Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a 2020 GOP U.S. Senate hopeful, outraged national media puritans earlier this month with comments about the quality of television programming in America.
Here’s what really happened that morning in DeKalb County.
Yes, he really said there were no longer any more good TV shows on like “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Virginian,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “I Love Lucy.”
Yes, he also said we as the TV consumer were too interested “in homosexual activities,” seeing “how people are trying to date on TV,” and yes, “having wife-swapping.”
However, to those in attendance, the comments were throw-away, ancillary points, which passed largely unnoticed by the all-Republican audience gathered in the Fort Payne Western Sizzlin at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday.
I know because I was there.
It was not Merrill setting out to stoke the flames of a culture war and assume the mantle of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is also a candidate — albeit a muddied and damaged one from his 2017 loss to Doug Jones.
As question-and-answer sessions sometimes go at Republican events, Merrill was asked about Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s alleged comments that socialism comes in small doses and that over time, America would wake to find itself a full-fledged communist nation.
The questioner noted the Democratic Party’s push toward socialism and asked Merrill to speculate if Khrushchev was correct given the rise of politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Merrill chose to take it in a completely different direction with a dissertation on television in pop culture.
Yet, the “homosexual activities” mention was what triggered the left-leaning AL.com and led to media outlets all over the country taking notice — none of which were actually at the meeting.
That no one at the Republican meeting where Merrill made the remarks thought twice about it, should tell Republicans what they need to know: In the 2020 U.S. Senate Republican primary, it should not matter what our friends in the liberal legacy media think, especially the segment covering Alabama politics.
What should matter is what Republican voters think. The truth is most Alabama Republican primary voters probably do think there is too much homosexuality on television, which is a sign conservatives have lost the culture wars (though, that is a column for another day).
If you’re a Republican candidate in this upcoming election cycle, ask yourself why you should care what AL.com — which endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, in a state dominated by Donald Trump — thinks is proper and improper in modern pop culture.
Why should Republican voters care that The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman, the so-called “dean” of the Alabama State Capitol press corps, insists GOP primary candidates have a detailed policy proposition to solving anthropogenic global warming?
The bottom line is they shouldn’t. In fact, whatever positions those newspapers’ editorial boards advocate, if you’re a Republican, you might consider taking the opposite view.
Republicans absolutely cannot allow the media to dictate the terms of their election. We cannot endure an election cycle of faux wokeness from those claiming to be offended by conservative stances.
Indeed, sometimes the pandering is a product of the professional wrestling aspects to politics, meaning a candidate says a bunch of things to get elected that are not relevant to the office he is seeking or makes promises that have no prayer of actually becoming law. That is politics.
The media, however, have no claim in this discussion. It would be a fool’s errand for the 2020 slate of Republican U.S. Senate candidates to tiptoe around discussions of cultural issues to appease a group of people who are likely to vote for Doug Jones, regardless of who wins the Republican nod.
No matter what you think of John Merrill’s comments, he speaks for a lot of people in Alabama. Granted, in a world with ever-shifting goalposts on what can and cannot be said, something like that was bound to cause waves, but that should not matter.
If Merrill said something that was out of bounds in the eyes of people who actually matter, he will not win or make it into a runoff on March 3, 2020, and that is the way it should be.
That is not to say the media cannot or even should not be critical. They have every right to do so. But they do not have the right to be relevant. Republican candidates will be making a massive mistake if they allow the media to dictate terms of any aspect of an election made up of GOP voters.
Unless they are of the lapdog “Never Trump” variety, conservatives are persona non grata on the editorial pages of any of the Newhouse-owned AL.com newspapers. The same is true for The Montgomery Advertiser, The Tuscaloosa News, The Anniston Star and others.
It is not a lot of fun to get in the mud of the culture wars in politics, but sometimes you must if you want to win. If that is the case, don’t allow the media or any other left-leaning entity to dictate the rules.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).