Last Monday, a lawyer in Georgia issued a proclamation so grandiose that readers could be forgiven for thinking it came from the Pope himself. The writer was Erick Erickson, editor of the blog Red State. In a post titled “The Absolution I Cannot Give,” he intoned:
“In the past 48 hours I have had call after call after call from members of the United States Congress. They’ve read what I’ve written.They agree. But they feel the hour is short and the end is nigh.So some are calling looking for alternatives. Some are calling looking for energy. Many are calling looking for absolution. And so I address them and put it here so you can see my advice. I can give no absolution for what you may be about to do. I can offer no alternatives.”
Republicans in Congress were begging a blogger for permission to vote for the best interests of the country by raising the debt ceiling. If you don’t follow the conservative blogosphere you might have wondered just who is this person was and how he became so important.
(Erickson did not name the representatives calling him, although Representative Joe Walsh (R-IL) confirmed that his office gets advice from Erickson.)
Erickson’s advice is aggressively partisan. Two weeks ago he assured House Republicans that the political fallout from an economically catastrophic default would fall on President Obama, writing:
“As I pointed out to John Boehner yesterday, despite what the pundits in Washington are telling you, it is you and not Obama who hold most of the cards. Obama has a legacy to worry about. Should the United States lose its bond rating, it will be called the ‘Obama Depression’. Congress does not get pinned with this stuff.”
In other words Erickson was encouraging Republicans to destroy the economy on the grounds that it would redound to their political benefit.
How did someone whose only experience in public office has been serving on the Macon, Georgia, city council become an advisor to national Republicans? It’s important to understand that Erickson isn’t just a blogger. “He’s an activist and a media figure,” says one Republican consultant. “Describing him as a blogger is inadequate.” Although Erickson’s rise from obscurity was through Red State, he has a much larger media footprint than just its 178,000 monthly visitors and one million monthly page views. Since April 2010 Erickson has been a regular contributor to CNN. He replaced Herman Cain as host of Cain’s radio show, popular among conservatives, when the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO began his presidential campaign. He also frequently guest hosts for conservative radio host Neal Boortz, meaning Erickson broadcasts for five hours daily.
The other point is that Erickson doesn’t use his blog as a mere forum for opining, much less conveying information. Erickson is an activist and media is his vessel. In some ways that makes him analogous liberals such as Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos blog, and Jane Hamsher who runs Firedoglake. But Hamsher and Moulitsas weren’t getting calls from Democrats in Congress begging them for dispensation to vote for a bill that is terrible for Democratic priorities. “I’m not nearly as plugged-in as him,” says Hamsher.
Why does Erickson have more influence than his counterparts on the left? One reason is the strength of his army. Just as liberal bloggers targeted Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Erickson has gotten involved in Republican primaries. Although his success was mixed, a few high-profile victories, such as helping Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio defeat Florida’s moderate Republican Governor Charlie Crist for Senate, have made Republican politicians respect his power. “When you take out senators, you become a force,” says Hamsher. “[Red State] has a track record now.”
Erickson also benefits from the legitimacy and megaphone that a mainstream media platform such as CNN confers. “It gives him gravitas when he’s on two to three times per week,” Hamsher says.
Also Erickson occupies a position inside the conservative echo chamber: his “Morning Briefing” 5 am e-mail has about 70,000 subscribers and he is cited by prominent personalities such as Rush Limbaugh. When Erickson counter-intuitively declared Democrat Bill Owen’s special election victory in NY-23 “a huge win for conservatives” because “the GOP now must recognize it will either lose without conservatives or will win with conservatives” it became a widespread notion on the right.
Like many right wing pundits, Erickson is prone to disturbing outbursts. He said that he would “pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door,” instead of filling out the American Community Survey. He also complained that “Barack Obama’s brownshirts are after Glenn Beck” after Beck called Obama a racist.
One unnamed Republican leadership aide told the Washington Post that “He certainly doesn’t have the influence of the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, [website] Hot Air or the National Review.” But that might be wishful thinking because the Journal’s editorial page and The Weekly Standard are loyal partisan servants of the GOP. They both urged House Republicans to pass Boehner’s bill.
Sure enough, when Boehner, Senate leaders and President Obama came to an agreement to raise the debt ceiling while cutting more than $2 trillion in spending, with no increase in tax revenues, Erickson split from the conservative media establishment again. Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, called it “a victory for the Tea Party.” But Erickson was underwhelmed and said he could not support it. “Keep track of who on the right votes against it,” Erickson wrote. “They’ll be the real heroes.”
So will Erickson and Tea Party conservative leaders, who worked together to elect insurgent extremist Republicans such as Kentucky’s Rand Paul, accept this as a victory or will they seek to exact revenge on the leadership and the members who voted for it? (The deal passed the House 269-161, all but ninety-five of those voting for it were Republicans.)
Perhaps Erickson will realize that he can’t punish 174 Republicans. That concession to reality may disappoint Tea Party activists, who expected dramatic change from such unlikely figures as John Boehner, the veteran business-toady they installed as Speaker of the House. But as liberals can tell them, winning an election and getting what you want are two very different things.