The growing progressive political infrastructure could play a major role in helping President Obama’s reelection this year, rebutting the attacks of the GOP and highlighting mistakes made by the president’s opponents.
Over the last two weeks, progressive activists, from MSNBC host Al Sharpton to groups like the Center for the American Progress, have amplified two incidents in particular, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s pointing at President Obama during an argument on a tarmac and Mitt Romney’s comment that the very poor are “not my focus.”
Romney’s remark could hurt him with all voters, as even Americans who are not overly concerned about the poor don’t want their politicians to make such statements. And the Brewer incident had particular resonance among African-Americans, who feel the president has been shown disrespect throughout this term.
But the lessons from the widespread attention and focus that these incidents have received may be more important than the controversies themselves.
In 2004, conservative media such as FOX News played a very influential role in negatively defining John Kerry to the broader electorate, easing George W. Bush’s path to victory.
Four years later, Obama won in an electoral environment that heavily favored Democrats, but still struggled with the amount of massive attention given to his
one-time pastor Jeremiah Wright and his remark that some Americans “cling to guns or religion.”
And the 2010 campaign was dominated by the Tea Party and its fervent opposition to Obama and congressional Democrats.
But 2012 may have a different dynamic, and one liberals have long planned
for. After 2004, when Fox News, the Drudge Report and other conservative outlets played a huge role in shaping the election, liberals sought to mimic what they saw
as some of the successes of the conservative movement, which has long had think thanks that incubated ideas and media that repeated those themes and fired up the base.
Over the past eight years, the Center for American Progress has grown into an institution that rivals if not surpasses the influence of its conservative counterparts. MSNBC’s prime-time coverage has the influence among Democrats that FOX does among conservatives.
The Huffington Post, while now much more of a traditional news outlet than in its creation, could play the same role the Drudge Report did in 2004 with Kerry, highlighting the mistakes of a candidate Romney.
And Twitter may be a great equalizer, taking away the power of any major news outlet to define the coverage. Romney was forced to defend his poor comment only a few hours after making it on Wednesday, after it turned into a Twitter phenomenon, drawing criticism from both liberals and conservatives.
These progressive institutions in particular could be particularly important because some liberals remain frustrated with Obama, arguing he has not done enough on certain issues, from regulation of Wall Street banks to addressing the housing crisis.
And the excitement surrounding Obama that motivated Democrats is perhaps not possible in 2012, as he has now already been elected as the first black president.
Instead, this campaign is much more likely to negative in its nature, with both sides sharply attacking each other. And based on the last two weeks, liberal outlets could help fire up Obama’s base by strongly highlighting the foibles of conservatives.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr