Can Fox News Handle Erick Erickson?

The conservative pundit, who spent three years at CNN, is headed to Roger Ailes's network, where it's both easier and harder to criticize the GOP.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson started three years ago as an on-air political commentator at CNN. I'll never forget a segment he did with Howard Kurtz at the very beginning of his tenure. An apparent sop to liberals upset at his hiring, he submitted to questions about his history of incendiary rhetoric, apologizing in succession for the time he compared an Obama Administration official to a Nazi; the time he asked if President Obama was shagging hookers behind the media's back, referring to Michelle Obama as a "Marxist Harpy"; the time he called  former Supreme Court Justice David Souter a "goat-fucking child molester" -- it was as if CNN's newest hire was hazed with a scripted scenario written by Jon Stewart for future Daily Show mockery.

I expected him to be awful. But you know what? People change. His tenure certainly included its share of off-putting moments, and I've taken issue with his analysis on too many occasions to remember them all. As a very occasional viewer of CNN, however, I remember being impressed by his commentary on a few occasions, and I'm not surprised to see him write the following:

Before CNN I was oblivious to the fact that there are ways to say things, without sacrificing or compromising my view or principle, that come off as more respectable and honest without invective than how I might have otherwise said them. There are ways to say things that draw people to you and ways to say things that push people from you. There are also times that facts and 'known facts' get bounced around by both sides of the political spectrum without them ever actually being actual facts. We should all be more mindful of that.

CNN made me mindful of that.

That's a passage from the reflection Erickson posted on the occasion of his move to Fox News. I'm curious to see how he performs there given other remarks in his farewell letter. "For three years I have received unmitigated hate and loathing from the left and, ironically, from a lot of folks on the right," he says of his time at CNN. "For some reason, saying something negative about the GOP was fine here at RedState, but saying the same damn thing on CNN brought in a flurry of emails from conservatives accusing me of selling out. Funny how that works."

It is funny.

At CNN, Erickson was expanding his reach into a demographic seldom exposed to conservatives as staunch as him. Earning a reputation for intellectual honesty while voicing arguments in accordance with his beliefs afforded a scarce opportunity to win the right converts. But many conservatives see it as a betrayal to criticize the right in the dread mainstream media. The right-leaning pundit must sacrifice a measure of his forthrightness or his base.

Will he find it easier or more difficult to be forthright at Fox News?

On Inauguration Day, Erickson posted a rant that began by criticizing Obama, but took aim at conservatives too:

What I am finding is that among conservatives there is too much outrage, piss, and vinegar. It makes our ideas less effective. We have become humorless, angry opponents of the President instead of happy warriors selling better ideas. We are not even selling ideas. Conservatives, frankly, have become purveyors of outrage instead of preachers for a cause. Instead of showing how increasing government harms people, how free markets help people, and how conservative policies benefit all Americans, we scream "Benghazi" and "Fast & Furious."

We're off key and off message. We've become professional victims dialed up to 10 on the outrage meter. Who the hell wants to listen to conservatives whining and moaning all the time about the outrage du jour?

Seriously? Mitt Romney ran a campaign on just how bad things are, but he was rejected by a majority of Americans who felt like he really did not care about them and really had no plans to improve their lives. Bitching about Benghazi doesn't do that either. Be mad at me if you need to. Feel free to express your moral outrage and indignity at me. But then shut up and focus on convincing people not that the President of the United States duly elected by a majority of the American people is a traitor willfully trying to destroy the country, but that our policies will allow people to make the most of their lives and not be dependent on the rising and falling fortunes of Washington, D.C. Be happy. The anger is unbecoming of the party of Lincoln and Reagan. And if you must be angry, don't be angry at a President doing what he set out to do, be angry at a Republican Establishment not doing... well... much of anything.

That's a perspective Fox News viewers would benefit from hearing, and with which they should grapple. It would certainly do more good than the preaching to the choir that makes up the majority of programming on cable news. But I can't imagine it's the sort of thing Erickson could say on air*.

I hope he pleasantly surprises me again.
__
*His suggestions for the GOP's future might be an easier sell.

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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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