The Twitchiest And Most Influential Voice In the GOP’s Grassroots Will Make Sure The Party Never Rebrands
If you want a crash course in why the GOP’s “rebranding” is doomed, look at what happened with Cracker Barrel over the weekend.
The often off-ramp-accessible restaurant chain announced on Friday that it would be pulling Duck Dynasty products from its shelves in response to an interview in which the family’s “patriarch” said, among other things, that homosexuality leads to bestiality.
Within hours, the right-wing website Twitchy posted the chain’s tweet announcing the move along with enraged responses from fans of the show or fans of anti-gay rhetoric in general.
From there, the outrage spread and by Sunday morning, Cracker Barrel surrendered:
— Cracker Barrel (@CrackerBarrel) December 22, 2013
And soon another Twitchy post was celebrating the victory.
Some have compared Twitchy to a teenage “slambook,” a notebook students pass around and fill with pointed opinions about their classmates. I’ve called it the website that challenges the notion that the content of a post should make more sense than the comments.
But there’s no doubt that the hyperpartisan site is hyper-successful; it’s the 1,054th most popular online destination in the United States, making it a leader in the right-wing blogosphere just behind Breitbart.com at 1,037 and ahead of WashingtonExaminer.com at 1,566 and RedState.com at 4,753. And the site was just sold for an undisclosed amount to the publishers of Townhall.com.
By simply reposting tweets with minimal commentary, Twitchy operates on the belief that anyone who has something nasty to say about President Obama or Democrats is a star. Anyone on Twitter who skewers the left well enough can make headlines on the site. Have any hint of notoriety already and negative things to say about the president? Tweet away and “Twitchy Staff,” the mysterious author of every post, will definitely write it up.
Then Michelle Malkin will tweet the post to her 650,000 or so Twitter followers and possibly share it with the more than 1.3 million people who follow her on Facebook.
Her fans made Malkin, a fiery columnist and Fox News contributor, famous. And by returning the favor, she not only built a business but is fine-tuning an online activism machine that can rain down outrage with great vengeance and furious anger whenever she or her writers decide someone is deserving of scorn.
Twitchy’s CEO helped spark the news story that dominated the end of this year when she tweeted the notice she received from her insurance company in September telling her that her plan had been canceled. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) immediately retweeted her and a meme was born.
“Obama Lied, My Health Plan Died,” she explained in a post for National Review published as the failure of HealthCare.gov gave the furor huge gusts of oxygen. As the website floundered for weeks, the entire narrative of the rollout was focused on the approximately 3 percent of adults in America who had lost a plan that they would have to pay more to replace.
Thanks to an outrage fire Malkin helped light, the president’s approval rating sank to the lowest point in his five years in office (though he’s still polling considerably better than the GOP).
The troubling aspect of this power for the GOP is that Malkin’s agenda doesn’t always align with what the party wants or needs. And when it doesn’t, she has no compunction about turning the mob behind her against members of her own party.
She’s obsessively focused on fighting Common Core, an attempt to nationalize K-12 educational standards largely embraced by Republican governors and championed by Jeb Bush. Her critiques and mockery have helped make opposing the initiative an article of faith for the Tea Party movement.
Malkin is also fiercely opposed to any immigration reform that would legalize undocumented workers. Her savaging of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) for working with Democrats on a reform bill maimed the political prospects of a man some were calling “The Republican Savior.”
“He’s dug himself into a hole and he can’t get himself out,” she said on Fox & Friends in August. “So he has resorted to rather desperate, silly, and may I add craven rationales for sticking with his disaster.”
By the end of summer, the issue was so toxic that the House GOP leadership refused to even acknowledge Rubio’s bill existed and the senator himself eventually even rejected it. The GOP’s one policy recommendation in the GOP “autopsy” of the 2012 election is now on life support with the author of 2002’s Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores ready to lead the siege on any attempt to revive it.
I saw Malkin speak in person at an Americans for Prosperity event outside Detroit the weekend before Michigan’s 2012 Republican primary. Her rhetoric is all about fighting corruption and it’s throughly reported with names, facts and figures. It was a stark contrast to the bald, broad accusations of Andrew Breitbart, who was also speaking at the event, making his last public appearance. When it came time to sign books, Malkin’s line was twice as long as her compatriot’s.
As the daughter of Filipino immigrants who wrote a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Malkin has no fear of the “race card.” As a graduate of the liberal arts bastion Oberlin, she loves taking on political correctness directly. And as a conservative who understands the base better than most members of Congress, she knows how to strike fear in the hearts of those Republicans whose greatest dread is a primary challenger.
Cracker Barrel may be able to prosper by appealing to only those who are most likely to be their customers. Faced with demographics that seem poised to turn red states purple, then blue, the Republican Party may not have that luxury.
The modern GOP is the home of those who resist change. It was forged from a movement that “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” This is a movement that rewards its leaders for offending and punishes them for reaching out.
And when Michelle Malkin tweets, they listen, they retweet and they rage.