“Change Is Upon Them, Whether They Like It Or Not”: For Aging GOP Voters, The Times They Are A-Changin’
Donald Trump will not be president of these United States, no matter the preferences of a substantial number of the Republican Party’s most loyal voters. Indeed, he will probably be a punchline by this time next year, even if he pursues the presidency as an independent.
For now, though, the real estate mogul and reality-TV darling is enjoying a moment aloft the polls as the GOP’s man to beat. A recent Washington Post survey showed him as the favorite of 24 percent of registered Republicans and GOP-leaning voters.
In that poll, Trump garnered nearly twice as much support as his nearest rival, Scott Walker, who was the top candidate of just 13 percent. Though Trump’s numbers could drop any day given his propensity for saying dumb things, his appeal so far seems to guarantee him a spot on the stage for the first primary debate, which will take place on Aug. 6.
Needless to say, GOP strategists are tearing their hair out, hardly believing their bad luck. After a grueling series of primary debates damaged their brand in the 2012 presidential cycle, they tried to rein them in, hoping to show voters a cast of serious and sober candidates.
But the superficial changes — including cutting the number of primary debates — don’t get to the much larger problem afflicting the Republican Party: Its strategists have spent decades appealing to the worst instincts of their constituents, and they are now reaping what they’ve sown. It’s the voters, after all, who are keeping Trump’s hopes alive.
Those voters have been treated to years of bombast and propaganda as Republican politicians pandered to their fears, their prejudices, their hatreds. The late Lee Atwater confessed that GOP pols perfected a strategy of playing to the bigotry of whites uncomfortable with the changes wrought by the civil rights movement. Too savvy to denigrate black Americans directly, they used a coded language, Atwater said in an interview: “… You’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites …”
That vile Southern strategy was never retired. It was simply given a 2.0 upgrade that denounces Islam, defames Mexicans and slanders gays and lesbians. Oh, and savages President Obama.
Having been fed that drivel for half a century, aging GOP voters are hardly going to suddenly surrender their gospel truths. Trump, a narcissistic opportunist, knows that, so he’s gone into overdrive coddling their prejudices, saying, among other things, that Mexico is sending to the United States “rapists” and drug smugglers. Guess what? His incendiary rhetoric has catapulted him to the top of the GOP primary heap.
No, Trump’s appeal won’t last. But the prejudices that are animating so many GOP primary voters are more enduring. And that’s where party leaders need to start their work.
They could begin with Roger Ailes, the former GOP strategist who heads Fox News, the premier right-wing communications network. His talking heads regularly pump out the most bigoted ideas, feeding an audience anxious to have its antediluvian views validated. (GOP bigwigs might also try talking to radio talkmeister Rush Limbaugh, but he’s likely a hopeless cause.) If Ailes cares about anything other than ratings, he’ll dial back the paranoia.
Then, the Republicans’ biggest names — Mitch McConnell, are you listening? — need to speak frankly to their constituents. Many of them are fearful of a country whose demographics are changing quickly. They can’t quite get their bearings with a black man in the Oval Office, a mosque under construction across town, and a lesbian couple across the street. As an aging (and angry) white Southern reader once said to me: “I’m being told that everything I was taught as a child is wrong!”
OK, I understand that change is difficult, challenging, disorienting. That’s especially true if the changes may make it harder for you to maintain your position at the top of the economic and social ladder.
But the nation, happily, has long been about the business of perfecting the union, coming closer to its creed of equality for all. So change is upon them, whether they like it or not. If they can’t learn to accept it, the GOP will remain shut out of the White House.
By:Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 25, 2015
It should come as no surprise that Fox News didn’t mention the latest awful allegations about Bill O’Reilly’s behavior toward women on Monday night. But given the ugliness of the reports – Gawker says that his ex-wife accused him, in sealed divorce documents, of choking her and dragging her by the neck down the stairs of their Manhasset mansion – it’s hard not to wonder what, if anything, would get O’Reilly in trouble with Roger Ailes.
We already know he settled a sexual harassment lawsuit by Fox producer Andrea Mackris, whose details became the stuff of journalistic legend – we will never think of falafel, or loofah, the same way. Now, while we don’t know the entire truth about his divorce, or why he lost custody of his children, we know enough to say he probably shouldn’t be lecturing anyone on family values. (For the record, O’Reilly today denied the charges.)
Yet he will almost certainly continue to tell African American men how to behave with women, and how to parent, because Roger Ailes doesn’t care about hypocrisy.
Now, we do have one example of Ailes tiring of a tempestuous host: Glenn Beck, in 2011. But Beck’s insane shtick was tarnishing the brand. O’Reilly’s angry white man shtick is the Fox brand. Without some explosive new evidence – his ex-wife refuses to comment on the charges, and she apparently did not call police when it happened – O’Reilly is likely to survive.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t wholly reprehensible. The cluster of reports about O’Reilly’s divorce from Maureen McPhilmy are appalling. He used his clout as a donor to police charities to make trouble for McPhilmy’s new boyfriend (now husband), a Nassau County police detective. As a powerful (and hypocritical) Catholic, he’s tried to have their marriage annulled, which would negate the “sin” of divorce and allow the parties to marry again in the church.
That privilege used to be reserved for short term, childless (at one time, “unconsummated”), disastrous marriages that both parties quickly recognized as a mistake; now powerful Catholics, usually men, receive annulments for long-term marriages that produced children, and they often force them on unwilling spouses. (Yes, you’ll recall that Rudy Giuliani did that to his first wife.) And in the meantime, the Fox bully tried to get McPhilmy ex-communicated from the church for the “sin” of divorce, and succeeded in getting her local parish to reprimand her for taking communion.
This latest allegation is particularly awful because it comes from his 16-year-old daughter, who told a custody investigator, according to Gawker, that she witnessed the abuse before her parents separated five years ago. McPhilmy got sole custody at least partly because O’Reilly violated the terms of their joint custody agreement, hiring the children’s therapist, who was supposed to supervise the custody situation, as a member of his staff.
But at least he didn’t yell at his wife, “Hey M-Fer, I want more iced tea.”
Of course, even if you give O’Reilly the benefit of some doubt, it’s clear his family life is a mess. Yet he regularly rails at African American families from his lofty perch at Fox. “The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American family…The lack of involved fathers leads to young boys growing up resentful and unsupervised,” he said last August.
In December, he continued to fulminate: “The astronomical crime rate among young black men—violent crime—drives suspicion and hostility. … No supervision, kids with no fathers—the black neighborhoods are devastated by the drug gangs who prey upon their own. That’s the problem!”
Now O’Reilly’s kids are growing up with no father in the home – but apparently a judge thinks they will be better off that way.
O’Reilly has even called domestic violence “a terrible plague,” telling 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson last year: “I’m telling you, battery against women in this country and around the world is just out of control.”
But why would Ailes care about any of that? His audience probably doesn’t care. Fox’s over-65, predominantly male viewers probably see both sexual harassment and domestic violence as issues hyped by feminazis and the liberal news media.
Ailes’s entire news operation is built on a central fiction – and the fiction is that it’s a news organization at all. So why would it be a problem if it’s fronted by a family values hypocrite who’s actually a serial abuser of women?
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 19, 2015
“Bill O’Reilly Is Not Going Anywhere, You Far-Left Pinheads”: Making Money, And Advancing The Goals Of The Republican Party
Bill O’Reilly suffers from the same malady as Brian Williams: a tendency to embellish stories of the dangers and horrors he has faced as a journalist (though in O’Reilly’s case, his career as a journalist was brief, before he discovered his true calling). They may have had a slightly different motivation; my interpretation of Williams’ tall-tale-telling is that he wanted to portray himself as heroically journalistic, in the center of the action, bringing people the most important news of the moment. I suspect that for O’Reilly, on the other hand, it’s more of a macho thing—he’s as tough as anyone, and if you doubt it he’ll shout you down like the pinhead you are.
But while Williams was suspended for six months and may never make it back to the anchor chair, nothing of the sort is happening to O’Reilly; Fox News has stood behind him, which won’t change no matter how much evidence emerges showing that he has lied repeatedly about his “war” record. The simple explanation for the difference many believe is that NBC News cares about facts and Fox News doesn’t. Which is true up to a point, but it isn’t the whole story.
To catch you up, last week David Corn and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones published this article documenting all the times O’Reilly has claimed that he has reported from “war zones” and “combat.” In fact, the closest O’Reilly ever got to combat back when he was a reporter was filing dispatches from Buenos Aires during the Falklands war—1,200 miles from the actual fighting. When confronted with this fact, O’Reilly has claimed that he was in the war zone because he covered a violent protest in Buenos Aires. That would be ridiculous on its own terms, but it turns out that even his account of that protest is likely bogus as well; while the protest was certainly chaotic and violent, no other news report from the time, from CBS News (for whom O’Reilly worked) or any other organization, substantiates his claim of Argentine soldiers “gunning these people down,” and in the days since a number of his former CBS colleagues have challenged his description of the events.
So it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. Desperate to paint himself as a macho globe-trotting journalist who’s seen danger and laughed in its face, O’Reilly has for years been saying that he saw “combat” and served in a “war zone,” when the closest he got was more than a thousand miles away. During the time of the Falklands War. The Falklands. And as Lloyd Grove noted, O’Reilly has been caught lying about his own awesomeness before, as when he claimed falsely to have won two Peabody awards for his work on that paragon of serious journalism, Inside Edition. That didn’t hurt his career, either.
So why not? Let’s look at Williams again. NBC didn’t suspend him because their profound integrity and commitment to the truth demanded it. They suspended him because they were afraid that he had been compromised among his viewers, and if they had left him on the air those viewers would desert the network’s news program. In other words, it was a financial decision. Williams’ success depends on a combination of personality and credibility; viewers want to know they can trust him, but mostly they tune in because they like him. Take away the credibility, and they won’t like him so much anymore.
You could say that O’Reilly depends on the same two factors, personality and credibility. But his credibility comes from an entirely different place, and it’s the reason he not only wouldn’t but couldn’t apologize, or even admit that he had exaggerated his combat derring-do. For O’Reilly, credibility means not that he’s a source of truthful information but that he’s a source of information and opinions his audience finds pleasing. Almost nothing is more important for him than to standing up to liberals, sticking it to ’em, fighting the secularists and the America-haters and the welfare coddlers with his usual brio. O’Reilly’s persona is all anger and defiance; he may be sitting behind a desk, but he wants viewers to believe that he’s ready at any moment to come out from there and punch somebody in the face if they need to be taught a lesson. He’s the person they want to be, channeling their rage and their resentments.
For O’Reilly, a loss of credibility wouldn’t come from being dishonest, it would come from showing weakness, from opposing liberals with anything less than maximal militance. As far as he and his angry old white viewers are concerned (the median age of O’Reilly’s viewers is 72), nothing shows weakness more than apologizing to your enemies. Which is why he has reacted to the charges with a stream of invective (calling David Corn a “far-left zealot” and a “guttersnipe”) and an insistence that he never made a single mistake. And the facts? Well, as Stephen Colbert said, the facts have a well-known liberal bias.
It isn’t just liberals who are O’Reilly’s enemies, it’s also the media—all of it. So when O’Reilly is being criticized, whether it’s from Mother Jones or The New York Times, it just proves how right he is about everything and how much of a threat he is to the craven comsymps of the liberal elite. So when a reporter from The New York Times contacted him about the story, he told her that if he didn’t like what she wrote, “I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat.” Just try to imagine Brian Williams, or anyone who wants to maintain a reputation as a journalist of any sort, objective or opinionated, saying such a thing and not losing their job.
An episode like this plays right into the centerpiece of Fox’s ideology, its very raison d’être: the idea that Fox News is not just a brave outpost of truth-telling but the only place to get the real scoop uncontaminated by liberal bias. It tells its viewers that everything they hear from any allegedly non-partisan or objective source is nothing but a steaming pile of lies; the only thing you can trust on the TV dial is Fox. So when O’Reilly comes under fire, the viewers know two things: the substance of the criticism is bogus by definition; and the whole episode just proves what Fox has been saying all along. They are the righteous ones, which is why the forces of darkness are out to get them.
The bottom line for Brian Williams’ bosses at NBC News is money, and journalistic integrity is necessary to keep that money flowing. For Bill O’Reilly’s boss, Roger Ailes, things are just a bit more complicated. Ailes’s genius has always been his ability to make his network simultaneously serve two purposes: making money, and advancing the goals of the Republican Party. An on-air personality could lose his job if he threatened either of those goals, but O’Reilly hasn’t.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 24, 2015
“Under the Dome”: How The Conservative Media Are Keeping The GOP From Moving Past The Same-Sex Marriage Debate
Over the weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee issued a call to arms to conservatives not to give up the fight against same-sex marriage, based on his bizarre belief that no decision of the Supreme Court has the force of law unless Congress passes legislation to confirm it. Because of that, Huckabee says, the fight can continue unhindered no matter what the court does. “I’m utterly disgusted with fellow Republicans who want to walk away from the issue of judicial supremacy just because it’s politically volatile,” he said. “Here’s my advice: Grow a spine!” Huckabee’s legal analysis may be idiosyncratic (to put it kindly), but his position — that this isn’t a fight conservatives should abandon just because they’ve nearly lost it — is one with plenty of purchase among the Republican faithful. And he’s hardly the only one with a media pulpit from which to preach it. In fact, the division within the GOP has a parallel in the conservative media. The presence of hard-liners (or dead-enders, if you prefer) like Huckabee is going to make it all the more difficult and painful for the party to evolve in the way its more sober strategists know it must.
Conservatives worked very hard over a period of decades to build up their own media to serve as an alternative and a counterweight to a mainstream press they saw as biased against them. This project was spectacularly successful, particularly with the explosion of right-wing talk radio in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the launch of Fox News in 1996. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that people began questioning whether it was doing the movement more harm than good by encasing conservatives in a self-reinforcing bubble from which it became increasingly difficult to see the outside world clearly.
Just as there are divisions within the GOP, there are divisions within the conservative media. And just as the party’s conservatives make it hard to make strategically necessary shifts — or simply avoid moving too far to the right — the continued power of hard-line media figures can keep the party from modernizing.
Since 2012, Republicans have been fretting about how they can “reach out” to minority groups, particularly Latinos, in order to widen their appeal beyond the older white folks who are the core of the party. The trouble is that it’s hard to reach out when elected officials within your party keep loudly proclaiming their anti-immigrant views. The same is true on gay marriage. The party’s national strategists would like nothing better than for the issue to go away. They know that the policy outcome is inevitable and public opinion is not turning back, so there’s little point in mounting some kind of rear-guard action against it, one that will only make the party look outdated and out of touch. But as Greg and I both pointed out last week, potential future presidential candidate Ted Cruz is going to force a debate on it in 2016 whether other Republicans like it or not.
Some parts of the conservative media will do the same thing. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters observes that in most of its programming, Fox News has all but stopped talking about same-sex marriage. But that’s not going to silence Huckabee (whose show runs on Fox on the weekends), or Rush Limbaugh, or many of the other radio hosts with huge audiences. As long as they press the issue, the Republican base will still demand that candidates proclaim their objections to the changes taking place in the country, and the harder it remains for the party to move past its vehement opposition to marriage equality. Everyone knows that evolution will have to take place eventually, but the conservative media have the power to make the transition inordinately painful.
Fox’s abdication of the marriage issue demonstrates that the network functions as the semi-official organ of the Republican Party. Roger Ailes may be in business to make money, but he won’t do so in ways that harm the interests of the GOP. The same, however, can’t be said of everyone with a large conservative audience. On a whole range of domestic issues, from immigration to marriage equality to reproductive rights, they’re going to continue pulling the party to the right even when it has to turn back to the center or risk electoral disaster (like, say, the election of a certain former secretary of state to the White House). Conservative media have been great at keeping the rabble angry and excited, getting them to the polls and getting them to open their wallets. But when the party needs to take a cold hard look at reality and evolve or get left behind, the same media are going to be an albatross holding it back.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 13, 2014
Did you catch Ted Cruz’s numbers in that Pew poll that came out this week? You may not have, because there were a few other things going on. So take a guess as to his favorable ratings among Tea Party people. I can tell you that 18 percent expressed no opinion, so the numbers add up to 82. So, 65-17, 68-14? Could he possibly have topped 70?
He sure could have. It was 74-8. Eight! It used to be 47-10 in a prior poll. In other words, a lot of people who weren’t able to form an opinion of him now can, and it’s swooning. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, as you’d imagine, a rather different story: It’s 56-44 (everyone has an opinion!). That’s favorable, but it ain’t 74-8. And in these numbers, among dozens of other auguries, we see the Armageddon that’s coming in the GOP between now and 2016. What on earth are the establishment Republicans going to do about this man?
Examine with me a few more numbers, from an earlier Pew survey taken over the summer. That one found that while Tea Party people make up 40 percent of Republican voters, they make up 49 percent, or roughly half, of those who vote in every primary. Got that? OK.
So now put the two surveys together: Half of the most loyal Republican voters approve of Cruz at 90-percent levels (74 is nine-tenths of 82). Still think he couldn’t win the nomination?
You better believe he can. The chance that he could win a presidential election is as close to zero as any plausible candidate’s chance could be. I think he tops out at around 180 electoral votes. But the nomination? Not. Impossible. At. All.
So I ask again: What are the establishmentarians going to do? What, for example, can Mitch McConnell do? Not a whole lot. Individual senators are pretty autonomous. Remember when liberals were screaming during the health-care debate, “Why doesn’t Obama give Ben Nelson the Johnson Treatment?” Because the Johnson Treatment doesn’t work anymore, least of all on the serenely messianic, of which Cruz is definitely one.
Can a group of establishment senators break him, as a previous cohort, led by Margaret Chase Smith, broke Joe McCarthy? They can try, and that might make some difference. Their success will depend to a great extent on where the right-wing media decide to land. Will Roger Ailes and the rest of them do what’s right for the party and the country, or for the ratings and the bottom line? Why do I not want to know the answer to that question?
Much will hinge on what happens in 2014, in the coming crisis negotiations and then in the elections. If Cruz overreaches in January, they’ll polish him off. He is presumably smart enough to know that he’s on probation. So my guess is that as the January deadline approaches, Eddie Haskell will start bringing the teacher some apples. He’ll behave. Oh, he’ll mis-behave just enough to signal to the peanut gallery that he’s still Eddie Haskell; the world’s Eddie Haskells can’t help themselves. But he’ll keep it in line. And if he’s very smart, he’ll do those little, sugary things that senators value so much—the hand-written note when the wife’s checked into the hospital, that sort of thing.
He’ll spend the rest of 2014 guiding the Tea Party like Columbus on the Santa Maria. Rand Paul will be back there on the Niña, and farther back, Marco Rubio on the Pinta, straining to catch enough wind to keep up. But everyone will know who’s holding the compass.
The elections will be crucial. If the GOP loses control of the House because of perceived Tea Party looniness, Cruz will be blamed and held accountable. As for the Senate, it’ll be just slightly more nuanced. We’re seeing now that all these Tea Party people are going to challenge establishment Republicans. If some of them win their primaries but lose the general to a Democrat—if, say, Nancy Mace, the Citadel grad, beats Lindsey Graham but then loses in the general, giving South Carolina its first non-racist Democratic senator since Fritz Hollings, who’s probably the only non-racist Democratic senator the state has ever had—Cruz will, again, be blamed and held accountable. But say Mace wins, and a few others do too, even if the GOP doesn’t take control of the Senate. And say the Republicans hold the House. That’s a slightly ambiguous result. But any ambiguous result is easy for a demagogue to spin into a great victory. It’s precisely the kind of thing demagogues do best.
If the results a year from now don’t give the establishment the excuse it needs to bury him, Cruz will be off to the races. And then, Armageddon will come. To whom will the establishment hand the silver cross and vial of holy water? Chris Christie? Jeb Bush? South Dakota Senator John Thune, who offends no one (not yet, anyway) and who quietly voted for the deal to reopen the government and avoid default?
This will be a war. And it just might be a war the extremists will win. Establishments have power and money, and it is true that Republican voters have typically, after all the noise, gone in the establishment direction (McCain, Romney). But the insurgents have been advancing the beachhead, and unless they’re pushed back once and for all, it’s only a matter of time. But an epic battle looms. I cry for what these maniacs are doing to my country, but at the same time I plan on enjoying every minute of it.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 18, 2013