An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia
Exhibit 76: Heathering for Trump
The Media Research Center spent part of the 2020 election lashing out at its conservative allies who failed to be as reflexively and uncritically pro-Trump as it has been.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has spent years Heathering its fellow conservatives who step out of line by failing to rigidly push conservative dogma -- which, during the 2020 election, was defined as unbending fealty to all things Trump. Because Trumpism must be enforced, the MRC showed throughout the 2020 election process that it will tolerate no dissent, even from those whose conservative credentials are impeccable (and Fox News hosts).
Its biggest Heathering target by far in 2020, though, was the Lincoln Project. a group of conservatives appalled by Trump who worked to defeat him.
From the start, the MRC labored to deny the conservative backgrounds of the project's founders. The Heathering began in December 2019, when Tim Graham pedantically complained that a New York Times op-ed by the project's leaders, headlined "We Are Republicans, And We Want Trump Defeated," was inaccurate because three of the four signatories "ceremoniously left the Republican fold over Trump." In January, Bill D'Agostino whined that the project wasn't a "conservative group," just "a PAC created by frequent CNN guest George Conway, and populated by formerly Republican never-Trumpers like Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt. A few days later, Joseph Vazquez put "Republican political strategist" in scare quotes when describing Wilson.
In May, Curtis Houck listed the Lincoln Project among "grifting organizations," while Mark Finkelstein sneered that it was nothing more than "an assemblage of 'Republican' Trump haters including George Conway, Steve Schmidt, and Rick Wilson." Vazquez complained that an heiress to the Walmart fortune donated money to the group after it made "a disgusting anti-Trump coronavirus ad," going on to huff further about "The Lincoln Project’s anti-Trump-obsessed cause."
Gabriel Hays tried to deny the conservative pedigree of the project's supporters again an a whiny rant: "Ah yes, catering to the people who hate every lofty norm and principle you pride yourself on holding over the president just so you can revel in a collective 'F Trump!' That’s called being a principled conservative right there. ... Steve Schmidt slanders conservatives on MSNBC daily, and we all know how cuckoo Mr. Conway is. Just imagine handing your country over to the pro-infanticide, pro-gun control, and God-hating left and then smiling at your 'prominent Republican' self in the mirror. If Trump is destroying America, then what the hell are you doing?"
In July, Brad Wilmouth huffed that one TV host wasn't "accurately describing the Lincoln Project as a group of disaffected former Republicans who are anti-Trump," and P.J. Gladnick cheered that Wilson was attacked as a "grifter" by, of all things, Stephen Colbert's parody cartoon news show. The attacks cranked up in another post by Vazquez, retaliating for a "gross anti-Trump ad" on Trump and Russia by highlighting a right-wing website's story on the project leaders' "own checkered dealings with Russia and the tax man." Kyle Drennen smeared another project member as a "grifter."
Nicholas Fondacaro also tossed out the "grifter" smear in an August post, so desperate to attack that he bizarrely cheered how "Twitter sleuths exposed how both Wilson and his wife proudly displayed a Confederate-theme cooler on their Instagram pages." Graham whined that "The Democratic rag known as The Washington Post gushed all over the Biden-endorsing Never Trumpers at the Lincoln Project on the front of Monday's Style section," going on to yet again deny the group's conservative bona fides: "The piece is salted with quotes from 'conservatives' and 'lifelong Republicans' who are campaigning for a President Biden. Are these really 'Republicans' any more? Are they bringing 'conservatives and progressives' together? No, they're not."
Randy Hall seemed pleased that "The Trump-hating ex-Republicans at the Lincoln Project posted a tweet that was so blatantly inaccurate, even Trump-bashing reporters ruled they were wrong on Twitter" -- not that the MRC holds its fellow pro-Trump conservatives, or even itself, to that same level of scrutiny. Alex Christy feigned outrage over Wilson's "deranged" statement that Trump was "narrowcast to white non-college voters with all the scare tactics that are involved in that, all the crazy, you know the, Antifa-anarchist-communists are coming to get you gay Sharia married," further complaining that Wilson "likes to portray himself as a conservative defending conservatism and the republic from President Trump, but he clearly just hates many of his fellow Americans." For Duncan Schroeder, the Lincoln Project became that which must not be named in a September post, describing Wilson only as a "former Republican strategist."
As the election neared, Finkelstein returned to complain that MSNBC "aired a kooky Lincoln Project commercial (gratis?) that explicitly compared Biden to Abraham Lincoln, and compared Trump's supposed refusal to concede power to.... a Lincoln assassination plot?" The ad noted that if Trump lost re-election, "we may face a crisis of similar proportion" to the 1861 assassination attempt on Lincoln prior to his taking office: "an outlaw president defying the will of the people" -- which is exactly what has happened. Finkelstein then did some electioneering which we didn't think was permitted under the MRC's nonprofit tax status: "To the contrary, remember the Buckley Rule: support the most conservative candidate who is electable. When it comes to who is more conservative between President Trump, and a Joe Biden who has bragged that he'd be the most "progressive" president ever. And don't even get us started on president-in-waiting Kamala Harris, the most liberal member of the Senate!"
The MRC's attacks met with so little effect that Jorge Bonilla was reduced to attacking an assistant to the president of the news division at Univision for retweeting a Lincoln Project donation appeal. And on Oct. 8, Vazquez huffed, "The insufferable NeverTrump Lincoln Project, known for its disgusting attack ads against President Donald Trump is set to become a media business." After the Lincoln Project tweeted out the names, photos and email addresses of attorneys who were working to help promote Trump's dubious election fraud claims, Alexander Hall celebrated how "Twitter finally took down a post from The Lincoln Project and reportedly restricted the organization’s account." Weirdly, Hall never claimed the project was being "censored," like he does when Twitter cracks down on Trump and other right-wingers who violate Twitter terms of service.
Finally, Vazquez used a Nov. 16 post to declare that "The hate-filled Lincoln Project failed to make any real impact on the election" -- except, you know, for its primary goal of defeating Trump. Vazquez invoked right-wing media critic Joe Concha to redefine failure, under the headline "The Hill’s Joe Concha WRECKS Failed NeverTrump Lincoln Project."
That's some epic, extended Heathering there, guys.
Chris Wallace, Jonah Goldberg
When "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace and conservative guest Jonah Goldberg, in a May episode, criticized White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany's unprofessional behavior in attacking journalists who dare to question the actions of the Trump administration, Nicholas Fondacaro demonstrated how much the MRC served as an arm of Trump's re-election campaign by going into full Heathering mode:
Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace invited a panel to bash White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany because she dared to stand up to the opposition press. Between Wallace taking it personally and the Never-Trump editor-in-chief of The Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg attacking her, it was like watching CNN.
Fondacaro -- who is a Trump true believer, incapable of considering that he or his administration is capable of doing anything wrong -- repeated his employer's old blame-the-media schtick: "But back in reality, the liberal media were the ones who had turned nearly every press briefing into 'gladiatorial arenas' since day one of the Trump presidency. One just needed to look at how CNN’s Jim Acosta, Playboy’s Brian Karem, and the plethora of other so-called 'journalists' who used the briefings to make themselves the news story."
George Will is an unambiguous conservative but a never-Trumper, so that makes him the enemy to Tim Graham in a June post:
George Will is just another pseudo-conservative pundit at The Washington Post. He’s Jennifer Rubin with shorter hair. His latest column seals this image, explicitly calling for a rout of congressional Republicans, much to the delight of the liberal media. He compares Senate Republicans to Vichy collaborators with the Nazis:
Graham never explained why Trump and his supporters must never be criticized, especially by fellow conservatives. Instead, he threw a tantrum over CNN employees -- another MRC enemy -- liking Will's column. But Graham wasn't done whining:
This column absolutely demonstrates Will is not a conservative. Demanding a “rout” of the Republican Party is enabling Democrats making noises about a radical agenda of “Medicare for All,” a “Green New Deal,” government-funded abortion, ending border enforcement, taking tax-exempt status away from churches and organizations that refuse to recognize same-sex marriage...and so much more.
Graham is so invested in seeing no flaws in Trump that he just blithely handwaves Trump's legacy of lies by ranting that Trump gets fact-checked and weakly claiming that he "has a casual relationship with the truth." Graham is so committed to the lie that he can no longer see what truth is.
Michael Gerson, Chris Wallace (again)
Graham devoted his July 15 column to bashing conservative columnist Michael Gerson:
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has a Republican pedigree and an evangelical Christian background. He wrote profound speeches for former President George W. Bush, who was mocked as a mangler of the English language. Today, he sounds like a speechwriter for the gaseous opening of the Brian Stelter show on CNN.
Graham also found a way, as he usually does, to excuse Trump's constant stream of lies by adding some whataboutism: "It is obvious to everyone that Donald Trump boasts and exaggerates about his greatness. Just as it was obvious that former President Barack Obama never needed to boast or exaggerate about his greatness; he had CNN and the rest of the "objective" media gang to do it for him."
When unambigously right-wing Wallace conducted a relatively tough interview of Trump on Fox News, Graham spent a July 20 post Heathering Wallace again by going the whataboutism route, complaining that a interview he did with Joe Biden wasn't similarly tough:
When President Trump complains about Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace pushing hard questions on him, the natural curiosity is to go back and look at how Wallace pressed Joe Biden. He interviewed Biden on March 1, 2020, which was not a common occurrence. At the end, Wallace joked "Please come back in less than 13 years, sir."
And Graham only writes about his fellow conservatives when he's worried they haven't drunk the same amount of Trump Kool-Aid that he has.
The MRC's Heathering isn't confined to people -- it also went after a fellow right-leaning media outlet in a rare non-Trump-related example. Rich Noyes complained in a Sept. 21 post:
One of the closest congressional contests in 2020 is the race for Utah’s 4th district, pitting freshman Democrat Rep. Ben McAdams against former NFL player and businessman Burgess Owens. A poll conducted in late July by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and The Deseret News found it to be an absolute tie, with each candidate garnering 35 percent of the vote, and another 24 percent saying they didn’t know for whom they’d vote.
Noyes' chief complaint: that the Deseret News reported that Owens has some notable scandals, while McAdams had none:
Owens has been repeatedly targeted with negative stories, while McAdams has escaped scrutiny.
But Noyes offered no evidence that McAdams did any scandalous things that warranted negative coverage.
Noyes seemed to concede that the negative coverage of Owens is legitimate, and that he "needs to demonstrate he’s an acceptable choice to voters who would be inclined to vote Republican." But still he blamed the newspaper for reinforcing McAdams' "campaign objectives," adding: "Unlike opinion-based journalism, campaign news coverage should inform voters so they can make up their own minds, based on their own values and preferences. It should not steer voters toward one side or the other. In this case, the news pages of The Deseret News are violating that standard."
Noyes is hiding a big secret, though: the Deseret News is not part of the "liberal media," despite his efforts to portray it as such. It's actually owned by a division of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- a.k.a. the Mormons -- and its bias, as detected by both Media Bias Fact Check and AllSides, is conservative, not liberal.
In other words, Noyes is attacking a conservative newspaper for not being conservative enough. That's the textbook definition of Heathering.