Scott Walker Fires Staffer for Faux-Offensive Libertarian Views, or Why Our Media Environment Is Game of Thrones, Not Lord of the Rings

The anatomy of a nontroversy.


The Hobbit 3 / New Line Cinema

The faux-outrage media machine claimed another scalp yesterday as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker accepted the resignation of consultant Liz Mair. Her crime? She dared to criticize the opinions of Iowa voters and the undeserved power the state's primary holds in the Republican presidential cycle. She made these statements on Twitter—where everyone says things they later regret—earlier this year.

Mair's thoughtcrime may have gone unpunished if not for the dedicated work of Breitbart News reporter Matt Boyle, who wrote a stunningly awful hit piece highlighting her ideological transgressions; she holds libertarian-ish views on social issues and immigration. But what mattered most was her mild contempt for Iowa. She tweeted, "In other news, I see Iowa is once again embarrassing itself, and the GOP, this morning. Thanks, guys" and "The sooner we remove Iowa's frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be." Some Iowa Republican acted all offended by this, calling her shallow, ignorant, and juvenile. So Walker canned her. (He wants to win Iowa.)

This is the textbook example of a nontroversy; a consultant said something everybody already believes and some other people pretended to be offended about it in order to win a political battle. Modern media outrage culture, after all, is about perceived, rather than actual, offense. As Jazz Shaw explains at Hot Air:

So she said aloud what I guarantee you most of the presidential candidates are already thinking. Iowa is a pain in the backside which most of them wish they could avoid. They just don't say it.

The point here is that the political hobgoblins who cooked up this ambush were never going after Liz. Nor were they particularly offended on a personal level on behalf of poor Iowa. They were looking for a way to embarrass Walker and get in a quick, cheap shot to weaken his position as a presidential candidate in the primaries. Liz, unfortunately, was collateral damage.

Of course, no one in the media has any right to decry faux-outrage, since all are guilty of using it to serve their purposes when their own enemies wander into the Twitter crosshairs.

Even so, the firing of Mair seems to represent some line in the sand for many conservatives, who have rushed to defend someone they very well may have left to the wolves had she not been a personal friend to so many of them. Most right-leaning media figures, including National Review's Jonah GoldbergThe Blaze's Dana Loesch, RedState's Erick Erickson, and The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis, have chastised Walker for caving. And some are furious with Breitbart for goading Walker into this.

There are likely unseen tensions at play. While outsiders tend to view all conservative media outlets as one and the same, differences exist—from the ideological to the personal to the business side of things. (That's common for all movements, of course.) Some have clashed with Breitbart before and enjoy doing so whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Breitbart's agenda, or at least Boyle's, seems to be to force Republican candidates to stake out hardliner positions on immigration. In that sense, the hit piece on Mair resembles The Washington Free Beacon's unbelievably dumb attack on Rand Paul campaign staffer Marianne Copenhaver, who was lambasted by the neoconservative outlet for praising Edward Snowden. The issue was different but the motivation was the same—win a political battle by trying to embarrass an enemy candidate. Of course, no one should pay any attention to a political consultant's policy positions, because they will assuredly change to reflect the candidate's position, or that person won't remain a staffer for very long.

And actually, Mair's criticism of Iowa is spot on. The state does have way too much power in the Republican primary cycle—and, as The Federalist's Sean Davis has argued, Iowa is unworthy of such power:

It wasn't enough that Walker flip-flopped on ethanol to gain the favor of the ethanol lobby. Now he and all the other candidates are apparently required to run all their staffing and contractor decisions by the head of a party that's only delivered the state to Republicans once in the last 30 years.

This is absurd. This isn't even a fight about policy. Tech vendors and social media staffers have no say whatsoever when it comes to advising a presidential candidate on policy. That's not how campaigns work. This farmland fatwa is especially absurd given the record of Iowa Republicans when it comes to picking presidents. They're straight-up awful at it.

Republican politicians see it as political necessity to flip on farm subsidies and ethanol, and carve out increasingly xenophobic immigration positions, and it's all Iowa's fault. That's the real outrage.

Lastly, stupid fights like this will become more common as libertarianism battles for space on the right. Whether or not they belong there, libertarian ideas are spreading in conservative media circles and among a tiny but vocal subset of Republican politicians. While I know many libertarians who would prefer some grand philosophical showdown between good and evil, where the strength and moral clarity of our ideas vanquish neoconservatism and social conservatism in a manner akin to the hobbits toppling Sauron, the reality is going to be more Game of Thrones than Lord of the Rings. In other words, prepare the faux-outraged hit pieces against Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush that quote their staffers out of context on Twitter!