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Andrew Breitbart and the GOP's Debt-Obamacare Debacle

In thinking about the Republican divisions that the fiscal fight has revealed, I recalled Andrew Breitbart’s speech to CPAC in 2012, shortly before he died. It was a plea for unity in the movement: 

“Anyone that’s willing to stand next to me to fight the progressive left, I will be in that bunker, and if you’re not in that bunker ’cause you’re not satisfied with this candidate, more than shame on you. You’re on the other side.”

We are a long way from that moment. The different (and overlapping) factions of the Republican Party and the conservative movement are now in open warfare, eclipsing the deep divisions among the Democrats and the institutional left–while Barack Obama plans his next round of golf. 

In part, these divisions are natural, the process of a party working out the most effective way to move forward in the wake of the 2012 loss.

Yet some of the divisions are artificial, deliberate, and unnecessary. 

There were a few who judged that the party establishment had made a mistake by pushing Romney, and looked forward to punishing it when the election was over. Members of the Republican establishment, fearing a backlash, launched pre-emptive political attacks against the conservative base by embracing amnesty and trashing the Tea Party and talk radio.

I have spent much time and energy over the past few days chewing over the best way for the Republican Party to maintain its unity while contending with Obama and the Democrats. Remembering Andrew’s CPAC speech prompted me to think about how he would have viewed our situation–with Republicans down in the polls, leadership about to cave, conservatives being blamed, the Senate and House GOP at odds, and so on.

Andrew would have turned to the media–not just to attack media bias (though there has been plenty), but to consider media strategy. What would have impressed him the most was the fact that conservative media had sustained a strong and independent counter-narrative about the shutdown and the Obamacare launch that survived and thrived outside the mainstream media. That counter-narrative steeled the GOP for the fight.

The moment when things began to change was when the Republican leadership made the choice–the reasons are unclear–to fight the cause through the mainstream media. In doing so, the GOP’s focus seemed poll-driven. The one spot of weakness in President Obama’s polling numbers was apparently his refusal to negotiate. So the leadership put negotiation–not Obamacare or debt–at the core of the media message.

The problem with that strategy was that it was easily undone as soon as President Obama decided to offer the slightest gesture towards negotiation. Moreover, the GOP leadership did not seem to have determined what it wanted to achieve through those negotiations. Once it finally laid out its proposals, solid though they were, conservatives were uncertain that GOP leaders still shared their priorities, especially on Obamacare.

What disappointed Andrew most about the Republican Party was its failure to see that the mainstream media seek its division and defeat. He would counsel the GOP today to stop negotiating with Obama through the press, and stop arguing with each other through CNN split-screens. 

Thanks to Andrew, there is a conservative new media. It remains Republicans’ best tool for unity and victory–if the GOP would only use it.

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