Hannity goes after Barnette for attacking ... Obama and Islam

One of the most surreal Fox segments I’ve ever seen.

“Hannity as the avatar of a RINO establishment on the wrong side of a populist insurgency is a kind of karma,” Dan McLaughlin tweeted last night about Hannity going all-in for his pal, Mehmet Oz. Eh, I don’t know about that. Hannity was a thoroughly establishment guy during the Bush years, when maintaining your position in conservative media required tirelessly defending Dubya from the left. When the GOP was thrown out of power and the base shifted towards small-government populism, Hannity shifted too, becoming a tea-party insurgent. When his buddy Trump caught fire in 2015 it was easy for him to shift again, this time towards a more nationalist anti-establishment conservatism.

He goes where the base goes. Trump and his courtiers are now the de facto Republican establishment and that establishment wants Dr. Oz to win in Pennsylvania so Hannity naturally took that view as well, believing that the base would go along. He may have miscalculated.

But if he did and Barnette ends up winning, rest assured that within a few months he’ll be the loudest, proudest Barnette fan in America.

For now, though, he’s working hard to drag his buddy Oz across the finish line. On Wednesday night he highlighted some of Barnette’s more outre tweets and invited Oz on to declare Barnette a “mystery” candidate who hasn’t been properly vetted. That was part of what Politico describes today as an informal “Operation Stop Barnette” being launched within the party, with operatives from Oz’s and Dave McCormick’s campaigns as well as various Trump hangers-on joining in. With days to go before the vote, the GOP is panicked that there’s not enough time to launch a serious oppo research effort that’ll penetrate with Pennsylvania’s Republican voters before they cast their ballots. Anti-Barnette forces on all sides are scrambling to circulate whatever dirt on her they can find.

Or that they can invent, in some cases:

Trump-aligned populist websites are in on the action too. Breitbart noted that Barnette told an interviewer this week that one of her first votes in Pennsylvania was for Trump in the 2016 primary, which contradicted a claim in her book published two years ago that she hadn’t voted for Trump. (Apparently she didn’t vote in Pennsylvania at all in 2016.) Newsmax published a story this morning headlined “Barnette Fades as Erratic Record Comes Under Fire,” which is flatly untrue. There’s no evidence in any polling that she’s fading. But given a choice between doing a solid for Trump’s squishy RINO Oz and coming to the defense of an authentic populist like Barnette, go figure that outlets like Breitbart and Newsmax are going to bat for the MAGA establishment.

Hannity is too. But the difference between Breitbart and Newsmax on the one hand and Hannity on the other is that the former are limiting themselves to complaining about Barnette’s sins against Republican orthodoxy, specifically the fact that she was anti-Trump during his first primary run in 2016. Hannity is making a broader argument that Barnette can’t win a general election in Pennsylvania, which requires him to revisit some of her old tweets that might plausibly scare off swing voters.

Which brings us to this hallucinatory spectacle from last night, in which an outspoken MAGA cheerleader tsk-tsks an “ultra MAGA” candidate for having once said harsh things about gays, Muslims, and Barack Obama. As you watch, ask yourself what percentage of Hannity’s viewers likely share most of Barnette’s opinions on those subjects. Eighty percent, maybe? More?

My favorite part is when he insists that he doesn’t want Barnette canceled. Doesn’t he? Not from gainful employment, perhaps, but certainly from the Pennsylvania Senate race.

She was once scheduled to speak at a QAnon event, he says, breathlessly. Can you imagine? A populist Republican — into QAnon?

If he wants to ask her about all of this in person, she says she’s game:

That would be great television. But forced to choose between great television and helping his friends Trump and Oz in Pennsylvania by denying Barnette some election-eve free media on a show watched by millions, this particular TV host will almost certainly choose door number two.

Meanwhile, although he’s doing his best to use his megaphone to move undecideds in Pennsylvania away from Barnette, it’s late in the game:

The adviser noted Oz still has a decent shot of pulling off a victory, but conceded it was clearly possible for Barnette to win, given she has “the most room to grow, with under a week left” after “months of seeing these guys nuke each other.”…

Some Republican strategists think it may be too late to sink Barnette with negative commercials, given that she hasn’t faced any attack ads until now.

“When you get momentum this late in a campaign and people probably aren’t going to hear much new about you because there’s not much time, I think it’s hard to stop that momentum,” Brabender said.

Normally this is where Mitch McConnell’s Super PAC would swoop in and unload a ton of money on attack ad spending to try to stop a possibly unelectable candidate from winning the nomination, but it’s too late for them too.

Maybe Trump doing an eleventh-hour rally for Oz in Pennsylvania on Monday is the GOP establishment’s only hope of heading her off. Stay tuned.

I’ll leave you with Barnette being asked about some of her old tweets. She’s … not really going with the “I was hacked” excuse, is she?