Conservative Media Clamor Couldn't Put Romney Over The Top

Conservative Media Couldn't Save Romney

NEW YORK -- Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who two days ago predicted a "landslide" win for Mitt Romney, argued Wednesday morning on "Fox & Friends" that President Barack Obama doesn't have a clear mandate to govern, even with a resounding electoral victory.

Morris wasn't shy about offering his 2 cents on the election's outcome, despite being off by more than 100 electoral votes, along with conservative pundits Michael Barone and George Will. Morris even went a step further by saying that it's now time to "stand up against this socialist agenda and stop [Obama] from fundamentally changing the United States."

Such rhetoric has found a home on Fox News ever since Obama took office and surfaces daily throughout the 2012 race in conservative media -- online, on talk radio, or splashed across pro-Romney, anti-Obama news clearinghouse The Drudge Report. In recent months, Fox News and Drudge simultaneously promoted videos that portrayed the president negatively -- including a 14-year-old out-of context clip and a 5-year-old film of a campaign speech.

And yet, they didn't resonate broadly with the public. While establishment journalists like Mark Halperin profess that Drudge "rules our world," many sinister-sounding headlines splashed across the site failed to get oxygen outside the conservative media.

Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades is known to be close with Matt Drudge, leading political reporters to read the tea leaves over the site's story placement. Romney's outreach to base media during the campaign was more pronounced than that of Obama, who appeared only once on MSNBC during the election for a short interview last week on "Morning Joe." In addition, Obama never sat down for an interview with a number of outlets boasting a sizeable liberal readership, such as Talking Points Memo and The Huffington Post.

The Romney-Fox connection was on display Tuesday night, when the campaign reportedly contacted Fox contributor Karl Rove shortly after the network -- like every other -- called Ohio, and the election, for Obama. Rove then voiced the campaign's view on air, leading to an unscripted dispute with Fox's Decision Desk.

Daily Caller blogger Matt Lewis on Wednesday offered some criticism for the "conservative movement and commentariat." "It’s time for conservative talking heads -- many of whom misled their readers and audiences these last few weeks -- to think more about the future of conservatism than about their personal popularity," he wrote.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Lewis said conservative punditry is currently on two paths: either token conservatives who serve as foils on mainstream media programs, or those "gaming the system" by "telling the base what they want to hear, not giving them any medicine or broccoli, but just cheeseburgers and fries." Lewis suggested there should be more conservatives like The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on television, rather than pundits like Morris.

While Lewis considers Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to be "by and large a net positive for conservatives," he cautioned against candidates only heading to right-leaning outlets. "It could be an unintended consequence about the rise of Republicans' media," he said, "that candidates think they can avoid reaching out to a mainstream media audience."

Romney didn't dodge national media during the 2012 election and actually did more such interviews in recent months than Obama. But some media watchers have questioned whether the candidate's team may have been too influenced, at times, by the prevailing conservative media narrative.

Following the second debate, The Washington Post's Erik Wemple asked if Romney's slip-up on Libya could've been a result of too closely following the conservative media storyline on the attack in Benghazi, which often included suggestions of a White House cover-up. Just last week, as other cable networks focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Fox News primetime hosts continued on Benghazi, allowing conspiracy-laden rumors to get attention.

So far, many in conservative media continue hammering away on some of the same pre-election issues, while arguing that the Republican Party shouldn't respond to the election by shifting toward the center.

On Wednesday, Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft mentioned Benghazi -- along with Fox News-heavy topics like food stamps and socialized medicine -- in his gloomy, post-election piece, "The Day America Changed." The piece included a jarring image of an eagle pulling a tattered American flag away from a Soviet hammer and sickle, adorned with a swastika. "America was once the land of the free," Hoft wrote. "Now we want to be told what to do. More government is good. We want stuff."

Hoft's comment on handouts mirrored Bill O'Reilly's remarks Tuesday night about how Obama was the candidate simply willing to give people things they feel entitled to. On Wednesday morning, Limbaugh said that conservatives "did not lose last night" but that "it's just very difficult to beat Santa Claus." And Breitbart's Ben Shapiro, in a piece titled "#War More Years," talked of "unending bailouts, of free giveaways, of government-provided goods and services."

Such talk, commonplace in conservative media, also echoed Romney's "47 percent" video, which featured Romney dismissing nearly half of the country as "victims" while talking to wealthy donors. It's unlikely that the Republican establishment in Washington would want to resurrect the "47 percent" argument in another national election.

There's already a lot of post-election hand-wringing in conservative circles and pundits talking up the need for "soul-searching," following the Republican Party's resounding electoral loss. Some say the party shifted too far to the right, with socially conservative, Tea Party-favorites losing winnable Senate seats in Indiana and Missouri.

But Shapiro, and several other conservative commentators, argued post-election that Republicans shouldn't compromise on core conservative issues going forward. Shapiro called Romney "a trim-around-the-edges candidate," a perspective echoed by others.

Even before any networks called the race on Tuesday night, radio host Laura Ingraham said the Romney campaign "play[ed] it safe" and should have appeared more on Fox News and hit the president harder on Obamacare and Benghazi. (One top Romney adviser agrees).

"If this is the way America wants to go off the cliff, so be it," wrote National Review's Mark Steyn after the loss, adding that Republicans chose "a play-it-safe don’t-frighten-the-horses strategy [which] may have had a certain logic, but it’s unworthy of the times."

"Blame social conservatives if you must, but (A) you are lying to yourself and (B) if this is a fight you want to have," wrote RedState's Erick Erickson, a frequent critic of the Beltway Republican establishment. "I’m happy to see you in the primaries in 2014. I like my chances."

Michelle Malkin praised Tea Party activists on Wednesday, while touching on topics familiar to anyone immersed in conservative media over the couple years: Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi, and Planned Parenthood.

"My counsel to you tonight: Please, do not be bitter," Malkin wrote to fellow conservatives. "Do not fall prey to the Beltway blame game. Do not get mired in small things. Do not become vengeful creatures like our political opponents who voted out of spite instead of love of country."

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