Everyone knows that the quickest way to become a popular Republican in the media's eyes is to denounce the Republicans as too extreme and conservative. The latest example is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who became an instant media sensation when he abandoned his dreadfully losing GOP campaign for the U.S. Senate to run as an independent. Chris Matthews pushed the story line as a "Stalinesque purge" of moderates.
Obama strategist David Axelrod crowed about how great the Democrats looked as a result: "We have a big tent. They have a lean-to now." This, from the party that hasn't tolerated a pro-life presidential or vice presidential nominee since Jimmy Carter tried to straddle the fence in 1976. This, from the liberals who are presently trying to "purge" Sen. Blanche Lincoln in a Democratic primary in Arkansas. This, from the party that successfully purged Sen. Joe Lieberman from its ranks.
Media liberals even blatantly declared the sky was green and the grass was blue by calling Crist a "rising star" of the Republican Party. It's quite obvious that Crist's star had left a big crater in the dirt. Still, before Crist announced he was leaving the party, ABC's George Stephanopoulos warned: "A GOP star set to announce he's abandoning the Party to run as an independent." That's because the "rising star" went virtually overnight from 30 points ahead to 30 points behind.
The story writes itself. The key word for conservatives on NBC's "Today" show was -- yep -- "intolerant." Co-host Meredith Vieira asked Crist: "Did you desert the party, or is this a case where the party has become so intolerant, it no longer has room for a moderate voice?" She put the same question to Republican candidate Marco Rubio: "Is this a case where he has deserted the party or, once again, has your party become so intolerant that it doesn't have room for moderate voices?"
These journalists are either totally naive or dishonest. Either way, they are creating a false impression. There's a difference between a "purge" and the popular will. Stand for election, and then accept the results. Crist pledged to do that just weeks ago, to campaign for Rubio if he lost the primary. But he quit instead and enabled the media to suggest there's a "purge," that conservatives "forced" him out. Just a few days ago, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank was still suggesting conservatives "forced out" Sen. Arlen Specter, when he also looked dreadful polls in the face and switched parties.
It's absolutely fascinating to see all the people who throw "quitter" mud at Sarah Palin for resigning her office in Alaska have absolutely no contempt for the cravenness and cowardice of Crist and Specter refusing to stand in a primary election. If you really thought an allegedly "tolerant" Obama-hugging Republican Party was worth fighting for, then why quit the party when your polls go south?
The media spin was much different when Lieberman chose to remain in his primary election in 2006, and he lost by just 4 points to Ned Lamont. When he subsequently decided to run as an independent, the media weren't asking if the Democrats were too "intolerant" for moderates like Lieberman. They treated Lieberman like a selfish traitor.
On ABC, Diane Sawyer scolded, "Senator, I heard you say 'I'm a Democrat.' But you're talking about running as an independent, and there are members of the party who've already said, commentators, that this is a selfish decision. How can you run against the party? ... You're going to be all alone out there."
He beat Lamont in the general election, 49 percent to 40.
The media never saw in Lamont's primary win a dangerous sign of growing extremism on the Democratic side, that crazy socialist bloggers and Iraq protesters were forcing a "purge" of the careerist moderates. They antiseptically called Lamont "antiwar" and even presented him as a "fiscal conservative" and a "foreign-policy moderate."
Four years ago, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne described Lieberman's problem on National Public Radio: "I think he misread that for a lot of Democrats, the moral issue of this time is where you stand on George Bush." Offering any support or granting any comfort to Bush was seen as immoral, not just politically unwise. But today, the media are going out of their way to avoid the idea that Crist's eroding poll numbers have anything to do with the growing political toxicity of Barack Obama -- not just among Republicans, but among the independent voters Crist will be seeking.