Come On, Let’s Give the Conservative Media Cocoon Some Credit


Conservative media is starting to come under attack from conservatives. Yesterday Rush Limbaugh responded to a listener who was mad at him for not warning that Donald Trump was unreliable on the subject of immigration. In particular, he was mad about Trump’s waffling on whether he would deport all 11 million illegal immigrants:

Rush Limbaugh: Yeah, well I guess the difference is—well not the difference, I guess the thing is, this is gonna enrage you. You know, I could choose a path here to try to mollify you, but I never took him seriously on this!….

Rick: This is why Trump is going to get annihilated. Because nobody called him out early on about his absurd policies.

Rush Limbaugh: Yes they did! For crying out loud, 15 candidates called him out….

Rick: Except unfortunately the number one place where Republican primary voters get their news.

Rush Limbaugh: Oh no, it’s on me and we’re out of time––

Rick: Which is Fox.

So Limbaugh never took Trump seriously on one of his key immigration policies, but never bothered to tell his listeners this. And Fox News played the fool too. David French has more on that:

It’s hard to overstate the power of Fox News for those seeking a career in the conservative movement. I’ve seen the most accomplished of lawyers suddenly become “somebody” only after they regularly appear on Fox….The result is clear: Conservatives gain fame, power, and influence mainly by talking to each other.

….Fox News went on the air in October 1996. Since that time, the GOP has won the popular vote for president exactly once: in 2004, by a whopping 2.4 percent. If Hillary Clinton wins in November, as appears likely, the GOP will have lost the popular vote in five of the six presidential elections since Fox broke the liberal media monopoly.

….Prior to 1996, a politician could truly succeed only by going to the American people through the media outlets they actually watched, which encouraged communication that persuaded those who weren’t true believers….The conservative movement is a victim of Fox’s success….Appearing on Fox can create an alluring but illusory fame, and in seeking it above all else, some of our best minds inadvertently limit their own influence. I don’t resent Fox’s existence, but I lament its effect on our movement. It’s time to leave the cocoon.

All this is true. And yet, ever since the Limbaugh/Gingrich/Ailes revolution of the 90s, conservatives have been immensely successful at literally every level of government other than the presidency. If their cocoon gets some of the blame for foisting Trump on the American public—and it does—it also gets some of the credit for the GOP’s spectacular success at the state and congressional level:

The Reagan Revolution didn’t really have much effect on Republican control of Congress and the states. There were ups and downs, but the overall trend was flat. The Limbaugh/Gingrich/Ailes revolution was quite different. Republican control skyrocketed, and stayed high. In 2010 it got even higher. Conservative media deserves some of the credit for that.

Now, unfortunately for Republicans, the real driver of all this was the conversion of the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. This meant that in order to succeed, the LGA Revolution had to be based largely on appealing to the racial resentments of Southern whites. The three principals were all happy to do this, and it worked a treat. It’s still working, too, everywhere except the presidency, where the growth of the non-white population has simply been too big an obstacle to overcome.

So give LGA some credit. They saw the brass ring, and they didn’t really care much if they had to sell their souls to get it. But Donald Trump has brought their fundamental problem into sharp focus: How do you harness white racial resentment effectively enough to keep control of Congress and the states, while appearing racially moderate enough to win the presidency? It’s a hell of a pretty pickle, isn’t it?