Back to the Murdoch Primary, Pt.2

November 30, 2011 6:52 p.m.

Often in politics, in life, a new configuration of facts calls out for a new meme, a new storyline to make sense of that new data. Now Mitt Romney seems to have provided just that for the raft of new polling data showing that New Gingrich of all people is now seriously competing with him for the Republican nomination.

As you’ll remember, last night Romney sat down for an unexpectedly combative interview with Fox’s Bret Baier. Baier pressed Romney considerably more than Romney seems to have expected on the ‘flip-flop’ issue — certainly more than Fox usually does with a generic or anointed Republican, and Romney clearly didn’t like it.Over the course of Wednesday, national Dems had been taunting Romney’s campaign about the interview. And this evening, Baier went on Fox’s O’Reilly show and described Romney complaining to him about the interview after the show. Here’s a quick clip of the exchange, courtesy of Think Progress

There are a couple things to note here.

Assume for the moment that Baier’s characterization of events is entirely accurate — something that is not terribly difficult to believe given Mitt’s behavior and affect during the interview. This is way beyond the call of duty for Baier to be ratting Mitt out like this. It’s one thing to go after someone with hard questions in an interview, quite another to trash the guy with what were off camera comments after the interview. Especially stuff like this that — let’s be honest — makes Mitt sound like a wuss.

Maybe that’s just Baier. But Fox News is a really top down operation. And it plays favorites, just as much within GOP politics as between the two parties themselves. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest undiscussed parts of the GOP primary process is the Murdoch primary. This is part of that.

And what does it say about Romney? It goes to a possibly pretty nasty line of attack against a newly vulnerable ‘frontrunner’ — basically that he can’t handle a fight or can’t take the heat. But in the always borderline-feral, gendered nature of campaign politics, even a bit more than that — that maybe Mitt’s not quite a man.

Nor is this out of character for Mitt. The guy doesn’t like getting questioned too hard or pressed too closely. That’s not altogether surprising given the life Mitt’s led. But he shows it. Remember the debate six weeks ago when Rick Perry finally took his geritol and managed to seriously get under Mitt’s skin on the illegal immigration issue? There’s a difficult to describe mix of surprise, put-off-edness and testiness that he exhibits in these cases.

Mitt’s role right now as the polished but unloved ex-Wall Streeter running as a less-than-credible conservative in an era of crisis unemployment makes this touchiness something critics can readily grab on to.

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