Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Right Wing radio talk hosts and the monkey mind media
Even Michael Savage had had enough.
As the insults and innuendos over candidates’ wives and tabloid reports of suspected affairs dominated the back and forth between Senator Ted Cruz and Donald J. Trump, Mr. Savage, one of the country’s most popular conservative radio hosts and an ardent supporter of Mr. Trump, drew a red line last week.
“I’ve supported Trump and probably still will, but if he won’t disavow this guy Pecker and this story, I may withdraw my support,” he said on the air on Friday. He was referring to David J. Pecker, the owner of The National Enquirer, which published the allegations of sexual affairs against Mr. Cruz. “I am not going to support anyone who engages in assassination by innuendo,” Mr. Savage added.
But on Monday, Mr. Trump and Mr. Savage reconciled in a mostly fawning interview, with no apology from Mr. Trump, who nevertheless called The Enquirer’s allegation that Mr. Cruz had affairs “garbage.”
The momentary rupture, however brief, was emblematic. As the fractures in the Republican Party over the candidacy of Mr. Trump grow deeper by the day, conservative talk radio is having its own identity crisis.
Long a powerful and potent agitator of right-wing politics, conservative radio hosts are one of the few forces that can sway the opinions of the Trump electorate. And with Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz now tearing each other — and the party — apart, the biggest names in the field are delicately navigating how to address Mr. Trump’s latest provocations without alienating listeners.
“Talk radio has a really unique way of being able to penetrate its way into Republican primary politics around the country,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and deputy chief of staff for former Representative Eric Cantor. If leading conservative hosts united in opposition to Mr. Trump, Mr. Heye said, “in theory, it could absolutely hurt him, in part because that’s where a lot of his supporters are.”
Conservative talk radio is just as divided and conflicted on Mr. Trump as the Republican electorate. Some advocate. Some criticize. And some try to stay neutral — but that is no longer easy.
In December, Rush Limbaugh took issue with Mr. Trump’s harsh words about Mr. Cruz and criticisms Mr. Trump made of Justice Antonin Scalia, saying, “If you’re a conservative voter in the Republican primary, these two things have got to raise some red flags for you people.”
But just two days later, Mr. Limbaugh found himself explaining to callers that he still had a “no-endorsement policy” in presidential primaries and that his laudatory statements about Mr. Cruz were just observations. “It doesn’t mean that Trump is no good,” he said, repeatedly pointing to the candidate’s wide appeal.
At the same time, Mr. Limbaugh has taken heat for providing cover for Mr. Trump, excusing some of his bombast for “striking a nerve in the country.”
Others have gone much further in their praise of Mr. Cruz. Mark Levin and Glenn Beck endorsed the Texas senator, and have been critical of Mr. Trump. Mr. Levin has told him to “cut the crap” with his attacks on Mr. Cruz. Of Mr. Trump’s opposition to trade deals, he said, “I’ve never heard such stupid talk in my life.”
Mr. Beck has made it his mission to stop Mr. Trump, saying the candidate is not a true conservative, nor a true Christian.
“No Christian says, ‘I want that guy — that guy is the guy for me,’ ” Mr. Beck said on air about Mr. Trump and his supporters. “Nobody, nobody.”
Part of the conservative radio divide reflects how Mr. Cruz was the darling of the far right wing of the Republican Party before Mr. Trump’s unexpected political rise. A frequent guest on talk radio, the senator earned celebrity status for his effort to shut down the government, and was showered with effusive praise when he was the first to jump into the race. Mr. Limbaugh called his presidential announcement speech “dazzling” and “masterful.”
But Mr. Trump’s candidacy forced a realignment. Mr. Savage routinely has Mr. Trump on his show and condemns Mr. Cruz as “an insider.” He sees Mr. Trump as galvanizing disaffected voters who have both powered his strong ratings for decades and been ignored by previous Republican nominees.
“He’s speaking to the demographic of the electorate that has been ignored and castigated,” Mr. Savage said in an interview. “That’s what I see.”
Sean Hannity has not publicly staked out a side, and has said both Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz are conservative choices. He tries to have both on his show as often as he can.
“Who am I to come in and tell them to vote for this person?” Mr. Hannity asked in an interview, referring to his listeners. “I don’t think I serve them well that way.”
But he warned that any effort to deny Mr. Trump the nomination if he came close to the 1,237 majority of delegates would be the downfall of the Republican Party.
“If they try to steal this nomination or disenfranchise the voters, it would be the end of the Republican Party,” he said. “I guarantee you, it’s over.”
“If it’s Trump” who is denied the nomination, he continued, “Trump supporters are walking. If it’s Cruz, Cruz supporters are walking. And they’re not coming back. And I’ll walk with them.”
Laura Ingraham, who also said she would not endorse a candidate, shared a similar point of view in an interview, calling the stop-Trump effort “a little juvenile.”
“There are a lot of purists out there who, if they don’t get everything checked off on their little bucket list,” then they say “take your pail and go home,” she said. “Come to the real world.”
Mr. Beck sees it differently, calling Mr. Trump “a clown.”
Disagreement among conservative radio hosts is nothing new. But the searing divisions of this contest pose particular challenges to the hosts as they seek to hold on to their listeners — and address their grievances — in such a fractured climate.
“The rule of talk radio is always ‘Don’t get ahead of your listener,’ ” said Rick Tyler, a political analyst on MSNBC and former communications director for the Cruz campaign. “You can educate the listener, and you can bring them along.”
But Mr. Beck argued that the opinion and principles of the host were what drew the audience.
“Our principles are our only things that have kept us going and going on our air,” he said. “And if you abandon your principles for interest, you’re done.”
But in Mr. Trump, Mr. Beck and Mr. Levin may have found a candidate who has beaten them at their own game. The Manhattan businessman has found a way around traditional media, as his rallies and news conferences are often carried live on cable networks and occasionally on broadcast television.
And the hosts who rely on access to the candidate seem mindful of his ability to circumvent mainstream media, cozying up to Mr. Trump to maintain a relationship.
As Mr. Savage said as he closed his interview with Mr. Trump on Monday: “People are going to say I was too nice to you today.”