Wish fulfillment journalism

Chris Cillizza is a talented but partisan political reporter for the Washington Post. One of his specialties is purporting to draw lessons about political candidates from obscure and rather meaningless comments and events. Somehow, these lessons typically reflect favorably on liberal Democrats and unfavorably on conservative Republicans.
For example, I wrote here about how, during the 2008 campaign, Cillizza pronounced that Barack Obama possessed “gravitas” based on some mushy statements the candidate made during a press conference in Jordan. This was cheerleading, pure and simple. And Scott provided this example of how, now that Obama is president, Cillizza appears to have “absorbed the White House line directly into his bloodstream.”
The latest instance of Cillizza’s partisanship can be found in today’s Washington Post where — in his typical “more in sorrow than in anger” manner — he concludes based on two very small events that Governor Tim Pawlenty has “struggled on the national stage in the past two weeks.”
In reality, the only “struggle” evident in Cillizza’s piece is his own failed quest for coherence.
The first alleged Pawlenty stumble was his decision to endorse Doug Hoffman in the special congressional election in New York state. Cillizza says that this was not a smart move, but he struggles to explain why. He notes that Hoffman lost, but does not say why he thinks the wisdom of supporting Hoffman over a liberal Republican was contingent on the outcome of the race.
Cillizza intones that “Pawlenty detractors are sure to see these two incidents as evidence of a transparent attempt to tack to his idelogical right in advance of a presidential primary process that is dominated by conservative activists.” It’s clear that one “Pawlenty detractor” — Chris Cillizza — sees it that way. What’s not clear is why it was unwise of Pawlenty to make a decision that liberals, if they notice, will view in a bad light but that most conservatives will greet with approval.
Moreover, while “Pawlenty detractors” will view his endorsement of Hoffman as opportunistic, there’s no good reason to see it as such. As Cillizza acknowledges, most of the conservative base preferred Hoffman to Dede Scozzafava. It’s possible that Pawlenty was simply trying “tranparently” to curry favor with that base by “tacking to his right.” But it’s at least as plausible to conclude that Pawlenty’s views are genuinely in line with those of the base on this issue and that no “tacking” was involved. John and I (and most other conservative bloggers) favored Hoffman and said so. We were not trying to “tack to our ideological right” in advance of the presidential primaries. Why assume that Pawlenty was?
The second alleged Pawlenty stumble was his statement that “if Olympia Snowe disagrees with us on one or two things, there’s room for her, course; but if she disagrees with us on everything, then that’s a problem.” This statement is a truism. Who can dispute that a Republican who disagrees with the consensus Republican position on every issue poses a problem for Republicans?
Cillizza says that Pawlenty “had to reach out to Snowe” to explain that he was arguing for a “big tent” party, not a “small tent” one. Snowe is known to be quite sensitive about this issue, so it was wise for Pawlenty to “reach out” to her. However, it’s unlikely (1) that the Republican base will have any trouble with Pawlenty’s comment, (2) that the comment was opportunistic or insincere, and (3) that anyone other than Cillizza will attach any significance to it if Pawlenty finds himself the Republican nominee and in need of the votes of independents.


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