The Invisible Primary

The interesting case of Rupert Murdoch employee Bill Kristol pointing out that Rupert Murdoch employee Glenn Beck is being nutty about Egypt puts me in mind of the coming 2012 GOP primaries. That’s because, basically, this kind of disagreement from inside the News Corporation borg is relatively rare and, in principle, one could put a stop to it.

Students of American politics have the idea of an “invisible primary” that occurs before official nomination contests start. This is a war to garner the support of various party elites, party-aligned interest groups, contribution bundlers, etc. This is a fascinating process because it’s traditionally so diffuse. DC movers and shakers matter a lot, but so do New Hampshire state senators and highly energetic local Iowa activists.

But the conservative media is both very influential and also at this point pretty highly concentrated. Consider, for example, the case of John Thune. Thune voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which won’t be a very popular item on his record. But I’m sure he has some hand-wavy explanation for why this doesn’t impugne his conservative credentials. Will people buy this? I think the question comes down largely to whether or not Fox News as an institution buys it. If the Weekly Standard says Thune is a true-blue conservative and Fox News agrees and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck also espouse this view on their radio shows (two of the top five in the country) then that’s almost a consensus right there. If Rush Limbaugh insists that these guys are all wrong, and someone else is the real conservative, then that guys got a fighting chance. But Rush + News Corp is a juggernaut that would be pretty hard to stop if the interest is there in really picking someone. Of course, the interest might not be thereā€”I could see taking the view that a stance of studied neutrality is the way to go. But the larger point is that to a great extent the dynamic duo of Roger Ailes and Limbaugh basically just get to decide among the two of them which positions count as authentically conservative.