You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Editorial columns

  • Hoosier court reinforces lack of hope in justice system
    Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court added to its legacy of contempt for working-class Hoosiers by proclaiming that a deceptively named “right-to-work” law does not violate the Indiana Constitution.
  • Erin's House helps grieving kids cope
    We have all seen the headlines – car accident, one fatality, a male 35 years old – but we sometimes forget the likelihood that there is a child tied to this adult. Maybe he was a father, uncle, brother, cousin or dear friend.
  • Word to the wise: Build vocabulary early
    The PNC Financial Services Group recently hosted the Guinness Book of World Records attempt for largest vocabulary lesson as part of Grow Up Great, our early childhood education program.
Advertisement

Can GOP leave echo chamber?

Conor Friedersdorf wrote a key piece just after the election arguing that Republicans have to choose between Rush Limbaugh and all the groups Limbaugh habitually sneers at. I think that’s probably right. It’s easy to overstate the role of changing demographics as an explanation for the 2012 election results – remember, the consensus of the fundamentals-based forecasters was for a narrow Obama victory – but it’s probably true that Republicans at least are in danger of losing a lot of winnable votes by insulting large groups of voters.

So I’m reading with great interest Jim Geraghty’s piece in the National Review basically calling Limbaugh to task along with hitting Romney for 47 percent and more. Or, to be more precise, I’m waiting for reactions, if any, from conservatives. Will they accept the notion that it’s a bad idea to go around insulting and excluding people – if not actually bad, at least bad politics? Or will they continue to blame everyone but themselves for why group after group after group feels insulted by GOP rhetoric?

Clearly, the way that Limbaugh talks sells. Of course a “large” audience for a radio show, a cable news network, or even more so a book or website is nothing compared with the “large” it takes to win elections. Which creates the kinds of conflicting incentives that we’re all familiar with by now: It almost certainly is good for anyone in the conservative marketplace to convert people from indifferent to actively, loudly antagonistic, but it’s a disaster for politicians to do the same.

So the question is which of these incentives will win out: the electoral incentives (stop insulting people who can be won over!) or the commercial one (insulting people who aren’t in the pool of potentially paying customers can be very good business!). Note that part of the confusion is deliberate: Those responding to the commercial incentives will inevitably find plausible-sounding reasons why their behavior is good for their party in general, and they’ll probably come to believe those arguments themselves. As will their audiences.

It’s really not obvious at all which one wins out. And that’s why it’s worth watching any relevant skirmishes.

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics. He wrote this for the Washington Post.

Advertisement