On Sunday, Fox News’ Chris Wallace spoon-fed former GOP Sen. Bob Dole one of the media’s favorite questions: Could Ronald Reagan — or Dole — make it in today’s Republican Party? “I doubt it,” Dole answered. “Reagan wouldn’t have made it. Certainly, (Richard) Nixon couldn’t have made it, because he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.”
Thus were born cable news segments, Beltway follow-up pieces and a New York Times editorial titled “The Wisdom of Bob Dole.” What does it say about the news industry when a guy who’s about to turn 90 says the Senate worked better when he was in charge — and that he got respect within his party — and that interview makes news? O media. O mores.
Alas, that’s how you make quick-turnaround news these days: by recycling stale myths memorialized on camera.
On MSNBC on Tuesday, former Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe was asked about Dole’s statement. Of course, Snowe answered that the GOP will “have to rethink their approach.” “Rethink their approach” would be yawn-inducing words in a vanilla factory. Yet they rated stories (with video) on Politico’s website and The Huffington Post.
What’s wrong with this picture?
1) It wrongly presumes that Reagan could not win a GOP primary today, presumably because rigid conservatives won’t nominate anyone who can work across the aisle. That reasoning ignores the fact that last year, Republican primary voters nominated Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who gave his state Romneycare. Four years earlier, they gave the nod to John McCain, the senator from Arizona who pushed for a bill to grant citizenship to immigrants in the country illegally — formerly known in the San Francisco Chronicle and AP stylebooks as “illegal immigrants.”
2) Dole isn’t exactly the exemplar of what’s good for the GOP. He won the nomination in 1996 because he had stood in line better than his rivals, but then he proceeded to lose big. To lament that Dole couldn’t succeed in the GOP today is analogous to lamenting that Jimmy Carter couldn’t win a Democratic nomination — as if that’s a bad thing.
4) The minute a presumed moderate Republican wins the GOP presidential primary, he becomes an extremist. In its 1996 editorial endorsing Bill Clinton, The New York Times regretted that Dole had “strayed from his moderate record.” Now Dole is the paper’s Yoda.
5) On MSNBC and in her book, “Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress,” Snowe also criticized Democrats. But when she disses the Dems, there’s no headline.
On Wednesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., released a video announcing she is not running for re-election. Bachmann rejected the notion that she is bowing out to avoid electoral defeat, as she said she expects the “mainstream liberal media to put a detrimental spin on” her decision not to seek a fifth term.
That’s not a tall order. As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler noted, given Bachmann’s many gaffes, the fact checking trade may have to hold a national day of mourning.
Dole endured his share of ridicule after he lost — especially when he became a spokesman for the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. Later, he learned the way to mainstream media redemption. Michele Bachmann, take note. Say the Republicans aren’t what they used to be. Blame them for all that is wrong in Washington. Go easy on the party that controls the Senate and the White House. That’s how Republican politicians turn into saints.