If, like me, you're spending way too much time on political news lately, you certainly heard about this report from ABC's Jonathan Karl:
Republican officials are exploring how to handle a scenario that would be unthinkable in a normal election year: What would happen if the party's presidential nominee dropped out?
ABC News has learned that senior party officials are so frustrated — and confused — by Donald Trump's erratic behavior that they are exploring how to replace him on the ballot if he drops out.
As the reliable Josh Marshall has pointed out, there is no direct evidence from the Trump camp that the candidate has any thoughts of dropping out. These rumors look something like trial balloons, albeit an odd one, since the event in question is unlikely and, more to the point, the people floating the balloon have no say in whether it happens.
Rather than speculate on the intent of the message (hint, empty threat, groundwork for intervention, blowing off steam -- I'm kidding about that last one), I think it's more interesting to thinkk about the path this and other stories take to get to our news feeds. In situations like this, the source of the rumors is often more telling than the content. In this case, that would be Karl, and that is remarkably informative.
Karl is not just a conservative journalist, he is a carefully cultivated product of a decades-long, highly successful conservative movement media initiative.
The Collegiate Network (CN) is a non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that provides financial and technical assistance to student editors and writers of roughly 100 independent, conservative and libertarian publications at leading colleges and universities around the United States. The CN estimates that member publications have a combined annual distribution of more than two million. Since 1995, the CN has been administered by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware
In 1979, the Institute For Educational Affairs (IEA) responded to the request of two University of Chicago students for start-up funding for a new conservative newspaper, Counterpoint. By 1980, the grant program had been expanded and named the Collegiate Network, and by 1983, under the continuing administration of the IEA, had added both internships and persistent operating grants for conservative campus newspapers. In 1990, the Madison Center for Educational Affairs merged with the IEA to maintain funding for what had expanded to 57 conservative student publications. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute took over operations in 1995 and has since administered the CN from Wilmington, Delaware.
Take a look at a few of his fellow alumni: Matthew Continetti, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, Laura Ingraham, Rich Lowry, John Podhoretz, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Peter Thiel.
Here's a characteristically blunt take on the relationship from Charles Pierce back in 2013:
Long ago, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of Ohio once told me that she thought my craft went bad when it became the province almost exclusively of the over-educated, that it had professionalized itself out of its traditional role, that she wished there were a few more people practicing journalism who'd first worked on a loading dock, or in a mine, the way people used to come to the job. Here, with Karl, we apparently have a perfect product of the well-financed and staggeringly successful network of conservative institutions and programs launched more than 40 years ago by The Powell Memo. Assuming the FAIR report is accurate, then Jonathan Karl was not trained as a journalist, because the Collegiate Network doesn't produce journalists. It produces partisan warriors. He was not trained as a reporter, because the Collegiate Network doesn't produce reporters. It produces propagandists. He was not trained as a newsman, because the Collegiate Network doesn't produce newsmen. It produces hacks.
This is, of course, indelicate for someone in my business to say but, at every level of his steady rise in the business, some executive should have looked at Karl's resume, seen The Collegiate Network there, and then shitcanned the thing before the interview process even began. Are there conservatives who are good reporters? Absolutely. But all the ones that I know came up the same way I did, and none of them came up through the coddled terrariums of the activist Right. They learned their craft. They were not trained to be spies in the camp of the enemy. They were not trained to be moles. And every damn one of them would have checked those phony e-mails before throwing them out to the public, and most of them wouldn't have fallen for them, because they are journalists, reporters, and newsmen. They are not partisan warriors, propagandists, or hacks. If Jonathan Karl doesn't like being called a hack, then he should stop being a hack. Here's one way to do it.
Like many successful journalists including Woodward and Bernstein, Karl's career is largely based on his close relationship with a network of well-placed contacts. In this case, the contacts are overwhelmingly in the Republican Party and the conservative movement. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, when Jonathan Karl breaks the story, it is usually something that the leadership of the GOP would like to get out there.
So it would appear that, in August of the election year, we have a political party not so subtly suggesting that its nominee should drop out. Even if nothing comes of it, that is an extraordinary development.
But these are strange times.