When the GOP primary cycle began in 2015, the pundits told us that the Republican Party had a “deep bench” of contenders and it’s strongest field of Presidential candidates since 1980. What ensued was the most bizarre primary fight in the history of the U.S. We witnessed leading GOP Presidential candidates talking about the size of their “hands” and calling each other names on a regular basis. The GOP Presidential debates descended into screaming matches with almost no real discussion of the issues. At the end of the process, billionaire entertainer Donald Trump emerged as the nominee of a fractured Republican Party.
There has been a lot of discussion in the media about what made Trump’s nomination possible. His rise was attributed to the difficult economic circumstances of many blue collar Americans, racial resentment and the gross ineptitude of his opponents and the GOP establishment. What was seldom discussed was the role of the right wing media in Trump’s march to the nomination.
What was over looked by many in the media is that Trump’s appeal to Republican voters is based upon the fact that he closely resembles the hosts that regularly appear on Fox News and AM radio. These hosts – like Trump – are obnoxious, mean spirited, opinionated and constantly call names. The mainstream media failed to recognize the source of Trump’s appeal with GOP base voters because they simply don’t pay much attention to the right wing media. The Republican voters who support Trump have marinated in the paranoia, hate, misogyny and race baiting that has been a daily staple of the right wing media for over twenty years. That’s what created Trump.
The right wing media has had a profound and negative effect upon many Republican voters. Millions of Americans have been radicalized by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other right wing talk show hosts. Many conservatives have been convinced by the right wing media to believe that scapegoats like President Obama, Hispanics, labor unions and minorities have ruined the U.S. Moreover, many Republicans are convinced that the Democratic Party is deliberately destroying the U.S. and that some kind of “Armageddon” is inevitable.
This extreme paranoia on the right has caused many Republican voters to demand that their elected officials in Washington refuse to compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. Republican members of Congress have absorbed that message and as a result, they have shutdown the government and threatened a default on the national debt. Even now, the GOP led Congress is tied in knots by radical Republican members who absolutely refuse to compromise. This is the source of the dysfunction and gridlock in Washington.
The right wing media has also had a negative impact upon the last two GOP Presidential nominees. In 2008, it was Rush Limbaugh and the right wing media who influenced John McCain to pick the singularly unqualfied Sarah Palin as his running mate. Moreover, after the economy collapsed in September 2008, McCain and Palin wasted a lot of time talking about William Ayres. Because Fox and AM radio thought Ayres was an important issue, that caused the 2008 GOP ticket to make a big issue out of Ayres even though most voters were focused on the deepest recession since the 1930s.
The Romney campaign was similarly fooled by the right wing media into badly misjudging the electorate. In the fall of 2012, polls from Fox and Rasmussen assumed that the Democratic base wouldn’t turn out and boldly predicted a GOP victory. The propaganda from the right wing media was so powerful that the Romney campaign’s high priced pollsters and consultants made a similar assumption. As a result, Romney and Ryan were visibly shocked when they lost to President Obama. They even had to cancel an expensive fireworks display they had planned to celebrate their assumed victory!
The right wing media has already had a huge impact on the GOP in the 2016 cycle. Due to it’s influence, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were the two finalists in the GOP primary process. Cruz was the architect of the disastrous 2013 government shutdown and has said that: “I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise.” If Cruz was as obnoxious as Trump, he would’ve been an unstoppable candidate in the GOP nominating process.
As it turned out, Trump’s personality and demeanor was the perfect fit for today’s radicalized GOP electorate. Despite Trump’s occasional deviations from conservative orthodoxy, many GOP voters simply preferred the billionaire entertainer because they liked his nasty attitude and outrageous behavior. In addition to that, as Nate Silver said: “Trump’s main differentiator was to double-down on cultural grievance: grievances against immigrants, against Muslims, against political correctness, against the media, and sometimes against blacks and women. And the strategy worked.”
The right wing media’s motivation to stir up cultural grievances, outrage and paranoia on a daily basis is largely profit driven. A 2015 study from Jackie Calmes, a correspondent for the New York Times, explored the rising influence of the right wing media on the agenda of the GOP. Her study concluded that the conservative media doesn’t “give a damn about governing.”
As it turns out, the business model for the right wing media is extremely lucrative. According to a recent report on Salon.com: “Fox reportedly earns over $1 billion in profits annually, making it a golden goose in the overall Fox corporate empire. Fox itself is one of the most valuable brands in the world with sales of over $13 billion. ”
The leading personalities in the right wing media earn fantastic amounts of money. Salon.com reported that: “Rush Limbaugh raked in $80 million for himself in 2015 alone. Sean Hannity was paid $30 million. Glenn Beck is personally worth over $100 million. Bill O’Reilly’s television show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” generates over $100 million per year in advertising revenue.” And the owner of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, is worth $12 billion!
The reality is that the conservative media dominates the Republican Party and sets it’s agenda. As former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum said: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering that we work for Fox.” As a result of this domination, the GOP is simply incapable of governing and has great difficulty winning Presidential elections. Since the rise of the right wing media in the mid-1990s, the GOP has lost the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 Presidential elections.
Having a major party in the U.S. dominated by right wing entertainers isn’t good for the country. The U.S. is the only nation among the first world industrialized world that has a radical party that among other things, believes in supply side economics and rejects the settled science on climate change. Due to our unique system of checks and balances, the radicalized GOP has veto power over the decisions of the federal government. Since 2011, that has made our country all but ungovernable.
What needs to happen this year is for Donald Trump and the entire GOP ticket to be defeated – and be defeated badly. Perhaps only a huge loss will convince GOP voters to moderate and demand a more responsible party. After big losses by extreme GOP Presidential candidates in 1936 and 1964, the GOP moved to the center and became more reasonable.
As Democrats we must unite behind our Presidential nominee and entire ticket this fall. We are presented with a unique opportunity to punish an extreme opposition party and elect a Progressive majority in Washington. I’m confident that we will have a good election cycle but we must take nothing for granted. Let’s leave it all on the field in 2016!