Republican message man Frank Luntz was secretly taped saying that right-wing radio hosts are hurting the GOP rebranding effort with their hostility to immigration reform. And, sure, it's kind of funny that one of the most important engines of the conservative movement — drive-time talk — has become so "problematic" for the GOP. But it's also amazing that Luntz expects talk radio hosts to pivot perfectly in sync with the Republican National Committee. We've gotten so used to the idea that conservative media parrot official Republican Party talking points that even Frank Luntz — king of the on-air focus group, prompter of Fox News teleprompters — is surprised when they fail to do so.
"They get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it's really problematic," Luntz told students at the University of Pennsylvania, one of whom recorded him with ah iPhone and gave it to Mother Jones. Luntz complains:
"Marco Rubio's getting his ass kicked. Who's my Rubio fan here? We talked about it. He's getting destroyed! By Mark Levin, by Rush Limbaugh, and a few others. He's trying to find a legitimate, long-term effective solution to immigration that isn't the traditional Republican approach, and talk radio is killing him."
Talk radio is not really killing Rubio. "What you are doing is admirable and noteworthy," Limbaugh said when Rubio came on his radio show in January. But Luntz is used to working with more cooperative media figures, like, say, those on Fox News. The Daily Show aired a brilliant segment on Luntz in February in which Jon Stewart dubbed him "Republican Batman." The show aired an interview on Fox and Friends in which Gretchen Carlson says, "You believe the error is 'smaller government.' You believe the adjustment should be 'more effective and efficient government.' Why are those words so important?" Luntz replies, "Because the American people don't care what the size of government is."
The most compelling moment was an oldie, from Fox in July 2009:
Luntz: You're calling it the public option, which is what the White House calls it -- are you sure it isn't the "government option"? …. If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it...
Sean Hannity: You know what? It's a great point, and from now on, I'm going to call it the government option.
Alas, Limbaugh, Levin, and the rest are not nearly as pliant as Sean Hannity. After all, on November 8, just days after Mitt Romney lost the presidential election with just 27 percent of the Latino vote, Hannity said, he'd "evolved" on immigration. In fact, he nearly perfectly anticipated the Senate's "gang of eight" immigration bill:
"It’s simple to me to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don’t say you’ve got to go home."
By contrast, we can applaud Limbaugh for having a little bit of journalistic integrity.