Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Steele Stumble Exposes Far Right Rift With GOP Establishment


The fracas over Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele's appearance on Vincent David Jericho's radio program illustrates the power of political exaggeration as well as a more instructive rift between some grass-root, populist conservatives and establishment Republicans in Southwest Missouri.

And Jericho's repeated inflammatory statements about Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Blunt also presents a tricky tightrope for the GOP candidates running to replace him.

Steele is still dealing with national political fallout from his reaction to Jericho's laundry list of accusations against the GOP's likely U.S. Senate nominee.

On Friday morning, the conservative KSFG talk show host accused Blunt of "committing adultery multiple times" and amending homeland security legislation to benefit his second wife, a Washington lobbyist. "Guys like Papa Blunt make us sick to our stomachs," Jericho said, in what was a fairly typical riff for his program.

Lost in much of the coverage though, is that Jericho concluded his thought speaking about the page scandal involving former Florida Congressman Mark Foley. "You had the page boy scandal, you had all of that crap, and nobody stands up to it, and says, 'this is crap,'"Jericho went on, before making a reference to men acting like boys "who can't behave themselves."

Steele's initial response -- "I mean, I agree with you" -- is earning himself political fire from Democrats and scorn from some Missouri Republicans. "When stuff gets in the crapper, you got to clean it out," said Steele, leaving the impression to many that he was referring directly to Blunt.

"I'm very disappointed," said 7th Congressional District executive director Mavis Busiek. "I do not think Mr. Steele had a handle on the situation. A journalist never has the right to attack a person's character on something he knows nothing about. Mr. Steele should've put a stop to it right then and there and ended the interview abruptly," Busiek added.

Former Blunt chief of staff Gregg Hartley wrote on Twitter that Steele should apologize to Blunt and resign over the remarks.

Another Republican operative muttered that Steele helped cut "an automatic commercial," for Blunt's 2010 Democratic rival, Robin Carnahan.

But other Republicans think the transcript looks worse than hearing the entire interview and that the left cynically and successfully elevated a minor gaafe into a larger controversy for the GOP.

"When I first saw the transcript of the interview on a liberal blog site, I figured Steele was just sticking his foot in his mouth," said Patrick Tuohey, who runs the conservative website, The Missouri Record. "But now that I listen to the audio, I don't think there is much here. The specific talk that Steele was reacting to involved Rep. Foley and the leadership that let it pass. Steele was probably just happy to have a chance to squeeze some words in," Tuohey said.

"This particular episode is silliness that won't have legs and we'll be on to something else in a week," he added.

Conservative Kyle Dowden, a Jericho fan, also said that Steele's comments were being "made out as bigger than they really were." "Michael showed some integrity and gave himself credibility by not just defending the members of his party. He could've easily given the typical D.C. sound byte and avoided the question. He didn't," Dowden said.

But Dowden represents a slice of the conservative movement in Southwest Missouri that remains largely Republican, but anti-establishment and in some cases, anti-Blunt. It is the group that Jericho has both cultivated and depended on to fuel his following on his morning radio show.

"I have voted for Roy and Matt (Blunt) in every election they have been on the ballot," explained Dowden. But, I've been losing faith in Roy, especially since he ditched his wife in favor of the lobbyist that Jericho referenced. I remember attending the press conference when Matt announced his candidacy for governor. There was a coolness in the air as it related to Roy and Matt's mother. Everyone was aware that Roy was baggage for Matt's campaign," Dowden said.

"I think we voters have to ask the question, 'Is it possible for a man who sells out his family for pleasure also able to sell out his beliefs and constituents for a kickback?' I think it's possible. That's why character and integrity matter," Dowden went on.

The personal remarks about Blunt's private life are part of an undercurrent that Jericho has used to tap into, to make his case that the Congressman isn't "one of us."

But Jericho is also in a long-running feud with Busiek, who he views as a dictatorial gatekeeper who won't embrace newer and younger conservatives who want to be part of the local GOP structure.

"If you don't kiss Mavis Busiek's ring, and if you aren't 800 years old, they don't let you in," Jericho said on his program during the Steele interview.

"What I make of it, is he must be fairly desperate. No one has to kiss anyone's ring to get in the party. He says these things to get attention. He seems to want to draw a divide with young conservatives and the following I have. But he doesn't seek the truth," Busiek said.

"I'm not 19 years-old, but for 743, I'm pretty well preserved," she added, hitting back at the age crack.

Jericho's viewpoint and following by no means represents a majority of 7th District Republicans. But some political observers say growing discontent with the Republican Party combined with Ron Paul's fringe candidacy and the election of President Obama has created the perfect storm for Jericho's bombastic style.

"Like any good demagogue, Jericho sought to make Blunt an emblem for a party that lost its way, and made demands upon the congressman to show fealty to Jericho's very narrow brand of conservatism. By doing this, Jericho became the leader of the "conservative underground," said Springfield Republican Matt Lyons.

Despite his harsh attacks on Republicans, most area candidates and officials agree to appear on Jericho's show. All five of the announced Republicans running to replace Blunt in the U.S. House appeared at Jericho's cattle call two weeks ago.

State Sen. Gary Nodler said he couldn't make a judgment on Jericho's interaction with Steele because he didn't hear the broadcast. He said he views Jericho as just another media outlet to convey his views through and added that a diverse Republican Party in Southwest Missouri shouldn't surprise anyone.

"The Republican Party in Southwest Missouri is too big to be monolithic. Tensions are bound to exist," said Nodler. The Joplin lawmaker wouldn't render an opinion on Jericho's influence, but said it's expected that his act is designed to generate controversy.

"It's not just about information, it's about entertainment," Nodler said, referring to Jericho's show. "They're free to disagree with Congressman Blunt and Governor Blunt. They're free to disagree with me."

Greene County prosecutor and 7th District candidate Darrell Moore, who also hadn't heard the broadcast, said it helps no one to use harsh damning rhetoric to get a point across.

"Yes, Jericho has some influence, but I have no use for the trash talk. That's high school behavior. What good does it do anybody to trash Roy at this point? It just tears us all down," Moore said.

"I would say, sometimes, my friend Jericho, goes over the line," Moore added.

But for some in the conservative movement, that's exactly where they want him to be.

"I know Vincent has offered for Blunt to come on his show, but, I guess he doesn't want to face real questions on his record," said conservative Clint Hallowell. "And I do respect and know that Jericho will only talk about things he's researched and has the facts on so I have to deduce that Roy Blunt doesn't want to face him to clear things up and explain his position on the matter and could very well be because Jericho's right," added Hallowell, who said he's divorced himself from the Republican Party.

"I am absolutely conservative and agree 100% with Vincent," added Jericho fan Peggy Meads. "I do think he may have been a bit tough on Steele, but it is so needed at this point. This country is slipping away from everything that once made it great. The GOP has become a party of wimps and needs to make a conservative stand and bring back common sense," she added.

Privately, many local Republicans are grumbling at what they see as a tactical mistake the Republican National Committee made by allowing Steele to go on Jericho's program in the first place.

But there seems to be wider frustration that Jericho and his listeners can't unite behind the GOP's common rival: President Obama and a Democratic Congress.

"I'm loyal to Congressman Blunt, I think he's been a good Congressman and will be a good Senator. I will never betray him. I'm not saying he's never made a mistake, but he's my friend. Maybe that's what's tormenting him," Busiek said. "I'm not interested in someone who stirs fears and tears people down all the time," she added.

"Their angst for Blunt runs so deep that it's hard to see who they display more antipathy toward: Blunt, or Obama?," said Lyons, who is supporting Blunt for U.S. Senate. "Again, this is something that should unify the two parts: both are against the stimulus, government health care, Cash for Clunkers, cap and trade, etc. Yet because the conservative/libertarian faction holds such antipathy for the local establishment GOP, it doesn't," Lyons said.

"Everyone in public life has made mistakes. As Jericho has pointed out, Blunt is no different. Yet atonement can be made for those mistakes. My advice to all involved is, look at the big picture," he said.


Kris said...

Nice write-up... My few thoughts are these:

1. If a radio personality stated that I had committed adultery multiple times, and I hadn't... I would probably sue that person.

2. VDJ has some serious "popsicles" (a term of his own using) for talking about the divorce/remarriage issue. Local media has avoided it for at least three election cycles.

3. Why does Roy keep playing this "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" game with the far right wing on the Obama birth certificate issue and the so called "death panels?" Perhaps they realize that VDJ is not as marginalized as they would like to say he is?

gumshoe said...

VDJ and his followers will be to blame for the downfall of the Republican Party. Right before his Papa Blunt rant, he stated that he's against the Republican Party consisting of a big tent and big coalitions.

Have Democrats gained ground or lost more battles since VDJ entered Southwest Missouri?

Give this guy his own tv show. He's one of the best allies Dems have.


believeitornot said...

It is interesting to note the squeamishness the Republicans handle one of their own radio personalities known for "trash talk" and to see many in the party try to minimize VDJ and label him an "entertainer" among other things.

Why then would they faithfully follow others who's language and debate tactics are far worst than VDJ i.e. Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage (who has been banned in the UK), and others?

One could draw the conclusion that the Republicans don't like the harsh criticism they condemn the Democrats to, a "shoes on the other foot" senario.

How's that feel to have half truths, reputations, legislation, out of context statements, out right lies, comparisons to horrific historical figures, etc. perpetuated on one of your own?

I have heard our President compared to Hitler, accused of promoting death panels to kill Americans, and other outrageous and outright lies by these pillars, in fact, leaders in the Republican Party on conservative talk radio.

I watched as Barbara Walters confronted Glenn Beck on her TV show for making up and telling an outlandish and outright lie on his radio show (Youtube) about Walters. When Walters questioned his jouralistic skills and inquired if he got a second "source" before reporting his "stories" Beck said, "I'm not a journalist, I'm not a journalist, I'm an "ENTERTAINER". Shouldn't Beck state that fact at the beginning of each show? Many people think they are listening to "News" and nothing could be further from the truth. We need legislation that forces these "entertainers" to state that their is no checking of sources, and they are not journalists or representative of "news", they are "entertainers" and book peddlers. It's only fair.

I've enjoyed watching the reaction to the "shoe on the other foot" with Roy Blunt. I personally have 4,563 reasons not to vote for Roy Blunt and none of them concern his x-wife or his morals.