Right-wing talk shows turned White House blue

By Paul Goldman and Mark J. Rozell
April 11, 2013

Talk isn’t cheap, as Republicans have learned. The conservative talk show culture is proving expensive for GOP presidential hopefuls.

Since Rush Limbaugh’s 1992 bestseller “The Way Things Ought to Be,” his conservative talk show politics have dominated GOP presidential discourse – and the Republicans’ White House fortunes have plummeted. But when the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the 10 presidential elections.

Conservative talk show hosts and Fox News blame the “lamestream” national media’s “liberal bias” for the GOP’s poor showing since 1992. Yet the rise of the conservative-dominated media defines the era when the fortunes of GOP presidential hopefuls dropped to the worst levels since the party’s founding in 1856.

It was when most Americans got most of their information from network news programs, which took their lead from what conservatives labeled “liberal” newspapers, that the GOP held the White House. Yet the right regularly accused the mainstream news media of colluding to turn the public against conservative nominees.

Is it all a coincidence that Democrats’ fortunes reversed as Limbaugh and his imitators gained influence?

Despite Limbaugh’s ridicule, in 1992, Bill Clinton won more electoral votes than any Democratic challenger in 60 years. In the previous six presidential elections (1968-1988), the Republicans had won five times – all but one by an electoral landslide. Since conservative media began to flourish, only once (2004) has the GOP candidate captured more than 50 percent of the popular vote. And that candidate, President George W. Bush, had the lowest re-election results of any conservative chief executive in U.S. history.

On the other hand, between 1996 and 2008, with conservative media ascendant, four different Democratic standard-bearers in successive elections – Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama – combined for a majority of the popular vote. Democratic nominees  had never enjoyed this level of serial success. In 2012, Obama won re-election in a second majority-vote victory – the first Democrat to do so since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Coincidence again?

“Some things are just too coincidental to be a coincidence,” as Yogi Berra once said. The famed Yankee catcher offers insight into why the new media pitch contributes to the GOP striking out.

Network news sought a mass audience, unlike the niche-programming of today’s cable and radio talk shows. So the network news philosophy focused on fact-based reporting, homogenized for the broadest possible audience – not opinion, which could prove divisive, driving away some potential viewers.

The GOP’s “rally ’round the flag” Cold War anti-communist conservatism was similarly based on a nationalizing formula. So the network economic model and the Republican political equation were a perfect fit.

When the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Republican formula lost its philosophic basis. Is it just another coincidence that the GOP’s best showing since the collapse of Cold War conservatism  was when Bush could use a nationalizing theme – the threat of terrorism – to win the Republicans’ only recent popular vote majority?

The conservative talk show culture has contributed to today’s new-media fragmentation, which has been so detrimental to GOP presidential hopes. Why is this happening? It’s all about free-market economics.

The more strident and doctrinaire a talk show, the bigger the financial rewards can be for host and sponsor. Programs prosper by capturing a small but deeply loyal slice of the mass audience. This economic model would have decimated national network news in its heyday – as we can now see.

The conservative media powers blame GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s defeat on his inability to rally conservative groups. They claim he failed to focus on their issues. However, in championing  the niche special-interest groups over a broader national prism, conservative talk show hosts are fragmenting the electorate

This has never been an effective strategy for Republicans. It is Democrats who have been more successful with it, as Roosevelt proved with his New Deal coalition.

Contrary to talk show revisionist history, the “mainstream media” proved the GOP’s best friend for several generations. ABC, CBS and NBC Nightly News worked for GOP presidential candidates – convincing voters to see elections through a wide prism.

Conservatives delighting at the influence of their favorite talk show hosts and the decline of the mainstream media have missed this crucial modern political lesson: The GOP fared best in presidential politics through a nationalizing lens – not narrow-based ideological appeals.

Now, it could all be a coincidence; Yogi could be wrong. After all, he still claims to have tagged out Dodger legend Jackie Robinson, despite the umpire’s saying No. 42 had stolen home on his Hall of Fame rival in one of baseball’s immortal moments, in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

 

PHOTO (Top): GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEES: (Clockwise, starting from top left) Mitt Romney, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), Senator Bob Dole, President George H.W. Bush.  REUTERS/Staff

PHOTO (Insert A): Rush Limbaugh speaks at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington June 23, 2006. REUTERS/Micah Walter

PHOTO (INSERT B): Supporters reach out to shake hands with President George W. Bush at a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida August 10, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (Insert C): Yoga Berra REUTERS/Archive

16 comments

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What do we have here? Two lifelong Democrats advising Republican party what to do.

How quaint.

Posted by FelixKeverich | Report as abusive

Radio and TV talk shows are infotainment, not news and not journalism. If the hosts can get people all worked up into a lather presenting their opinions as fact-based, their ratings go up. The stations and hosts make a ton of money through advertising as a result. It isn’t about spreading their message, it’s about profit.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Living within an echo chamber simply magnifies that your views are correct. When one preaches to the choir, one quickly can think they are invincible.

But as politicians genuflected before Rush and others, it turned off the voters that are the key to elections.

And commentators like Rush made lots of money the more outrageous their comments.

But also, Republican leadership failed to chastise the more outrageous comments. Sure, there were terrible statements made against Bush, but it was not nodded in agreement at the Democratic leadership levels.

Posted by pavoter1946 | Report as abusive

The opinion is not taking into consideration the conservative-liberal swap that occured between major parties in late 50ies – early 60ies. Up until that time GOP was a liberal party, while Democrats was preaching conservative approach. Dwight Eisenhauer was a liberal president, while man before his tenure – Truman – was a conservative. Remember,the most liberal president ever – Lincoln – was a Republican. The movement towards progressive thinking has started with FDR who was a conservative, while huge turnaround happened under JFK. Nixon, Eisenhauer’s VP, was more liberal than any Republican candidate after him.
Therefore opinion conclusions are incorrect as they have a wrong basis of party affiliation, rather than ideological inclinations of particular candidate.

Posted by 94now | Report as abusive

Blaming conservative talk shows is spurious at best. People who tune in are already rock-ribbed conservatives, and if anything are more likely to vote after getting pumped up on Coulter, Limbaugh, etc. The cold fact is that demographics and marketing have become highly prized skills in politics. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have set a standard in political marketing their opponents simply couldn’t match.

Posted by Bagehot | Report as abusive

Looks to me as if the conservatives are losing all the battles but winning the war. The progressive tax system is in shambles, “starve the beast” is the norm for the functional parts of our government (of course Congress and the White House barely feel a pinch of pain), the financial regulatory framework is so decimated that the fatcats took down the global economy, no progress possible on the seminal issue of our time (climate change), the greatest income and wealth disparities in many generations, the system that has always been key to our economic prosperity (public education) being shredded before our eyes, abortion legal but largely unavailable, and a Democratic President who (a) pitches austerity during economic hard times, and (b) wants to decimate the safety net supposedly in order to appease those that this article calls losers. If only the progressives could be in such a spot.

Posted by Sanity-Monger | Report as abusive

I might suggest that Lincoln and Eisenhower were “classic” liberals–not of the genre of the “corrupted” liberal definition of today. Thus, Lincoln could concurrently fight a war to preserve the Union while liberating the slaves. And, as Eisenhower could deliver a balanced budget while deporting illegal immigrants along the border.

Classic liberalism is about liberty and freedom–and not all classic liberals would embrace conservatism as defined today. However, it is surely not the big government liberals espouse today. Classic liberals promote individual initiative (not redistribution) and they can be both fiscally conservative and proponents of states rights as outlined in the Constitution. They surely would not embrace the concentration of power, influence, and wealth we experience inside the Beltway.

The need to paint them all of the same color is a need defined by the Democratic party elite and the main stream media.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

You make me sick. Social Media, the Liberal MSM and the break down of society led to this…the worst is yet to come…tick tock…

Posted by Crash866 | Report as abusive

Today’s conservatives are against government regulation of the finance industry but for government regulation of citizen’s sex lives, women in particular. The Republican Party has set a record in passing anti-abortion legislation in the states they control.

Today’s conservatives are against big-spending government but force-feed the Pentagon as payback for defense industry suppliers’ contributions. While China opened its Trans-China railway in 2005 and made deals for African oil, the U.S. has instead spent its money blowing up foreign countries.

Posted by yooper | Report as abusive

Today’s conservatives are against government regulation of the finance industry but for government regulation of citizen’s sex lives, women in particular. The Republican Party has set a record in passing anti-abortion legislation in the states they control.

Today’s conservatives are against big-spending government but force-feed the Pentagon as payback for defense industry suppliers’ contributions. While China opened its Trans-China railway in 2005 and made deals for African oil, the U.S. has instead spent its money blowing up foreign countries.

Posted by yooper | Report as abusive

Today’s conservatives are against government regulation of the finance industry but for government regulation of citizen’s sex lives, women in particular. The Republican Party has set a record in passing anti-abortion legislation in the states they control.

Today’s conservatives are against big-spending government but force-feed the Pentagon as payback for defense industry suppliers’ contributions. While China opened its Trans-China railway in 2005 and made deals for African oil, the U.S. has instead spent its money blowing up foreign countries.

Posted by yooper | Report as abusive

“Right-wing talk shows turned White House blue”

curiously, after 1992 state legislatures became increasingly GOP. So maybe rejection of socialism drove the the states Republican. For all the bluster of these guys, the states are slipping quickly away from the Left.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_p arty_strength_in_U.S._states

In 2010, that new Dem majority took a big hit, when they set a record for lost House seats (63) in the U.S. Congress.

Those right-wingers sure seem to go about losing in a very interesting way.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

And you should believe two lifer partisan Democrats who are even factual in this article for what reason?

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

I think Yooper comes the closest. The GOP spends way too much time worrying about our supposed personal choices. They have their moral agenda and the fiscal responsibility thing is just a ploy to get some support from tightwades. I must say, I am continually amazed at the lefts need to correct the right. In my view the right is doing what I would hope they would, showing their true hatred of others and driving people away. But then, the DFL is not filled with braniacs.

Most people, and particularly young people know that Rush is just working his demographic for money. He believes in making money by any means and would flip sides in a minute if he knew how to get the hippies to buy the crap his advertisers sell. So, aligning yourself with Rush politically is like admitting that you just don’t care what the truth is, you just want dummies to vote for you. The Fox news thing and Rush will fail when the old people they depend upon(the original TV generation) shrink away.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Classic logical fallacy – correlation does not necessarily equate with causation – the rise of conservative media caused the demise of the Republican Party? Sounds like wishful thinking. In any event an awful lot is being made out of Obama’s relatively close win – certainly a win is a win – but no incumbent President has ever before been re-elected to a second term with less support from the electorate than the first term – in that sense the re-election was historic. Every even moderately successful President has added to his electoral total the second time around – until now.

Posted by SayHey | Report as abusive

If the GOP returned to it’s roots, which is more a libertarian stance (which we used to call liberal) then they would do better in elections and gain a wider appeal. Instead, the GOP is socially conservative, fiscally reckless (war spending, taxes etc) and democrates are socially liberal and fiscally reckless (erm, everything?)

How about a GOP that is a true Grand old Party, not rich people’s lapdogs and concerned about what happens in people’s private lives? I’d vote for them

Posted by GA_Chris | Report as abusive