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Rubin: The conservative disconnect
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There are two views as to why characters such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and groups including Heritage Action insist that the Republican Party follow them out on a limb time and again.

One is that this is a cynical system of people fattening their coffers and seeking airtime. That's why the avalanche of fundraising letters from FreedomWorks and other right-wing groups revved up the instant Cruz took the Senate floor Tuesday. It's a well-oiled machine fueled by resentment and constant disappointment.

The other explanation assumes that these people are all earnest, selfless and just terribly out to lunch.

It's easy for smart people to become convinced of political "truths" that are fantasy. What we're talking about is the disconnect between conservative media and conservative electoral success.

Consider that in 2012 about 125 million people voted for president. What can be the political universe for a conservative cable TV host or magazine is minuscule when it comes to a winning electorate. The top radio talk show hosts may get 10 million or 15 million listeners. The idea that they are representative of the electorate, the GOP as a whole or all conservatives is silly. Their audience is intense but, in electoral terms, tiny.

When things don't turn out as planned, excuses must be found (e.g., the mainstream media, weak-kneed Republicans). But the more accurate answer is often that these views are shared by only a small minority.

This disparity is seen again and again in the stark contrast between the hard-line views in conservative media and national polling on immigration, the government shutdown and more. Yes, in some very conservative states and districts, the conservative media may be closer to the norm of all voters, but you can't build a national party on only super-red congressional districts and Southern states.

The problem extends to lawmakers. A senator may get 2,000 calls or tweets complaining about a certain position. That could be far less than 1 percent of his or her electorate. Those tweets and calls can be intimidating, and it sure seems like a lot of people are upset, but it isn't a useful guide to understanding the voting population. For that, you need reliable polling, on-the-ground familiarity with constituents and a network of reliable voices to act as an early-warning system.

I bring this up because consumers of conservative media listen, watch and read people who presume to tell them what "America thinks" and what "Republicans want." Someone like Cruz says he is the embodiment of American conservatism. Sometimes such a person presents a true measure of the electorate. But a lot of the time he or she doesn't, as I've frequently written on immigration. Taking all of it too seriously is a mistake, and it suggests to the base that if only you speak and write clearly and loudly enough, America will accept a very, very conservative agenda. It just isn't so.

Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn

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