Sean Spicer, the RNC Communications Director, released a back-of-the-napkin study this morning alleging severe anti-GOP bias in the political press corps’ overkill on the Rudy Giuliani story. This is, Spicer hopes, the start of a major 2016 effort to finally repel the forces the right believes continually hobble its electoral chances. Conservatives think they have a liberal media problem, and the GOP means to overcome it.
Meanwhile in D.C., another trend is developing. Benjamin Cole, Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-IL) beleaguered communications director, resigned last month after Facebook posts emerged dirtied with questionable racial undertones. This occurred in the shadow of former staffer Elizabeth Lauten, who mouthed off last fall about the first daughter on her Facebook wall and found herself on the barrel end of a slow news cycle. Social media is rapidly emerging as a land mine for GOP staffers.
Notably, these were not Cole and Lauten’s official social media feeds, tailored for public consumption, but their personal accounts. Likewise, Giuliani’s claim that Obama did not love America came not on Fox News or during a stump speech but at a private Manhattan dinner for sixty or so political donors. Wade’s social media posts and Giuliani’s comments were different in tone, setting, and medium, but they were both expressions of the same behavior: Republicans falsely believing they were speaking only to each other. For all the talk of liberal media boogeymen, a structural disparity between how the GOP conceives of itself publicly versus privately may be the party’s real media problem.
Politicians and their staffers saying one thing in public and another in private is as old as politics itself. But it was toxicized in 2012 when Republican candidate Mitt Romney was recorded at a private dinner writing off 47 percent of the electorate as government-dependent moochers. It was not so much the hypocrisy that stunk but the fact that the hypocrisy inhered in the GOP’s worldview. The Republican Party was revealed to be fundamentally at odds with itself over whether it represented the entirety of the American public or advanced the interests of one section of the population over the other. Romney’s surreptitiously recorded remarks were not an instance of gotcha journalism that captured a ill-phrased frivolity: it was the thing itself.
Sure enough, Cole’s comments were at odds with more public statements he’d made that struck an inclusive tone toward minorities. Cole’s Facebook complaints were nowhere near as elemental as Romney’s comments, but once again the problem was less an offensive remark or hypocrisy, so much as both pointed to the existential dilemma the GOP hasn’t come close to resolving since its 2012 defeat: does the Republican Party represent everybody or not? Social media is simply the newest arena in which this internal confusion is playing out.
As with Giuliani, the right worked hard last fall to turn the media’s Lauten coverage into a demonstration of a liberal media agenda. (They certainly made a good point about media overkill, but ultimately a non-ideological one.) But there was nothing anybody could do about Cole, or about Jeb Bush’s new hire Ethan Czahor, who resigned after one day over social media postings. The “liberal media” talking point can be effective damage control in intervals, but it ultimately dead ends against the self-authored nature of these errors: whether at a dinner or on Facebook, no one plied Giuliani or Cole or Lauten with gotcha questions. The opportunity to whisper to the choir was the prompt. Yelling “liberal media” won’t stop that.
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