What All the Partisanship Narratives Forget

Ron Fournier at National Journal, among others, has been wringing his hands over the latest Pew research on partisanship. The research shows a growing gap between left and right.


Naturally, a lot of scholars and members of the media are blaming conservatives because the scholars and members of the media are more ideologically aligned with the left. Some admit it. Most think that where they’ve planted their flag is called Moderateville and these conservatives are icky, fringe disrupters intent on anarchy and theocracy.

In reading a lot of commentary on the Pew study and pieces like Ron Fournier’s latest, I find a common missing element.

For the hell given toward partisans of both sides, some fair and some not, there is an organized effort on the Republican side, by its activists, to beat its entrenched incumbents. The media typically reports this in terms of ideological purity. Allegedly, conservatives just want someone more pure and less likely to reach across the aisle.

That’s actually flawed thinking, but is indicative of the thinking that comes frequently from inside the Washington bubble where access to power and the need to kiss ass perverts one’s view of what’s happening in fly over country. As a bit of a tangent, look at the shift in conservative media coverage toward Kevin McCarthy.

Once the House GOP rallied, a good many members of the Republican political press in DC, instead of covering the angst and machinations, went straight down on their knees in front of Kevin McCarthy and started writing oppo dumps on any potential challengers, etc. Their tweets changed from chronicling the chaos to championing their new source.


The press in Washington contributes to the problem and also exacerbates the problem in terms of what is covered, how things are covered, and what is not covered. Many members of the press, regardless of politics, pride themselves for their trips outside the bubble. But their outside the bubble coverage reads more like a Dian Fossey study of gorillas in the mist than coverage of actual people the press really relate to.

Away from the tangent and back to the point, what the circle of jerks in Washington sees as a conservative quest for purity, many of those in flyover country see as fighting against out of touch, entrenched elements in their party who’ve grown far too cozy with lobbyists and Wall Street. The conservative fight in Mississippi, Virginia, Texas, and elsewhere is mocked and ridiculed by a left-leaning and establishment oriented press when, in reality, it is overwhelmingly a response to a Washington that has grown out of touch. Yes, the grassroots want more conservative members of Congress, but they want them because they believe the people there are in the pockets of special interests and the politicians have abandoned their core beliefs for cash and connections.

Had Howard Dean and Ned Lamont been successful candidates, the left-leaning elements of the press would probably not be so prone to ridicule these current grassroots efforts. But because conservatives have been far more successful at defeating entrenched interests, the media instead casts it as a quest for purity instead of a demand from the people that Washington must work for them, not billionaire donors, K Street, and Wall Street.


That inability to give a fair hearing to the grassroots on the right only compounds the problem. It is also the nature of the beast and hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is Citizens United giving the grassroots the ability to beat the monied interests for the first time. And even that, inside the bubble, is misreported as allowing billionaires never before granted access into politics. In reality, the billionaires have always had the access. After Citizens United the grassroots do now too. And the circle keeps circling while the jerks keep … um …


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