The MSM has been trying to nominate a progressive/liberal/centrist/moderate/or maverick Republican presidential candidate since the days of Nelson Rockefeller — in other words, ever since the Republicans stopped doing it to themselves. The MSM hasn’t had much luck, though it made a decent run at it in 2000.
But 2008 (including 2007) may well be the MSM’s year. That’s because the two leading Republican contenders, McCain and Rudy Giuliani, arguably fit somewhere in the progressive/liberal/centrist/moderate/maverick continuum. At a minimum, both take liberal positions on several issues that many conservatives deem vital.
Right now, the MSM faces only one obvious obstacle — Mitt Romney. Of the major figures committed to running on the Republican side, only Romney takes the conservative position on all major issues.
This explains, I believe, the relentlessly negative coverage he’s received from the MSM. Usually, the MSM likes a horse race. Thus, it will tend to give every major candidate a honeymoon period during which he has the opportunity to build himself up before the media tears him down, if tearing him down is deemed politically appropriate. But Romney hasn’t had that opportunity. The Boston Globe started attacking him before he even got his “exploratory” campaign underway, and since that time much of the rest of the MSM has piled on. The MSM seems resolved to bring Romney down before he can get started. Presumably, its members think that Giuliani and McCain, who can be dealt with later, will provide a sufficient horse race.
Romney, of course, has his flaws, and it’s altogether fair that they be pointed out. But his rivals are flawed too. Giuliani’s flaws were such that he was widely considered politically washed-up on 9/10. If the MSM wanted to (and eventually it will), it could run a story a day about Rudy’s foibles, real and manufactured. It’s not difficult to write McCain hit pieces either, considering his age, temper, and past clashes with conservatives. But, as he started to slip in the polls, McCain began receiving excellent (and as I argued here probably not fully deserved) press from the likes of the Washington Post’s Dan Balz. And I haven’t even mentioned the Democrats’ “big” three — Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the joke that is John Edwards. No one in this rich, bipartisan collection of all-too-human contenders has received consistently negative treatment from the MSM yet — only Romney has.
The latest example is this hit piece by Ruth Marcus, one of the Washington Post’s house liberals. Marcus’s central grievance against Romney is that when she and other Post writers pressed him on the issue of abortion two years ago, he said he is personally pro-life, but as governor of Massachusetts would not change state law on the issue. When Marcus pressed him further, he declined to answer. Marcus, of course, wasn’t happy, but I can’t fault Romney for not opening up to Marcus and her fellow Post liberals on the subject.
Marcus concludes her piece by advising “those considering Romney in 2008” that they have “reason to wonder” whether he is too manipulative to warrant their support. Like I said, liberals in the MSM love to help Republicans nominate their presidential candidate. But she’s right — conservatives should worry about some of Romney’s past positions and recent reversals. They should listen carefully to Romney over the coming months and decide for themselves whether he’s truly a conservative, social and otherwise. And if they conclude he is, they should think about whether or to what extent his willingness to take non-conservative positions in Massachusetts should factor into the equation.
But conservative Republicans should also think about what this race will look like if Romney falls by the wayside and no other strong, electable conservative enters. The choice will then be down to McCain and Giuliani. Nearly all of McCain’s important stands have been anti-conservative. That he’s getting any consideration from conservatives is due to the one big exception — his passionate support for the war in Iraq and the war on terror generally. But even this exception has an exception, namely his efforts to limit our ability to interrogate terrorist detainees. Iraq is an important front in the war on terror, but so are the interrogation rooms where we try to extract information that will enable us to track down other terrorists and prevent future 9/11’s. McCain has sided with the liberals on that front. McCain nonetheless may be the best choice, but as with Romney conservatives have “reason to wonder.”
The other option would be Giuliani. His liberalism on social issues like abortion, gay marriage, and guns is well known. Conservatives will also want to look at his reign in New York. Frog-marching perps and making examples out of squeegee men may have been just what New York needed 15-20 years ago. But was Giuliani a big government mayor or a small government mayor, and does it matter? It would be nice to figure this out while there’s still a viable candidate in the race who’s taking uniformly conservative positions.
But that’s precisely the opporutnity the MSM does not want conservative Republicans to have. So it holds its fire on Giuliani and McCain, and trains nearly all of its guns on Mitt.
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