HOW NOT TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB
I really, really didn't want to go back to talking about Anthony Weiner, but now I see that his refusal to answer reporters' questions -- refusing to say definitively that he didn't post the underwear picture, refusing to ask for a police investigation and refusing to explain why, and so on -- has become the story. I'm not going to weigh in on guilt or innocence. But I will say that even from a sympathetic account of what he's doing, such as the one at Talking Points Memo, it seems to me that he's trying and failing to replicate what works for Republicans, or what he thinks works for them:
Tuesday, he testily evaded questions from news outlets like CNN on the topic and conservative news site The Daily Caller has repeatedly pressed the congressman for a yes or no answer on whether the picture in question is of Weiner.
"Look here's the decision I made and you can disagree with it," he told TPM when asked for a clear answer on whether it was him in the photo, "that after two and a half days of statements that answer these questions that I'm not going to keep drilling into further details and further details, even one ... even the easy questions, even the obvious questions, even the ones I've answered before."
Weiner went on: "Because I don't believe in the idea you believe in that this will end. I have four separate emails from a New York Post reporter saying if you just answer this one question it will be over. You know people may not believe me, they believe Breitbart, whatever it is. I'm going to do the work I got to do and somewhere I've got to say I'm done talking about it. I'm going to decide what I'm going to talk about for the next several days and it's not going to be this."
A reporter interrupted to ask him if he had exchanged messages with a stripper on Twitter who mentioned on her feed in March that she had been in contact with Weiner online.
"See what I mean?" he said....
Via Mediaite, you can watch seven and a half painful minutes of Weiner doing this sort of stonewalling -- and, yeah, I say "painful," while you may pump your fist and say, "Hell, yeah!"
The point is, he's trying to get people to back down by being as aggressive and self-righteous as he thinks a Republican would be in the same situation -- and no one's backing down. He's trying to rally the sympathies of non-wingnuts -- and (as you see from the TPM link above) it's not working all that well. (Also see this post from New York magazine, which generally leans left of center: it's titled "Anthony Weiner Is Not Doing Himself Any Favors.")
Even if this is just an innocent Anthony Weiner declaring I'm fed up and I can't win by answering questions, so screw the process, the result is clearly not that he's getting the deference most Republicans get by doing what Democrats never do, namely acting like a Republican. It's not working. Maybe it isn't working because a Democrat simply can't get away with this, but I'd say it isn't because he's misreading how Republicans and right-wingers win.
They don't win using wall-to-wall hostility, or at least not this kind. They're much more likely to resort to a high-and-mighty, harrumphy self-righteousness. You've heard that, say, Chris Christie is a bully, but have you watched any of the clips his fans adore? He bullies while barely raising his voice. You probably think of Bill O'Reilly as a "loudmouth," and maybe you've repeatedly watched the clip that shows him blowing up at his staff -- I bet Weiner has watched it more than once -- but much of the time he just quietly asserts that he's right.
There's an Eddie Haskell thing going on here -- Republicans have an acute sense of when raising their voices will make them seem like authorities who should be feared and when not raising their voices will make them seem like authorities -- grown-ups -- to be respected. It helps, obviously, that the Beltway is (as Josh Marshall says) "wired" for Republicans:
...a generation of one party holding the reins selects for certain kinds of journalists in key positions of power, the policy experts at the think tanks who get the journalists calls, the lobbyists who move the most money and so forth. You build up a set of assumptions about what kinds of people and ideas are respectable and which aren't. Which are old-fashioned, which are 'cutting edge' and so forth. Who defines conventional wisdom?
In all of these respects, DC remains overwhelmingly wired for the GOP.
It also builds up assumptions about who gets to stand up and make a dominance challenge when threatened -- and you can't just will your way past that, if your Democrat. Plus, Republicans and right-wingers generally have one another's backs, and they frequently focus-group their self-righteousness before putting it on display. Weiner's not doing any of that.
And I'd add that even these advantages don't save every Republican. They don't save many of the ones who get embroiled in sex scandals. So, add that all up and Weiner is going to continue struggling if he intends to remain "scrappy" and combative in a completely gut-driven, intuitive way.