Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Newt as the Republicans' Frankenstein

Jonathan Bernstein, on Newt Gingrich's attacks on the Ryan Medicare plan:
He’s still the same old irresponsible Newt, willing to say pretty much anything as long as it’s phrased as strongly as possible. Even if he said the opposite, in just as dire terms, two weeks ago. Or yesterday. Only this time, since he’s in a GOP primary, he’s going to turn some of that fire on his own party. And, yeah, they don’t like it. But they might have thought about that before, during the decade they were pretending he deserved to be on the Sunday shows and the op-ed pages, making the case for why Clinton or Gore or Kerry or Obama was fundamentally wrong for America. They propped him up. Now — for a while, at least — they’re going to have to live with him.
I remain a bit fuzzy on the whole mechanism of how prominent people get to be on the Sunday political talk shows or get printed in op-ed sections. Bernstein suggests here (and elsewhere) that Newt's regular appearances on "Meet the Press" and "This Week" and everywhere else have been on the orders of, or at least with the permission of, the national Republican Party, broadly defined. And to some extent, that's probably true -- if Newt was going to go on TV and talk about how Obamacare was radical socialism, I doubt too many Republican leaders were going to protest.

In another sense, though, just how much control did Republican elites have over him? Gingrich is a well-known egomaniac given to bombastic rhetoric, meaning a) he'll want to be on TV as much as possible; and b) TV shows will be happy to have him on because they can count on him saying something newsworthy. If Newt calls up Cokie Roberts and says he'd like to be on the show next week, does he really need to check in with anyone else first? Even if a Reince Priebus or a John Boehner or the Koch brothers didn't want Newt to do a show, just how much influence would they have over him?

1 comment:

Jonathan Bernstein said...

I wish I could nail this down a little more, but...I'm certain that parties, at least some times, select which person they want to pitch to the networks for the Sunday shows. I'm mostly certain, on the other side, that the parties would have little trouble blackballing someone they don't want representing the party's views, unless that person was being used as an example of intraparty disagreement. I will admit, though, that I'm more aware of evidence for the former than the latter, although I am confident that at least to some extent it's true.

What I don't know at all is how actively the parties do manage those appearances.

If Republicans had wanted to distance themselves from Newt, they could have made (presumably) not given him a desk at AEI, told the networks he didn't speak for them, keep him off of Fox, asked various groups not to invite him as a major speaker, etc., etc. I don't know that they could have totally frozen him out if he was determined, but I'm confident he could have been a far more marginal figure.