How did Donald Trump get this far? He’s talented, to be sure, but he also had a little help from his friends.
Despite my strong urging (and the pleas of others), top conservative talkers generally looked the other way while Trump grew into a juggernaut that possibly cannot be stopped.
These top talkers might have strangled the populist baby in the crib; instead, they provided him cover (without ever officially endorsing him or taking responsibility for his irresponsible rhetoric).
In case you’ve forgotten, way back in December, Guy Benson described it thus:
Here’s how the coy game has worked: When Trump is right, they praise him. Fine. When Trump is factually wrong, while making an argument that may contain a “larger truth,” they justify his inaccuracies. When Trump lies, they deflect and excuse. And when Trump does something indefensible, they side-step the substance, resorting to marveling at how masterful he is at “driving a narrative,” playing the media, and aggravating all the ‘right’ people. Sure, he may be a sloppy, impulsive, non-conservative ignoramus on actual policy, but at least “he fights” in a manner that gratifies our audience’s political id; plus, “without him, we wouldn’t even be talking about [fill in the blank]!” There’s never an explicit endorsement, mind you, just loads of adulation. And airtime.
They created a monster. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. (No more mixed metaphors, I promise!) Then, an interesting thing started happening. A couple weeks after Benson wrote his piece, the “talk radio” wing of the GOP—having spent months propping up Donald Trump—finally began dinging him.
This (not coincidentally) coincided with [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore]’s rise in the Iowa polls, and with Trump’s decision to start criticizing Cruz. Rush Limbaugh, for example, said Trump’s initial criticism of Cruz raised “some red flags” for him.It should be noted that Cruz, himself, essentially adopted this same strategy. Until Trump questioned his status as a natural born citizen, Cruz went to great lengths to avoid saying anything remotely negative about The Donald.
The latest example of how things have changed, though, comes this from Daniel Horowitz at Conservative Review—a site led by talk radio host Mark Levin and senior editor Michelle Malkin—which argues that Trump hasn’t been vetted, and questions his commitment to conservatism:
While [Sen. Jeff] Sessions, Cruz, and others on the outside like myself were fighting the worst immigration bill of our generation in 2013, Trump was promoting the Dream Act. When it really mattered he wasn’t with us.
I’m not sure if Mr. Horowitz has sounded this alarm before, but if not, it’s fair to say that this is information that might have come in handy six months ago.
It’s very clear to me that a lot of the folks in the populist entertainment wing of the GOP abdicated any responsibility in policing the Right, and instead empowered Donald Trump—all the while, misguidedly assuming he would fade away.
I’m not sure why they did this. But, I think, there are two possible scenarios:
- They always thought they could use Donald Trump as a sort of stalking horse for Ted Cruz. The entertainment wing wanted to keep him around in order to test boundaries, expand the Overton Window, and generally provide cover for Cruz—who would eventually emerge as a more palatable (in contrast to Trump) compromise candidate.
- The talk radio wing did not initially realize Ted Cruz could win. As such, they were willing to tolerate Donald Trump’s demagogic rhetoric in exchange for his work creating chaos, taking down the establishment, and tackling political correctness. It was only after they realized that Ted Cruz had a legitimate shot at the nomination that they decided to voice concern over the fact that Donald Trump (gasp!) wasn’t really a conservative.
Neither theory paints these influentials in a particularly favorable light.
The lesson here, I think, is that influence comes with responsibility. The notion that you can play a sort of strategic chess match and control the outcome of an election is both dubious and conceited. It would be truly ironic if conservative talk radio’s acquiescence led to the defeat of Cruz—and the nomination of a liberal named Donald Trump.