Tuesday, December 21, 2010


In comments, mb tells me he/she still thinks Haley Barbour's would-be presidential campaign is toast. According to Greg Sargent, his right-wing Washington Post colleague Jennifer Rubin and (now) National Review's Jim Geraghty agree. On the other hand, Sargent and Rubin's WaPo colleague Chris Cillizza is already pondering Haley Barbour comeback strategies -- an apology in the short term (Barbour's issued the apology already), followed by a move I have trouble imagining:

... he will need to develop a better -- and more serious/thoughtful -- answer(s) as the campaign wears on.

A broader speech by Barbour explaining how he viewed race during his formative years and how it impacted his life could be in order as well but almost certainly not any time in the foreseeable future.

As we're now learning from a right-wing Mississippi blog, Barbour actually gave a fairly serious race speech in 2004. But that was delivered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on the 40th anniversary of the murder of three civil rights workers there; that was Barbour as governor, doing a governor-style thing. I'm really having a hard time seeing him deliver another such speech, one that's clearly intended as penance.

Penance doesn't fit the Barbour brand; he's selling himself as a bourbon-fueled Big Daddy who's in charge, effortlessly, without breaking a sweat (or spilling his drink).

His problem right now is that his base is the mainstream media, and the mainstream media now demands this penance from him. (I bet his journalist pals hate pretending that they take this seriously, but I'm sure they feel they have to play along with the conventions.)

If he had a base of support in the tea party, or elsewhere among the Fox/talk radio hordes, he wouldn't need to bother with all this. And he'd know the right moves to make right now: yes, do the pro forma apology -- but get some new-media types to spread the meme that the call for an apology is just a fascist demand from totalitarian liberals, who are, after all, the real racists. Then, his minimal apology would carry a subtext: look at how the liberals have nailed me to a cross over nothing.

He'd probably then just refuse to talk to anyone in the media except true friends for a short time. That sends the message that everyone in the media apart from fellow travelers is a scummy liberal engaging in the politics of personal destruction. The scandal would blow over fairly quickly, and the message of victimization would strengthen him with his base. (It worked for Rand Paul, didn't it?)

Problem is, Barbour's press friends -- even apparently, the right-wing author of that Weekly Standard piece -- don't play the game the way the Fox/talk radio/tea party cabal does. And, beyond that, Barbour considers even mainstream reporters his friends.

So he can't do this effectively. A new-school right-winger, on the other hand, could negotiate this with a minimum of trouble.

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