Erick Erickson's 'Elitist Conservative' Idea Makes No Sense

He speaks as if he believes that real right-wingers are obligated to shill for Mitt Romney until Election Day.

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Gage Skidmore / Flickr

RedState's Erick Erickson is at it already.

He's one of the movement conservatives claiming that Mitt Romney was foisted on the conservative base by "elitist Republicans." As I explained yesterday, Romney's success this year was made possible in large part by the fact that hardcore talk-radio conservatives, National Review, and politicians like Rick Santorum endorsed Romney in 2007, lavishing praise on his ability to represent the ideology and to beat Barack Obama in a tougher year for Republicans. If not for their efforts, Romney never would have started this cycle as an advantaged frontrunner.

How quickly inconvenient truths are forgotten.

Erickson has a penchant for fabricating untruths too. "There are a lot of elitist Republicans who have spent several years telling us Mitt Romney was the only electable Republican." Oh really? A lot? Let's see a list. I don't buy this "elitist Republican" vs. real conservative distinction, especially from a guy with a CNN contract, a West Wing invite, and business dealings with a millionaire conservative publishing magnate. But let's briefly adopt that fatally flawed frame.

As Ross Douthat points out:

There was no big Romney cheering section in the elite conservative press: National Review conspicuously failed to repeat their 2008 endorsement, The Weekly Standard pined desperately for (grassroots-friendly!) figures like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, The Wall Street Journal was viciously hard on Romney and probably would have been behind Tim Pawlenty if the Minnesotan hadn't flopped early, eminences like George Will were similarly harsh, and so on and so forth. Indeed, for much of the primary campaign, the most Romney-friendly press in the conservative-land probably emanated from (of all places!) Ann Coulter and the Drudge Report.

Douthat goes on to write that "much of the party's donor class, too, was deeply wary of Romney .... Lots of Bush donors wanted Mitch Daniels in the race, there were donors who wanted Haley Barbour, and much of the New York/Wall Street money stayed on the sidelines until very late in the game, hoping that Chris Christie would get in." And other folks that Erickson would dub "elitist Republicans" were urging Jeb Bush to enter the race and Jon Huntsman to stay in. Had the latter man cinched the nomination Erickson's column would make more sense.

Erickson ought to be asking himself why the Tea Party fielded such weak candidates in the 2012 primaries. He fails to do so in part because of this nonsensical "elitist Republicans" vs. true conservatives narrative he's always pushing, so let's stop using the term for the sake of argument and look more closely at how incoherent it is. Douthat hints at one of its problems in his post:

The famous "47 percent" line is one that clearly appeals to some of the party's richest donors and deepest-pocketed insiders ... but it's also one that's been pushed by self-consciously populist figures like, well, Erick Erickson, who spends a great deal of his time criticizing the very "elitist Republicans" who Romney's fundraising comments were pitched toward.

Put a bit differently, when a bunch of rich Republicans pay tens of thousands of dollars a head to hear a multimillionaire candidate speak. when that candidate inaccurately claims that the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax are all Obama voters who cannot be convinced to take responsibility for their lives, and when some right-leaning pundits accurately note that the 47 percent actually includes a lot of Romney voters, including seniors and active duty soldiers, it takes a twisted mind to call the rich guy at the fundraiser the victims of an elitist mindset, and the people defending Republican voters who pay no income tax the "elite Republicans."

Erickson is right that Romney can still win. Near the end of his post, he also says this:

The staggering irony is that those of us who did not want Romney are now the ones defending him to the hilt while the elitist jerks are distancing themselves from Romney as quickly as possible -- both upset at what their media friends tell them is to come and upset that Mitt Romney might not actually listen to their sweet whispers as much as they originally presumed.

That isn't staggering irony, it's utterly predictable hackery. As Daniel Larison puts it,

There's nothing ironic in the depressingly predictable move of ideological activists to become cheerleaders for their party's nominee. I'm not sure why movement conservatives want to draw attention to the fact that they are rallying to Romney's side at the moment when his failings as a candidate and his lack of understanding of conservative ideas are most obvious .... Erickson wants to make this into an occasion for complaining about party elites, which ignores that Romney's prominent critics are simply acknowledging what everyone else already sees: Romney made major mistakes and demonstrated his ineptitude as a candidate. It doesn't say much for movement conservatives that they are rushing to Romney's defense when he has been at his worst.
An unacknowledged dividing line between "elitist Republicans" and true conservatives, as Erickson defines them, seems to be that the former are unwilling to engage in hackery while the latter are eager to do so. For him, "elitism" effectively means putting intellectual honesty before partisan shilling.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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