In all the recent hubbub over Bain Capital, interestingly enough one of the connections which hasn't received that much media attention is Bain's ownership of Clear Channel Communications.
Clear Channel is the largest radio station owner and operator in the United States. Through their subsidiary Premiere Radio Networks, Clear Channel syndicates many of the major conservative pundits including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity .
After seeing this mentioned, I thought it might be interesting to look at where these pundits stand on Romney and the other Presidential hopefuls.
On January 10th, Rush had Newt Gingrich on the show. Before letting Newt talk he introduced him by saying "[Newt] was using the language of the left to beat up Romney over Bain."
Newt outlined a distinction between small businesses and big businesses and those building product and service companies versus acquisition companies who sometimes extract cash by shutting down businesses.
How did Rush respond? He compared what Newt said to a quote from President Obama:
I do think at a certain point you've made enough money, but part of the American way is you can just keep on making it if you're providing a good product or a good service.
And then Rush jumps in using a faux Obama voice:
Yeah, but we don't want that. At some point, you've made enough and we're gonna be the ones to say so. And then we're gonna have you appear at a press conference to defend yourself. For making too much money. And then after you defend yourself, we're gonna take it cause you don't need that much. We're gonna decide how much you need.
Rush takes Newt's distinction between companies that create products and services and leveraged buyout firms and hyperventilates it into: government is going to tell you what to do.
In Rush's view, Newt is practicing "left wing social engineering". Rush attacks Newt using the same methods he uses to attack the left: exaggerate the argument into something it's not, attack the person as "left," and play on the fear of big government.
But doesn't Rush hate Romney?
Rush has claimed that Romney is not a conservative:
He’s a fine guy. He’s a very nice gentleman. He is a gentleman. But he’s not a conservative.
But that's about as far as Rush goes. And in the same conversation, Rush usually pairs his "not a true conservative" comments with the solution for those who might feel the same way: Obama is worse.
Now, Romneycare we know is not gonna happen again, he’s learned his mistake — and I’d much rather take Romney’s religion to Obama’s, which is Reverend Wright.
Got that? It's subtle because it almost sounds like a critique. You see, Rush knows his audience. He knows that they have questions about Romney and he knows these questions.
The audience issues: Romneycare = Obamacare and Romney's Mormon faith. The sell: Romney learned his lesson from Massachusetts and his religion is preferable to Obama's.
Rush acknowledges the issues upfront and then shows his audience the way around their objections: Romney is better than Obama.
He sells you on Romney by saying Romneycare won't happen again and he's ok with his religion because it's better than Obama's.
The beauty of Rush's approach is that he still maintains his conservative credentials by acknowledging the criticism while at the same time selling you on Romney.
This has been his role so far in the 2012 campaign- making Romney safe for conservatives. Search for yourself to see if he's been any more critical. I couldn't find any hard-hitting critiques of Romney, only of opponents like Gingrich.
Now let's step back in time. Where did Rush stand on Romney in 2008?
In February 2008, Rush threw his support behind Romney:
I think now, based on the way the campaign has shaken out, that there probably is a candidate on our side who does embody all three legs of the conservative stool, and that’s Romney. The three legs of the stool are national security/foreign policy, the social conservatives, and the fiscal conservatives.
A couple of points to make here. Notice that in 2008, Rush didn't care at all about Romneycare. Why? Because it was a Republican plan.
Note also that Rush is portraying Romney as the "true conservative". In this case, because he was running against John McCain, who many felt was not conservative enough.
The audience issue: Who was the most conservative? The sell: Romney the only conservative who could unite the three conservative audiences.
So both in 2008 and 2012 we have Rush selling Mitt Romney, not going after him like Newt Gingrich.
Seems a bit odd for someone who you would think would be a natural enemy of Romney. But perhaps this is an isolated case.
What's Hannity been saying?
Hannity had another of Romney's opponents on the other night, Governor Rick Perry.
Before letting Perry say much he introduced him by comparing his Romney criticism to Occupy Wall Street:
You said -- talking about his days at Bain Capital, Bain Capital compared companies like that, they leave the carcasses behind. Bain is a vulture capital company. They walked into South Carolina, a company like Gaffney. They picked the bones clean of those people who lost their jobs in the same mill. You say, rather than restructure jobs, they're trying to make money. Ethics get thrown out the door. They make as much money as they can in a hurry.
You know, when I hear that, it almost sounds like "Occupy Wall Street." It doesn't sound like somebody that is governing the state of Texas as a conservative.
Perry countered that there is a difference between venture capitalism and vulture capitalism. Between investing in businesses and tearing them apart for the assets.
Hannity interrupted him to compare him to Obama:
I mean, that's about as severe a charge as you can make. And frankly, you're right, it is one that I would expect from Barack Obama, who says Republicans want dirty air and dirty water.
Notice the straw man: criticizing Romney is the same as saying Republicans want dirty air and dirty water.
Similar to Rush, Hannity puts Perry in the category with Obama. On the left. Any time you don't agree, it must mean you're "liberal" or some kind of Obama lover.
The next night Hannity had Sarah Palin on to chat about the Perry interview and the two of them agreed that "Barack Obama and his machine and the billion dollars that he's got behind him, will bring all of this stuff out anyway."
Translation: All of Perry's points are "liberal" attacks. Move along. Nothing to see here. Just a bunch of liberal attacks.
Has Hannity compared Romney to Obama, called him a "liberal," questioned his health care plan in Massachusetts or any of the other more pointed attacks on Romney?
Listen to him take on Rick Perry when Perry brings up "Romneycare".
Hannity first attacks Perry for calling Romney "Obama lite" and then proceeds to argue that there is a distinction between Romney's health care plan and Obama's (Romney's was a state program).
Perry gets grilled. Compare this with Hannity's kid glove interview with Mitt Romney. Hannity lets Romney air a campaign ad (free of charge), never asks him about "Romneycare," and touts his conservative credentials.
What about in 2008?
I had him all the time, Romney all the time, Fred Thompson all the time, Huckabee all the time, we've even had Ron Paul on this program a number of times, we've had Alan Keyes whose running, we've had Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter on all the time ...and having come to know and like all of these guys, I'm making a decision on issues. And if you ask me who the conservative, the most conservative in the race is, that most represents my values at this time, it is by far and away, Governor Romney!
Hmmm. The issue at the time: Who's the most conservative? The sell: Governor Romney is the most conservative.
For those of you keeping score at home, that's two out of three Clear Channel pundits selling Romney.
Again, look for yourself. Perhaps Hannity goes after Romney somewhere, but I couldn't find it. All I could find was the "soft sell" of Romney and attacks on Romney opponents. Hannity never asks Romney about any of these conservative issues.
So how about Glenn Beck? Is the man with the most conservative credentials of the three also stumping for Romney?
First, what does Beck think about the criticisms of Bain?
On the Glenn Beck show on Jan 10, Stu Burguiere, filling in for Glenn starts out by saying that "this is a preview of the entire Democratic campaign, by the way".
The title of the show is "Meet the New Halliburton: Bain Capital". So you know where this is going ... anything said about Mitt Romney is a Democratic attack or helps the Democrats.
Pat Gray quickly confirms this:
Who needs Democrats when you've got Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich? 'Cause they're bashing him just like the Democrats would.
Stu and Pat then defend Bain by introducing some of Bain's success stories: Staples and Domino's Pizza. They do make a point that Bain has turned companies around. But they don't at all take any of the criticism of Bain seriously. Quite the opposite in fact. They mock the criticism as idiotic and "liberal".
How about Glenn's take on the other candidates?
Glenn on Gingrich:
You can’t tell me that Mitt Romney is a big government guy and not tell me that about Newt Gingrich. I’m convinced that the established right is all for Newt Gingrich. They don’t want Mitt Romney. They’ve made that determination.
Glenn's gone much further than that though. He's accused Gingrich of being "very interested in the government finding the solution."
He's also said that he'd vote for a Ron Paul 3rd party candidacy over Newt Gingrich.
Beck was the only one of the three who I saw attack Romney from the right. He did this by calling out Romney for "a Democrat trick" attacking Rick Perry during one of the debates. Yet most of his critique was simply that Romney should take a harder line on social security.
So what about in 2008?
In 2008, Beck endorsed Romney. In fact, all six of the major radio talk show hosts endorsed Romney.
It truly surprised me to find that Romney had so much support from these 3 radio pundits who I typically think of as representing the "far right".
I suspected that there would be much more criticism of Romneycare and many more portrayals of Romney as a "liberal".
While I found some mild critiques of Romney to this effect (Glenn Beck wanting to push him further to the right on social security, for example), most of the time they gave Romney the "kid glove" treatment and, in interviews, threw him a bunch of softballs rather than taking the kind of tough stance they did take with both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.
Is this because Bain owns Clear Channel?
Hard to say, but it certainly struck me as odd that Romney has such support from talk show hosts who you'd think would be much more critical of him.
Or maybe this is just another liberal attack on Mitt Romney ... Muahahahahaaaaaa!