The spring quarter has been a bad one for the conservative message. Human Events and the Washington Examiner announced they would cease publication of their respective print editions and move to online-only formats. The Washington Times is known to be circling the bowl with layoffs in January and more rumored to be on the way. (Disclosure: I was deputy editor for op-eds until leaving in December.) Breitbart's bid to become a legitimate outlet has been stymied by a seemingly institutional refusal to follow standard news practices.
The Republican Party is in similar disarray. Fiscal conservatives are still in shock over failing to unseat a White House incumbent whose economic numbers should have ensured a loss. They have advocated for jettisoning the social conservative wing, blaming incidents like Rep. Todd Akin's ill-advised rape comments for contributing to defeat. The few Millennials who admit to Republican affiliation are embarrassed by the party's agnostic youth outreach and lack of diversity. The old guard and "legacy" elephants are mad at Karl Rove. Democrats are chortling as various GOP factions egg on the party's public self-cannibalization.
These fights are fundamentally about conservatives' identity and message. On tax day, a new outlet launched that will address both.
Rare is the name of Cox Media Group's foray into conservative content with a national audience. Proclaiming that "Red is the center," Rare seeks to establish itself as the outlet offering the right shade for conservatives ranging from primary to pinkish. "Conservatives and libertarians need to hammer out what the essence of our movement is and how that should be communicated in a way that is appealing to a majority of Americans," said editor-in-chief Brett M. Decker. "Rare will facilitate the conversation and make sure that the many varied ‘conservatarian' constituencies are involved."
The outlet is an intriguing mix of original content and aggregated stories from across the Web. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain didn't put too fine a point on it in an interview with Decker: "There are a lot of publications in that market already," Cain noted. "What is Rare going to offer that's different?" The answer comes down to comprehensively meeting audience needs. "Rare is going to distinguish itself in tone, technology and scope of issues covered," Decker explained. "We're going to reach far beyond politics and heavily cover pop culture and lifestyle issues so conservative readers can find everything they want in one place. We are investing in amazing interactive technology that will engage our audience like nothing found anywhere else in the center-right media. And although less tangible, we're going to try to keep it fresh and edgy. We want Rare readers to feel like they're being informed and having fun at the same time."
The real question is whether Rare can do it. "So far, so good," Decker says. "We started the week with original pieces by Fox News's Judge Andrew Napolitano, former IRS Commissioner Mark Eversen and Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist. Not bad for ‘government theft day,' as Judge Nap called it. Day two was a piece by Sen. Rand Paul. Day three was wildman and fellow Detroiter Ted Nugent. And then our fourth day of existence, we got a Drudge link. Not too shabby for week one." Already Rare has set itself apart from other outlets with its slick site design and editorial comments on news stories. It has also committed to new features like a personalized site experience, a Rare community that includes event invitations and beefed up original content. (Disclosure: I'll be writing from time to time as a Rare contributing editor.)
Rare hopes to unify the fractured landscape of the conservative tableau. "We started Rare because we think there is a void in the conservative conversation," Cox vice president for strategy Leon Levitt says. "While Rare will have original content, our real purpose is to create a social gathering place for conservatives. We think it is the very first full-service social site built for conservatives."
Technology seems a natural tool for rebuilding a modern coalition of individuals in common cause as President Ronald Reagan did so well. "What we hope Rare will become is a platform for the various constituencies on the right to come together, talk about issues, have a healthy debate, and take some strides toward building unity within the movement again," Decker said. "Conservatives have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. This is crisis time. It's my feeling that the problem is one of style more than substance, but if that's so, conservatives need to figure out a better way to tell their story and sell their ideas to new generations and new demographic groups. If we can't do that, we'll become a permanent minority in the political battle, which would be devastating for America."
There may be life in conservatism yet. Check out Rare at Rare.us.