It would be too much to say that Rupert Murdoch pushed Paul Ryan onto the Republican presidential ticket. But he certainly gave the conservative congressman a strong nudge.
The media mogul used a combination of private persuasion, newspaper crusading, and Twitter talk to urge Mitt Romney’s campaign to shake things up. And soon after Romney unveiled his running mate on Saturday morning, Murdoch posted a 140-character message of approval:
“Thank God! Now we might have a real election on the great issues of the day. Paul Ryan almost perfect choice.”
The enthusiastic tone was a marked contrast from last month, when Murdoch huddled privately with the GOP nominee and seemed to come away distinctly unimpressed.
“Met Romney last week,” he tweeted. “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from his team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.”
Romney declined to fire anyone, and Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal continued to ding him in editorials. On Thursday, the editorial page dropped the subtlety and practically demanded: Why not Paul Ryan?
Dismissing “every Beltway bedwetter” who warned that Ryan would be too risky, the paper said, “He has put entitlement reform at the center of the public agenda—before it becomes a crisis that requires savage cuts. And he has done so as part of a larger vision that stresses tax reform for faster growth, spending restraint to prevent a Greek-like budget fate, and a Jack Kemp–like belief in opportunity for all. He represents the GOP’s new generation of reformers.” And, in case anyone missed the point, the editorial said Ryan would help allay “doubts” about Romney.
The Romney camp says its candidate settled on Ryan a week earlier, but no decision is final until it’s announced. At the very least, Romney advisers may have quietly encouraged the Journal and The Weekly Standard, which also weighed in on Ryan’s behalf, to build public support for the little-known Wisconsin lawmaker.
Why would the Boston gang worry about Murdoch? In a contest against Barack Obama, where else are he and the conservatives going to go?
For one thing, as successive British prime ministers have learned, Rupert controls a mighty media megaphone. In the States, his Fox News Channel and New York Post have a knack for driving press coverage.
It would be hard to get a more favorable headline than on the Post’s website: “Mitt Romney and new running mate Paul Ryan pledge to ‘restore the greatness of this country.’” Not a hint of the tabloid’s usual snark.
Romney faced a fork in the road in making his veep choice: he could attempt to placate the right wing or nod to the center with a less ideological pick such as Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, or Marco Rubio. After all, the Romney high command was acutely aware that Democrats would savage Ryan over his budget, which eliminates capital-gains taxes, slashes domestic programs, and turns Medicare into a voucher program.
But if the conservative media function as a proxy for right-leaning voters, Romney was clearly in trouble with his base as he slipped behind Obama in both national and swing-state polls. Laura Ingraham ripped Romney’s campaign on her radio show, saying that while she “might be the skunk at the picnic,” it was obvious that Romney is losing the election. “You should be killing out there,” she told him. “And instead, you’re being killed.”
National Review felt compelled to publish an editorial titled “Don’t Panic.”
On Saturday morning, National Review hailed Ryan as an “inspired choice,” saying that rather than running “a vague and vacuous campaign,” Romney’s pick “has ensured that the campaign will instead to a significant degree be about a conservative governing agenda.”
What a difference a running mate makes.
The irony here is Romney wasn’t the first, second, or third choice for this whole crowd—Rich Lowry, Bill Kristol, Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, RedState’s Erick Erickson, Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. He was too moderate, too ideologically suspect after his tenure as Massachusetts governor. Some favored Rick Santorum, some liked Newt Gingrich for awhile, others openly pined for a conservative superhero to fly in and save the day.
Now the right-wing punditocracy is trying to salvage Romney’s candidacy through the addition of a man they regard as a real conservative. Which is why, at least for the moment, Rupert Murdoch seems happy. But as the coming weeks will make clear, satisfying Murdoch is a very different challenge than winning a closely contested election.