By Tom Tillison
Friends and colleagues keep asking me what the hell is going on at Breitbart.com?
The inquiries are always in reference to the website’s near-obsession with tearing down Marco Rubio.
I usually hesitate to respond — trust me, not a natural reaction — because I support Rubio in the Republican presidential primary. It is through a sense of fair play that I want to respond honestly, but it’s hard to deny the agenda at play here.
Especially if you read anything from Breitbart writers Julia Hahn and Matthew Boyle, who find a way to slam Rubio whenever they can — like a steady drumbeat.
Case in point, Boyle dropped close to 800 words on Thursday to introduce “a mysterious website” that takes his lead in exaggerating and misrepresenting the senator’s immigration position. The catchword sure to grab the attention of rock-ribbed conservatives — amnesty — appears twelve times in the article, beginning with the headline.
The headline also includes another popular line of attack on Rubio, that he is a “donor class puppet,” as if we are to believe that until Rubio, donors gave freely of their financial support without hope of return — for many, supporting the candidate’s beliefs is a return in and of itself.
But does Rubio support amnesty?
The honest answer is no, he does not. And he never did. But it seems more and more that when Rubio is the topic, honesty takes an extended leave of absence from the haunts of Breitbart.com.
There is no denying that Rubio took a huge gamble in aligning with the Gang of Eight … as he said, the hope was “to get the best bill possible.”
As a traditional conservative I am among the first to shudder, even today, at the photo of Rubio standing on that stage with the likes of Sens. Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham and John McCain.
But there are two things here that are often overlooked. The first is that Rubio accurately said at the time that if Congress failed to act, President Obama would take the initiative to drive immigration policy through executive actions, which is precisely what the president did.
The second is that upon seeing how the process played out — keep in mind Rubio had been in the Senate just over two years at this point — and more importantly, after seeing the overwhelming disappointment from his base over the end product, Rubio did the right thing and walked away from the bill.
I was in the room with Rubio on several occasions during this time and heard first-hand from the senator his reasons for taking the risk and for eventually giving up on the effort. These meetings were arranged by his staff in response to concerns from supporters, not a situation where Rubio was cornered and forced to address the issue.
And more importantly, his position on immigration today starts and ends with border security as it should.
But Rubio is often portrayed on Breitbart.com as evil reincarnated, his words twisted and dishonestly portrayed, as we saw with DACA.
(To be fair, former Breitbart writer Sarah Rumpf did attempt to set the record straight.)
Never mind that Heritage Action Scorecard currently has Rubio’s voting record scored at 92 percent, and the American Conservative Union scored Rubio at 96 percent in 2014.
So what do I say to those who ask me about Breitbart.com?
If I criticize the source, I’m likely to be admonished by conservatives who continue to embrace the website’s namesake, although some of the mendacity I see there makes me wonder if Andrew Breitbart is turning over in is his grave at what his name is now associated with.
Some will point to the conservative causes the website supports and their strong opposition to the hard-left progressive agenda.
But are their actions in the 2016 Republican presidential primary truly what we aspire to as conservatives? Is “winning” all that matters? Damn principles, the ends justify the means?
I hear rumors that there are monied interests behind the Rubio attacks — the name Trump comes up often. But I don’t know those things to be true.
What I do know is there is a better than fair chance Rubio will be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2016, and that the website run by Stephen Bannon, a man celebrated this week for running “the new vast right-wing conspiracy,” is poisoning the well to such a degree, that all the eventual Democratic nominee need do is direct voters to Brietbart.com.
Perhaps Mr. Bannon can advise me on how to explain to conservatives what in the name of hell is going on at Breitbart.com.