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February 21, 2013 8:33 AM Behind Incoherent GOP Spin on the Sequester

By Jonathan Bernstein

Conservative Byron York today blasts the Republicans, and Speaker Boehner in particular, for incoherent spin on the sequester.

I basically agree with him…the GOP message is that the sequester is (1) terrible and all Barack Obama’s fault; and (2) better than smaller cuts, with or without additional revenues; and, (3) just a small down payment on the size of the cuts that are really needed…basically makes no sense.

The question is: why? And I think the answer is the same as the answer for why Mitt Romney’s campaign was incoherent much of the time: the effects of the GOP-aligned press and the conservative information feedback loop. Basically, it’s just too easy for Republicans. They compose talking points, feed them to Fox News and the rest, and partisan Republicans eat them up. The only real danger is that someone in the GOP press seeking to one-up everyone else will deem the talking points insufficiently conservative. That’s the beauty of the otherwise insipid “the sequester was Obama’s idea” line: if there’s one thing that’s pretty safe from being labeled “RINO,” it’s bashing Barack Obama.

Notice that coming up with spin that might be effective outside the conservative loop not only is a lot harder — but also risks that RINO tag.

But mostly…as I’ve said before, for those who compose the talking points, it must just be so rewarding to decide today that “the sequester was Obama’s idea” and then in a week see it show up “spontaneously” in the mouths of rank-and-file Republicans — in talk-show callers, blog commenters, in letters to your boss, even in regular conversation with your conservative friends and family outside Washington. It must really feel like you’ve accomplished something.

And, in turn, not only does that make picking a message that will be unquestioningly accepted by Rush Limbaugh and the rest of them very tempting, but it also removes most of the incentives for fashioning an actually persuasive message.

Now: all that said, as you may suspect I still don’t think it matters very much. If the sequester hits, most of the political effect will not be determined by who has the most coherent spin. But as far as it goes, that sure seems to be what’s at work.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.