Jacob Heilbrunn

Rupert Murdoch's Bogus Attacks On Romney

Someone should tell Rupert Murdoch to shut up. You might think that a news magnate with as sordid a record as Murdoch would have the sense to refrain from commenting publicly on the American presidential race. Murdoch may try to deny culpability as much as he can, but he is the press baron who presided over the scandals afflicting his news empire in England, where one nasty revelation after another has emerged about the antics of his minions, a number of whom may be facing jail sentences. A period of silence and personal reflection might seem to be in order.

No such luck. As the New York Times reports, Murdoch has moved on from the royals to bash a new target: Mitt Romney. Murdoch has been propounding unsolicited advice for Romney. Most of his complaints are commonplace, but because he is the one making them, they are attracting inordinate attention. In part he's suggesting that Romney dump members of his campaign team, a move that would suggest panic if a wholesale massacre were to take place. Plus, disenchanted former employees hardly miss a chance to snipe at their old boss.

Another Murdoch brainstorm is that Romney simply isn't conservative enough. Murdoch's heroes seems to be Rick Santorum, the hapless senator from Pennsylvania, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who lacks the polish to be a serious presidential candidate. Earth to Murdoch: the primary is finished. Romney won. Get over it.

Now, being told by the likes of Murdoch that you aren't doing a good job running the campaign is something that Romney may regard with humor—a trait that, it must be said, he has not displayed in much abundance during the campaign. And being criticized for not being conservative enough may also be a criticism that the campaign welcomes as it tries to pursue independent voters. Nevertheless, there is something petty about the criticisms of Romney that Murdoch is voicing. For one thing, he's bashing Romney for the one trait and success—his discipline and business record—that he can plausibly point to as assets in his run for the presidency. To complain that Romney walked into a meeting with the Wall Street Journal and focused on facts and figures rather than ideology? Please. Moving further to the Right is not going to aid Romney. A rerun of the George W. Bush presidency is hardly a winning ticket for the 2012 election. Murdoch's animadversions point to a broader problem assailing the conservative movement, which is that it often sounds like a bunch of crybabies whining that Romney isn't conservative enough.

There a number of possibilities here that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For one thing, conservatives clearly are preparing for a new George H. W. Bush—or at least they want to warn Romney off that path. By assailing him as lacking the cojones to be a real conservative, they hope to prod him to the Right. It's also the case that the Right may figure that Romney is doomed and that it's better off without him as president. In this instance, conservatives would be preparing to run the real thing in 2016. Given the tenor of Wall Street Journal editorials about Romney, it seems clear that any support for him from the Right (and Murdoch) would be at best halfhearted.

Whether or not the Journal really enters the lists for Romney, however, is not going to decide his electoral fortunes. Romney, stiff and verbally maladroit, is simply not a very good candidate, but he is the best one that the GOP could produce after eight years of the Bush regency. But the state of the economy means he will be able to mount a challenge to Obama, no matter the bellyaching from the right. The truly scary prospect may be that Murdoch, who has become infra dig in London, may now be trying to set up shop in America. Give this Australian parvenu credit for audacity. But it would be foolish to heed his musings about American politics.

Image: World Economic Forum