On Friday, Mark Levin was no less sour on his own popular evening show. After giving Romney credit for “a very solid speech” the night before, he too lamented the Establishment strategy of portraying Obama as “a nice guy who’s a failed president.” In Levin’s view, Obama is “a nasty, leftist ideologue” and to say otherwise is to emasculate the Republicans’ case against him. “Do we really have to be driven by focus groups, by Frank Luntz?” he asked. Noting the lousy convention ratings, he added: “If we’re trying to reach out to Reagan Democrats and Independents, apparently a lot of them weren’t watching.” Soon he was taking a call from a Republican election officer who was so put off by the convention that he said he would vote for Romney but not go door-to-door to corral others to do so.
It’s unlikely the caller was an anomaly. Away from the convention stage and from the mainstream media’s coverage of it, dissension of various stripes was rife throughout the GOP coalition. “How do you sell a party to Independents, let alone deliver the people who voted in the primaries, when there’s an important philosophical gap between the limited-government grassroots and a top of the ticket who campaigned on ‘rebuilding’ the military, restoring Medicare cuts, and shoring up Social Security?” was how Matt Welch put it at Reason.com. Elsewhere, in a brief floor fight that received scant and superficial coverage in the mainstream media at the start of the week, Limbaugh, Palin, Michelle Malkin, Christian conservatives, and various tea-party types had joined Ron Paul dissidents—not an everyday alliance—to protest new, restrictive delegate-selection rules muscled through by Romneyites at the Republican National Committee. In a furious missive, the umbrella tea-party organization Freedom Works declared that the GOP hierarchy’s power play offered “a sobering glimpse of what life will be like for conservatives in a Romney administration” and proved “once again that sometimes we have to beat the Republicans before we can beat the Democrats.”
You don’t have to agree with these people’s politics to see they have a compelling beef. They are true believers in a minimalist American government. They see Obama’s economic record as a golden opportunity to throw him out. They helped propel Ryan, a dogged champion of conservative ideals, onto the national ticket. And they saw all of that jeopardized by a Republican National Committee and Romney campaign that muted and dumbed down the message in its tightly disciplined, highly scripted game plan to win over the tiny and elusive percentage of American voters who hold no strong views at all. It’s no wonder that the only authentic moment in the convention was also its only improvised one. When Clint Eastwood implicitly inserted the words “Tell Romney to fuck himself” into the mouth of his imaginary “Obama,” he tapped, however artlessly, into the raw id of the right as nothing else in the convention did all week. For an instant, his off-message and off-script gesture of profane disrespect for the president captured the grassroots anger that went largely unacknowledged by the mainstream press and Fox alike.
Since Eastwood’s turn was perhaps the most replayed video of the entire convention, it may have done damage to the convention’s “more in sorrow than anger” political strategy—assuming that strategy was sound. On November 6, we’ll learn if the party Establishment and Romney campaign knew what they were doing by striking that pacifist tone, or whether the angry voices on the right who opposed them can say, “I told you so.” We’ll learn as well whether the Republican Party is on a path to revive the Reagan revolution or, as the blogger Doug Mataconis has it at Outside the Beltway, in a self-destructive tailspin mirroring that of “the Democratic Party in the wake of the Vietnam War.” Either way, I finished the week with sympathy for true believers on the right who are far more divorced from their own political party and the nation’s culture than even those on the left who are perennially disillusioned by Obama, the Democratic hierarchy, and their own journalistic Establishment. That anger is certain to rage long past Election Day, and if I learned anything in my week strolling around the conservative mind, it was that anyone who sticks to an exclusive diet of lamestream media is missing the news.