You would know little of this if you watched “liberal media” coverage of the convention. They missed much of the story or subsumed it to the soap-opera narrative of whether Romney would succeed in humanizing himself. Fox News was hardly better: It was in the tank with the GOP Establishment and the Romney campaign and largely stuck to the party’s preferred script. And so, like me, conservative voters went elsewhere to find conviction and news—to the radio and the Internet. However wacky, incendiary, or boorish the talk-show bloviators may be, the best of the bunch are not stupid and don’t hedge. The same is true of thoughtful bloggers at the other end of the media spectrum. It was at Reason.com, the libertarian site, where you could find Nick Gillespie (in a rant about Lawrence O’Donnell) dismiss Mitch McConnell as “a career politician with next-to-zero personality and principles” and where you could learn from Matt Welch that Romney’s promise to repeal Obamacare was “the Republican version of ‘closing Guantánamo’—a nice bone for the base on your way toward regaining power, to be discarded upon reaching office.” (Welch has already been proved right.)
Poor Romney! His coterie of flacks—Medved, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, the Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin—was easily outnumbered by those on the right who treated him much as Chris Christie did in his keynote address: as a placeholder and a dutiful obligation. Damning Romney with faint praise became an entertaining convention-week parlor game. In The Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson saluted Mitt as “a good guy” only after cataloguing his “breathless, Eddie Attaboy delivery, that half-smile of pitying condescension in debates or interviews when someone disagrees with him, the Ken-doll mannerisms, his wanton use of the word ‘gosh.’ ” Mike Huckabee tried for a homespun maxim: “If you’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, you honestly don’t care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk.” Romney “had to achieve adequacy,” wrote Peggy Noonan, and “he did.” Surely finer words were never written about Thomas Dewey.
If Romney was more a prince regent than a king at his own coronation, liberals might be cheered to learn that some of their least favorite GOP factions were reduced to the status of serfs. Social conservatives, led by Huckabee and the broadcaster Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, marginalized themselves by rallying around the politically toxic, Cro-Magnon Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. The old Bush neocon cohort, though fastened like barnacles to the Romney campaign, was anathema to most everyone else. When Bill Kristol loudly complained about Romney’s failure to mention the Afghanistan War in his convention speech, he got far more traction with Democrats than Republicans. Romney’s neocon-ish foreign-policy bluster was mocked by analysts at the American Conservative as viciously as it was on liberal opinion pages. “Romney might be very good at making decisions,” wrote Daniel Larison, “but they would likely be ill-informed decisions.”
Another bête noire liberals can file and forget is Palin. Except for fleeting cameos fulfilling her waning Fox News contract, she was an also-ran in conservative media. So were the Republican elites (Jeb Bush, Bob Dole, Dan Quayle) who came out for a more inclusive GOP “big tent” on convention eve; the Establishment press lapped them up, predictably enough, but those in the existing Republican tent sneered. Bushes 41 and 43 have also been consigned to the memory hole along with Nixon, Ford, and every other Republican president except Reagan. (More than a few clueless bloggers naïvely held out hope that Nancy Reagan, now a frail 91, would be the convention’s mystery speaker.) John McCain was as welcome in Tampa as Banquo’s ghost; even Bill O’Reilly’s much-hyped prime-time interview with the 2008 standard-bearer was abruptly truncated for a generic podium speech by Romney campaign chairman Bob White. Beck, for his part, didn’t pretend to grant McCain the respect he accorded Eastwood, instead dismissing the “old soldier” as a relic who’d crept out of a time capsule to show “where we’ve been and where I don’t ever want to go again.”
If the only real positive passion at the convention was for Ryan—or the platonic possibility of Ryan as the young, hunky, and wonky reincarnation of an Ayn Rand demigod—there was more than enough anger at Democrats to fill any energy vacuum. What drives conservatives crazy (in addition, always, to Obama) are not populist attacks on their supply-side economic gospel or their dream of voucherizing Medicare. They firmly believe, as Ryan said on the podium, that they can win such arguments. It’s the charge that the GOP is a party of old white men waging a “war on women” that draws real blood. That’s especially the case when the charges are leveled by MSNBC, which now drives conservatives into the same paroxysms of anger and ridicule that Fox News engenders on the left. It’s the only nonconservative news outlet the right pays constant attention to.