it is so you can see the damage Paul inflicted on what could have been an emerging media narrative — now damaged at least partially because Paul expressed views not within the American mainstream. And now that he seemingly seeks to avoid questioning from mainstream media outlets he and the Tea Party will lose the ability to assure some moderates and independents going into 2010 (just going on Fox News is not the way to do it). Meanwhile, it’s harder now to say that Paul is advocating a return to the principles of Ronald Reagan after his recent comments.
A reminder: Ronald Reagan did NOT duck interviews with the mainstream media; both when he was Governor and President. Reagan usually welcomed them and often beat the media at its own game. TMV is licensed to run this copyrighted column in full and we run Michael Reagan’s column along with several other columnists regularly (this is in quotes so it is not confused with this post):
How Would You Like Your Tea — Sweetened or Unsweetened?
Making Sense, by Michael Reagan
Kentucky is not normally a state that is seen as a bellwether to the national political mood. Comfortably in the “Red,” the Bluegrass State often passes through the electoral season with very little national fanfare. Last night that changed.
For the first time since its rapid evolvement, the Tea Party movement helped a significant political candidate earn electoral victory — marking a notable increase in the movement’s importance to candidates across the country. No longer can anyone call this a fluke.
Now many will be quick to say that this is simply a result of the normal enthusiasm gap that comes into play when one party has been swept into power. And others will say that this new group symbolizes a modern shift into a third wing of American electoral politics. I disagree with both.
You see, what the Tea Party movement stands for is nothing new to those of us who remember the days of the Grand Old Party remaining true to its core principles — a Republican Party that believed that uttering anything related to “increased government spending” was akin to dropping a four-letter curse word.
What the Tea Party followers are demanding is simply a return to the days of old — the days where Republican leaders like my father stood for smaller government, less spending and the implementation of policies that allow the American economy to grow, rather than punishing families and small businesses for being productive.
Today, if you visit any state Republican convention or any other gathering of Republicans, you will see a wide array of conservative organizations using my father’s likeness to promote their cause. From the issue of life to immigration, they claim the Reagan mantra.
However, when it comes to the Tea Party, these folks are actually out there demanding a return to the real Reagan principles. They are demanding that our government return more power to the people. I can assure you that my father would not only have approved of their efforts, he would be standing by them as they help return our nation to one by the people, for the people, of the people.
What’s more, the Tea Party has now proven that they can not only talk a good game, but they can actually put solid, principled Republicans in office. This should serve to send a strong message to Republican leadership that the Tea Party can be an ally in electing the best candidates, rather than a political rapid to be navigated. And as we look towards the coming general elections, Tea Party organizers must remember that the resources and support of the Republican Party can work on their behalf as well. We are strongest when we are working together.
Last night’s win was historic for the Tea Party movement. But we must not stop now. It’s time to hold candidates and office-holders accountable when it comes to spending, the deficit and the tax burden being placed on our families.
By pushing hard on this front, in a couple of years, we will be able to stand up and ask President Obama just how he takes his tea.
Mike Reagan, the elder son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is spokesperson for The Reagan PAC (www.thereaganpac.com) and chairman and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation (www.reaganlegacyfoundation.org). ©2010 Mike Reagan. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.