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Taking the Bait



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Dave Weigel has an interesting piece on the way the GOP too often takes the bait laid out deliberately by Dems to paint Republicans as “kooks.” An excerpt:

“Attn skeet birthers,” tweeted David Plouffe. “Make our day—let the photoshop conspiracies begin!”

It was Feb. 3, a week and change since Plouffe had left the White House and joined Twitter, and he was already on top of a meme. The New Republic had asked President Obama whether he’d ever shot a gun. “Up at Camp David,” he’d said, “we do skeet shooting all the time.” A small number of conservatives asked—totally reasonably—whether there was any proof. The White House released a photo of the president firing a shotgun.

But it did so by having deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer call the critics “skeeters,” and then came Plouffe, egging it on. “Day made,” he tweeted, hours later. “The skeet birthers are out in full force in response to POTUS pic. Makes for most excellent, delusional reading. #whereistrump”

Why, in 2013, is the White House still talking about Donald Trump? Has any of its domestic enemies been vanquished as completely as the host of The Apprentice? No, none of them have. The point of this exercise didn’t become clear until Tuesday, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrapped up a sophisticated two-day exercise in Republican rebranding. Day 1 meant a visit to a D.C. charter school with media in tow. (“Eric Cantor grabs a plastic dinosaur from the pile of toys in front of one-year-old Mekhi Scott, taps the beast on the table and growls, RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”) Day two meant an hourlong speech at the American Enterprise Institute, flanked by Real Americans Who Feel the Real Impact of Washington.

“With us today is Erin Shucosky,” said Cantor. “Erin has been a clinical nurse for 30 years in Baltimore. She spent the past 10 years coordinating the research on a study to approve new replacement discs to treat patients suffering from crippling neck and back pain.” Alas, “the new medical device tax in Obamacare makes it harder for researchers to develop these innovative devices in the U.S. and thus makes it harder for patients like Erin to get the care they need.”

Republicans have been talking about scrapping that medical device tax since five or six seconds after Obamacare passed. Democrats like Elizabeth Warren have joined them. A Google News search on that tax reveals around 3,200 recent stories. A search for tales of Obama and the great skeet hunt: 135,000.

I think Weigel certainly makes a fair point. But he leaves out an important chunk of what is going on. The Google News metric doesn’t just count conservative media outlets. The fact that there are so many results for the “great skeet hunt” demonstrates how willing — nay, eager — the mainstream media is to hype the Republicans are kooks story line. Conservatives rarely get calls from the New York Times, BuzzFeed, NPR, Politico, et al. to talk about scrapping the medical-device tax. They get calls all of the time to comment on issues that are divisive or embarrassing for the GOP. It is hardly as if Democrats don’t have embarrassing characters in their midst. Indeed, as Weigel casually notes, Obama had a very severe nutjob problem in that he had ties to some very sketchy people, including a domestic terrorist named Bill Ayers.  That Obama was able to turn Obama’s critics into the nuts in that narrative says more about how eager the mainstream press — particularly outlets such as Slate — were to help Obama out then it does about how nutty the GOP is or was.

Obviously the GOP has a messaging problem these days. But one of the reasons the messaging problem is so severe for Republicans is that the mainstream media loves hyping stories that fuel that messaging problem. That’s not an excuse for Republicans to play into their hands, it’s an illustration of how much harder Republicans have to work in the face of an outrageous double standard. 



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