Ron Kessler Sells Out
Newsmax's chief Washington correspondent completes the transition from bitter McCain basher to full-on McCain fluffer.
By Terry Krepel
Newsmax's Ronald Kessler took sides early in the 2008 presidential race, throwing his support and sycophancy behind Mitt Romney -- to the point where, in June 2007, Kessler wrote some extraordinarily creepy things about Romney's wife.
As ConWebWatch detailed, Kessler was not merely slavering over Romney's "sensational good looks" and noting that women "have a word for him: hot," he was describing Ann Romney as having "the look of an outdoors woman bred to be an equestrian, which she is good carriage, rosy complexion, square jaw, and blond mane," adding: "When she is not flashing her truly unbelievable smile, she may lower her eyes demurely. But Ann Romney is not demure she may be modest, but she isn’t meek. She is unpretentious, but she isn’t shy. She lowers her eyes, thinking, and then looks up directly at her interviewer and dazzles him with that smile."
While Kessler toned down his sycophancy a bit after that bounced around the Web -- one blogger called Newsmax "the Tiger Beat of the 2008 Republican presidential primary" -- he kept up his Romney-fluffing duties. He declared in October 2007 that "Mitt Romney is in the best position to win the Republican nomination," citing one of his favorite sources, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, declaring that “Romney’s doing it the right way, in my view.” Kessler followed up in November with Keene's endorsement of Romney, claiming that "Keene’s endorsement is likely to galvanize fellow conservatives in Romney’s direction." Another November column insisted that "the case of a killer released by a Mitt Romney judicial appointee won’t likely hurt the GOP candidate the way Willie Horton haunted Michael Dukakis," because "a look at Romney’s record shows that he has neither been soft on crime nor liberal on social issues."
In December, Kessler recounted the article he wrote for Newsmax's magazine the previous April in which he found that Romney was "a remarkably successful businessman and conservative governor with impeccable character" and declared, "Since the Newsmax article appeared nothing has changed." He then took the opportunity to bash Romney's Republican competitors:
No one has revealed that Romney appointed a close friend as police chief who has since been indicted for dealings involving figures with ties to the Mafia, as is the case with Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani did this even though he was warned about red flags in the candidate's background.
Kessler saved his harshest criticism, though, for John McCain:
Finally, Romney has not been found to have a vicious, outof-control temper, as is true of John McCain. Nor did he twice oppose President Bush’s tax cuts a key ingredient in the current the economic recovery as did McCain.
Kessler has been a longtime critic of McCain. As far back as June 2006, Kessler featured an attack from conservative activist Grover Norquist on the (at the time) McCain-led Senate Committee on Indian Affairs over a committee report's conclusion that Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, served as a front to launder payments made to former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed for work connected to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Norquist bashed McCain as "dishonest" and "delusional" and accused him of "lying,"; Kessler did not allow McCain to respond to Norquist's attacks.
In July 2006, Kessler was already asking, "does McCain have the temperament to be president?" highlighting the "irrational, explosive side that make many of them question whether he is fit to serve as president and be commander in chief" and further pondering "whether a man who seems so out of control should have the authority to unleash nuclear weapons." He even cited fellow Newsmax columnist John LeBoutillier -- an even more rabid McCain-hater than himself -- calling McCain "a vicious person" and concluding, "I think he is not fit to be president."
But Keene was and McCain didn't; by the time people started voting in January, McCain had re-emerged as a front-runner and -- more importantly from Kessler's point of view -- imperiling Romney's chances at getting the nomination. So Kessler ratcheted up the attacks. A Jan. 27 column ripped into McCain for claiming that Romney "favored a set timetable for withdrawing from Iraq," howling that "no candidate in this race has gone so far as to baldly fabricate what another candidate has said, as McCain did over the weekend. That same kind of recklessness is evident in McCain’s explosions of temper, which are meant to intimidate those who do not agree with him or do not support him." Kessler rehashed his claims about McCain's temper and concluded: "If we elect a candidate with McCain’s monumental character flaws, we can expect to suffer the consequences." One incident in particular drew Kessler's attention:
Defending his bill to give amnesty to illegal aliens, McCain unleashed a tirade on Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who had voiced concerns about the number of judicial appeals illegal immigrants could file under the proposed legislation.
Kessler brought in Keene once again for a Feb. 3 column dismissing McCain as "largely a creation of the media" and attempting a last-ditch effort to fluff Romney in claiming that "While Romney changed some of his positions while he was Massachusetts governor or later, he has changed his position on fewer issues than did McCain" and adding, "Keene says it’s premature to conclude that because McCain bested Romney in Florida, he has his party’s nomination wrapped up."
Of course, two days later on Super Tuesday, McCain did pretty much that, capturing by far the largest number of delegates among the Republican candidates. Meanwhile, Kessler's boy Romney captured fewer delegates than Huckabee and withdrew from the race shortly thereafter.
With Romney's withdrawal, though, it was time for Kessler to make the shift from McCain basher to McCain fluffer.
The process started quickly with a Feb. 8 column in which he began by announcing that "John McCain made a sale at the Conservative Political Action Conference":
Some conservatives said they could never bring themselves to vote for a man who voted against President Bush’s tax cuts, was responsible for the campaign finance law, and pushed for amnesty for illegal immigrants. But I talked with dozens of conservative leaders after McCain’s talk, and every one of them thought the Arizona senator sounded the right notes in his speech and said they felt inclined to support him.
Kessler also provided a sycophantic epitaph for Romney's campaign, asserting that "his biggest problem was that he had to run both against his opponents and the mainstream media" and complaining that "Close to half the references to Romney in the media refer to his Mormon religion, yet few stories mention that he is both a Harvard Law School and a Harvard Business School graduate, credentials that are far more relevant to becoming president."
Kessler moved on to the next stage in a Feb. 19 column, declaring his key anti-McCain talking point -- his temper -- to be old news now that the "mainstream media" was checking into it:
In this column, I first discussed McCain’s temper in July 2006. Yet it was not until the week of Super Tuesday, when it became clear that McCain would be the Republican nominee that The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Associated Press, and finally The New York Times suddenly burst forth with stories on McCain’s temper and off-color remarks.
The cover of the May 2008 edition of Newsmax magazine, featuring Kessler's fawning profile of McCain.
Indeed, that's what Kessler did, spending the next couple months hammering Obama over his relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, as ConWebWatch detailed.
But while he was attacking Obama, Kessler was putting together a cover story on McCain for the May edition of Newsmax's print magazine (not available online). No dire warnings about McCain's temper here -- in fact, it announced that Kessler's flip-flop to McCain fluffer was complete.
Kessler repeated the Cornyn outburst anecdote that only a few months earlier was an example of McCain having a "monumental character flaw" -- this time adding new details he didn't mention in January to spin McCain's temper as an asset:
McCain's swagger didn't irk Cornyn enough for him to withhold support for his candidacy. When Cornyn endorsed McCain's presidential bid in February, he said "He is clearly the man for the job."
That's right -- Kessler wants you to believe that what was once a sign of poor character is now a "scrappy approach" and "swagger."
The rest of the article is largely sycophantic, suggesting there are "two John McCains" -- the war hero and the "unpredictable maverick" with the "volatile temper" -- and unsurprisingly concluding that "the two sides of John McCain may turn out to be a winning combination."
With that flip-flop, Kessler demonstrated once and for all that he has no journalistic principles worth mentioning -- just a desire to be on the side of whoever's the winning Republican -- and therefore cannot be trusted as a journalist. Presumably, the money he will rake in as a loyal Republican soldier will salve the withering of any integrity he professed to have.
Kessler put the capper on his conversion by once more channeling Keene in a June 25 column for an only-slightly-qualified endorsement of McCain:
John McCain is making progress in wooing the center-right coalition, key conservative leaders Dave Keene and Grover Norquist tell Newsmax.
By contrast, LeBoutillier -- whom Kessler had no problem quoting when both were simpatico in their McCain-bashing -- hasn't been quoted since. Perhaps that's because LeBoutillier has yet to renounce his McCain disdain (though it remains to be seen if he can hold out through the election).
In a July 7 column, LeBoutillier attacked McCain for having "morphed from the successor-to-Barry-Goldwater he was hailed as when he won Goldwater’s Arizona Senate seat 22 years ago to the maverick-anti-conservative- Republican in 2000 and now to a G.W. Bush clone in 2008. In the process he has blurred his persona and lost his status as a unique candidate with a signature brand." LeBoutillier continued:
Many on the right these days are actually hoping that McCain gets defeated in November not because they want an Obama administration but because ridding ourselves of all vestiges of the failed Bush era (and McCain has become an integral defender and partner of Bush) will accelerate the inevitable soul-searching followed by the necessary reconstruction of the Conservative Movement and its vehicle, the Republican Party. The sooner we shed ourselves of Bush and McCain, and all their behind-the-scenes handlers, the better.
Having taken a deep swig of the GOP Kool-Aid, Kessler no longer wants to be a part of LeBoutillier's criticism.
Which leaves only one remaining question: When can we expect to see that creepily obsequious profile of McCain's wife?