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On Scale of 1 to 5 Palins, How Likely Is Media Assault on Each GOP Candidate?

A couple of weeks ago, while attending an event in Los Angeles for my alma mater Georgetown University, fellow Hoya Chris Cillizza (founder of the Washington Post’s “The Fix” column) appeared on a panel about the 2016 presidential election. I asked him what I believe to be the key question of this campaign: “Is the news media going to work nearly as hard to get Hillary Clinton elected as they did for Barack Obama?”

Cillizza, to his credit, explained that while he understood the question and that his father-in-law would wholeheartedly agree with its premise, he didn’t personally believe the media bias was that overt. He also said that he thought that the media has actually been rather tough on Clinton, given the extensive coverage of her private email server and controversial Clinton Foundation donations.

After the event was over, I explained to Cillizza that he misunderstood what I meant: I acknowledged that the media would throw a few harmless jabs at Clinton, but insisted they would never even think to knock her head off like they did, for instance, with Sarah Palin. My point was that the real power of the news media in presidential elections is to render the Democratic opponent “disqualified” in the minds of the extremely “passive” (low-information) voters in the “middle” who actually decide the outcome.

With this in mind, I decided that it may be instructive to handicap the 2016 GOP field based on how easily and thoroughly the news media would likely destroy each candidate in a general election race against Hillary Clinton.

Below, each candidate will receive a grade on a scale of one to five Palins, with the maximum five meaning they would be left (figuratively) totally headless and limbless by media assaults.

Ted Cruz
As the “tea party” candidate with the cadence of a televangelist mixed with Mr. Rogers, the media would easily be able to portray him as a scary far-right ideologue who is supposedly clearly outside of the mainstream. His Hispanic heritage would only offer him very limited (if any) protection against any media assaults.

Rating:

Rand Paul
Being somewhat “libertarian” and unorthodox on foreign policy would confuse the media enough to buy him a little bit of slack. However, his no-nonsense interview style and willingness to call the media out on their bias would give them plenty of chances to bring out the knives, especially when he faces off with female hosts. If he ever gets close to beating Clinton, the media would turn his nutty father into the most important figure in the campaign.

Rating:

Marco Rubio
Being of Cuban decent earns him at least a little bit of protection from an anticipated media offensive. Being young, good looking, and hip also helps (TMZ loves the guy, at least for now). However, because these same qualities would also make him a greater threat — any missteps would be reacted to far more strongly by the media than with other candidates. In other words, no water breaks!

Rating:

Carly Fiorina
The theory behind her campaign is that being a woman takes away Hillary Clinton’s greatest advantage. However, in the media’s mind, being a woman only counts as a positive if you are a liberal woman (see Palin, circa 2008). In reality, she would make things easy for the media. They would simply ask: “Which woman do you want, the experienced former Secretary of State, Senator, and FLOTUS, or the political neophyte who was fired from her only significant job and badly lost her only political race badly?”

Rating:

Ben Carson
Normally being a black male and a highly-respected neurosurgeon with some significant celebrity behind you would act as a force field against media attacks. But having committed the mortal sin of attacking Obama to his face, most of Carson’s heat shield tiles have already been removed. His lack of political experience, devout religiousness, and penchant for “telling it like it is” would provide ample opportunity for media destruction (even if he never speaks about homosexuality in prison again).

Rating:

Mike Huckabee
The words “former weekend Fox News Host and failed talk radio host” are pretty much all it would take to disqualify Huckabee in the minds of independent voters. Plus, his harsh words for Beyoncé’s music and gyrations instantly make him uncool. The media might not even feel like it was worth it to even bother finishing off the rest of the job, but if they did, it would get very ugly.

Rating:

Jeb Bush
If you are a Democrat who has a mother who says on the Today Show that you shouldn’t run for president, that’s funny. If you are a Republican with a last name already discredited in the minds of about 55% of the adult population, your mom saying that is an electoral death sentence. Add in the prospect of old Terri Schiavo footage being played on loop, and the result is potentially disastrous.

Rating:

Rick Santorum
Similar to Huckabee, this would almost be too easy for the media if they ever got the chance (they won’t) to dismember him. Numerous easily-demagogued statements on homosexuality would be 75 mph fastballs down the middle for the media. Most wouldn’t even need to address the bringing home a baby that died shortly after birth to show their children, but they would anyway.

Rating:

Rick Snyder
Barring a miracle, he won’t get the nomination, but if he did, this one might be tough for the news media. He’s boring and not really very conservative. He’s rich, but probably not even as wealthy as the Clintons. He’s got gray hair, but Hillary Clinton is even older. But, if he got close to winning, I’m sure they would find something.

Rating:

Chris Christie
Republicans have already thankfully figured this out, but he would be literally and figuratively the fattest GOP target for the media. The video of him enthusiastically hugging Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was devastating enough. Bridgegate, regardless of its validity, would be bigger than Benghazi. And the TMZ video of him berating voters while eating ice cream would surely see a lot of airtime.

Rating:

John Kasich
It doesn’t matter that he is a respected governor of a major swing state (Ohio), because he was recently a “Fox News host.” This means that there is a treasure trove of video of him saying provocative things next to a Fox logo which would be easily taken out of context. He would be transformed into a right-wing whacko overnight.

Rating:

Rick Perry
As if being a brash conservative from Texas didn’t provide the news media with enough ammunition for the media to shoot holes in his candidacy, his indictment would make it even easier. But nothing would compare to how often we would be reminded of his infamous “Oops” moment where he somehow forgot the third federal agency he planned to disband.

Rating:

Scott Walker
Walker’s is the most interesting case with regard to potential media destruction. His conservative politics and controversial (to liberals and the media) tactics provide plenty of opportunity for media attacks. As we have already seen, even the conservative media is going to hold him to an extremely high standard (saying he doesn’t know if Obama is a Christian was somehow a major error). However, Walker seems to have a unique suit of armor among the GOP contenders and, if it holds up as well under the inevitable media onslaught as it has in the past, he may get to the end with most of his limbs still intact.

Rating:

[All images in this post via Gage Skidmore]

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John Ziegler is a conservative documentary filmmaker who specializes in media-related issues. He is also hosts a nationally-syndicated radio talk show on Sunday nights. A commentary he did on the Brian Williams situation can be heard in the third hour of his most recent show. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud.

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