How Republicans Made Themselves Slaves to Right Wing Media

According to Rachael Bade, even ultra-conservative Republicans are afraid to challenge our president-elect for fear of reprisal. It’s true that during the campaign, Trump was known for brow-beating anyone in the GOP who spoke out against him. But as Bade points out, he’s held his tongue when it comes to members of his own party since the election. So it’s interesting to note who is playing the role of enforcer right now.

Bade tells the story about how Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) – the former leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee – suggested recently that there are Trump proposals that don’t line up very well with conservative principles, but that they should focus on areas of agreement. This was the response he got:

Breitbart seized on Flores’ remarks a few days later, calling them proof that House Republicans planned to “isolate and block President Donald Trump’s populist campaign promises.” A conservative populist blogger for the site TruthFeed then warned Flores on Twitter to “get ready for a shit storm,” and posted a headline that read: “BREAKING: Rep. Bill Flores Has CRAFTED a PLAN to BLOCK Trump’s Immigration Reform.”

Sean Hannity jumped in, too, featuring the Breitbart post on his syndicated radio show. That only further riled the impromptu anti-Flores mob.

The “anti-Flores mob” was stirred up by Breitbart, Hannity and a conservative populist blogger. In other words…right wing media. This is not something new that has emerged since Trump’s election. Back in August, Oliver Darcy chronicled exactly what has been happening for a while now.

For the most part, Republicans and the conservative media existed symbiotically. Republicans used their newfound apparatus as a vehicle to drive home their message to supporters. Simultaneously, the conservative news media sought to lock in its audience by characterizing the mainstream press as an industry comprising dishonest liberals — something with which the GOP was more than happy to go along.

“What it became, essentially, was they were preaching this is the only place you can get news. This is the only place you can trust. All other media outlets are lying to you. So you need to come to us,” said Ted Newton, president of Gravity Strategic Communications and former communications adviser to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“And so in an attempt to capture an audience, they almost made them slaves to those news outlets. So there is a whole group of people who will only watch Fox, who will only read Breitbart. And they are living in a bubble,” he added.

As Darcy goes on to point out, that leaves Congressional members like Flores without a voice to push back against the way the anti-Flores mob was incited.

That has left conservatives who oppose Trump in a tricky position when trying to get their message to supporters. No longer can Ryan or Cruz [or Flores] turn to Hannity for a softball interview. They can’t work with Breitbart or rely on Drudge to help with their legislative agenda.

These Republicans have effectively been exiled from the conservative news media, leaving them with a problem.

“They don’t have any place to go. How else do you get your message out? You can’t do it in the mainstream. This is the way you reach conservatives,” Ziegler said. “We have taught conservatives for many years to trust nothing other than what they hear in conservative media. Yet the conservative media has now proven to be untrustworthy.”

This problem didn’t simply emerge in the era of Donald Trump. As I have noted many times, conservative writer David Frum nailed it way back in 2010.

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination…If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

While it can give liberals a certain amount of schadenfreude to see people like Rep. Flores twist in the wind over this, it also means that Hannity, Drudge and the writers at Breitbart hold sway over our politics by their ability to control what their listeners/readers/viewers (a minority of Americans) think about both leaders and policies. As Bade chronicled, that is where we find ourselves today.

It is difficult to predict where we go from here. But what is clear is that we got to this place because Republicans were willing to tie their fortunes to a symbiotic relationship with right wing media. Now they are learning that they’ve become its slave.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.