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“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

October 15, 2014 - Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , ,

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