In eight short days the results of the midterm elections will be tabulated. Many early votes have already been cast and today I’m wondering what is influencing the moderates from both parties and the independents in this critical contest. Is it health care, the economy, immigration or a radio/ TV talk-show host?
There are many single-issue and straight-ticket voters out there who have a mindset. They aren’t likely to be swayed by lies, facts, logical arguments or even the character of the candidate. But what about those who aren’t totally aligned with an issue or a party? What motivates them?
I didn’t follow politics that much in the 1980s and the 1990s — but some transformative things were occurring then. President Reagan infused the GOP with a tax cutting fervor that is the primary motivator of the Party to this day. He also continued President Nixon’s efforts to bring the south into the Republican fold by courting evangelicals like Pat Robertson and televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Falwell was the primary founder of the Christian conservative Moral Majority in 1979. Robertson had earlier founded the Christian Broadcasting Network where he has appeared on “The 700 Club” show for almost half a century. Both had a strong media persona and millions of followers who vote. Today, evangelicals are predominantly Republican.
Conservative radio talk-shows were gaining popularity when Rush Limbaugh began broadcasting in 1988. He is now heard on hundreds of stations. Talker’s Magazine compiles a list of the most listened-to radio programs. The leaders in 2017 were Limbaugh, with 14 million weekly listeners, and Sean Hannity, who had 13.5 million. Hannity is also a Fox News prime-time TV anchor. Of the top 23, eight were conservative shows with over 80 million total listeners. There was one progressive show on the list with 6.5 million listeners. Humm!
While our house was being built in the 1990s, the carpenters would frequently listen to Limbaugh on the radio. And I suspect numerous auto mechanics across the nation are tuned in to Rush as they service cars and many Midwest farmers on their tractors are listening to conservative talk-show hosts as they cultivate row after boring row in their fields. These commentators make an impression and it’s entirely anti-liberal.
President George H. W. Bush actually raised taxes in 1991, violating his party’s pledge to never to do that. Some say that’s why he lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. Then the midterm elections in 1994 ushered in a real turning point in politics. Republicans regained control of Congress in 1995, taking the House for the first time in 40 years.
Newt Gingrich, a firebrand conservative from Georgia, became the speaker of the House and initiated a tough brand of conservatism. He was power-hungry and nasty, preferring name calling, confrontation and combat to compromise. Sound familiar?
The Fox News Channel began its programming in 1996, primarily adopting Gingrich’s hardnosed style of politics. Both painted Democrats as socialists or maybe communists. The “left” was often cast as a violent radical group being supported by Jewish billionaire and perennial liberal boogieman George Soros. Limbaugh and other right-wing radio hosts were part of the chorus.
Today most Fox News anchors strongly support President Trump and Republicans. But little-known Sinclair Broadcasting is the nation’s largest owner of local television stations, with almost 200 in 81 broadcast networks nationwide. Pro-Trump, conservative content airs daily on their local stations, which viewers tend to trust more than the national news outlets. And with hundreds of stations, iHeartMedia is reportedly the nation’s largest radio station owner, mostly airing news/talk shows by conservative Glenn Beck, Limbaugh and/or Hannity.
After crude explosive devices were sent to CNN and a dozen or so prominent Democrats, including Soros, many conservative commentators called it a fake (false-flag) operation conducted by liberals to get sympathy for Democrats. Limbaugh unbelievably claimed “Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing.” Really? Even after the perpetrator was identified as pro-Trump, no doubt many Republicans will continue to believe as one Trump supporter put it “Obama probably sent his to hisself. [sic]” “And Hillary Clinton probably sent hers to herself.”
It follows, because after numerous GOP-led investigations and no proof found, many Republicans still believe Clinton told the military to “stand down” from defending our diplomates in Benghazi, Libya. And many still claim Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim. Do they simply want to believe these things or are they still hearing them on their local radio station?
Based on every statistic I have found, conservative media outlets are spread further and deeper across America than the so-called “liberal media” Republicans have railed against for decades. Fox News, Limbaugh and others support Trump’s conspiracy theories and echo his fear-mongering warning of a dangerous immigrant hoard. Some commentators attack the Democrat “mob” while either ignoring the violence-promoting, far-right Patriot Prayer group — or giving them airtime.
One bright side I could see after the 2016 election was that Republicans would quickly show they don’t know how to govern. So far, their major accomplishment is a budget-busting tax cut they fallaciously claimed would pay for itself.
I am still confident that GOP lies will catch up with them at the polls. But right-wing media present a substantial bulwark against those who want to put the brakes on Trump’s autocratic ways. We will soon know if it has been breached.