Is that a clickbaity title? It’s not really meant to be. Rather, it’s the sort of half-baked theory that winds up in this sideblog, perhaps to become fully-baked someday.
I’m using the term “Righty media” here because it means to encompass both traditionally conservative media, which tends to be print media, as well as the more populist, small-c cultural conservative fare that we tend to associate with broadcast media like talk radio and Fox News. That’s not to say that there’s a rigid print/broadcast dichotomy; it’s merely a proxy for a division I’ll be discussing here.
The other division at play — at least in theory — is the division between a partisan media and an ideological media. That division is an overlay that does not neatly map onto the populist/conservative division.
This theory that I have — that is to say, which is mine — is that Righty media tends to be partisan when the GOP holds the White House, but ideological when it does not, which has bad consequences for conservatism.
This may be a problem that arises from the Right’s acquiescence over the decades to the progressive idea of the Imperial Presidency. Conservatism has, from time to time (when a Republican is President), metabolized that progressive idea by historical reference to the unitary executive, and of energy in the executive. Whatever the origin, it seemingly has influenced how Righty media assesses the government.
I would argue that when the GOP holds the White House, Righty media takes a more partisan stance, one that is somewhat forgiving of the executive. This forgiveness may be of policy failures, or of compromises made domestically with Democrats or in foreign policy.
OTOH, when the GOP holds only the Congress, Righty media takes a more ideological stance. This may be the result of feeling more threatened under Democrat presidencies. Or it may be that Congress as a collective institution does not command the loyalty that a Presidency does.
I would argue this phenomenon is more prevalent on the broadcast/populist axis, based on the old adage I have referenced several times before: that “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; [and] small minds discuss people.” The broader your mass audience is, the more it will focus on people, and it is far easier to focus on one than the group. The modern Imperial Presidency is far better suited to television and other mass media than the tedium of policy and legislating.
Whatever the root of the phenomenon, it seemingly intensified during the Great Recession and the Obama administration. In 2010, the reaction was a GOP wave election sweeping the GOP back into control of Congress. The rise of the Tea Party was a big part of this narrative. The Tea Party tended to be viewed — particularly on the Right — as a vehicle of True Conservatives, when in retrospect, the populist component (esp. the “keep the government’s hands off our Medicare” component) was just as important.
This partial misperception resulted in an almost monolithic, adversarial relationship between Righty media and the GOP Congress. Granted, I will always fault the GOP Congress for not trying harder to manage its factions better.
But that moment was one at which it became increasingly common for the Righty media to fuel outrage not only at the Obama administration, but also at the GOP Congress, and to dismiss the latter’s accomplishments. This was more true of the broadcast side, but it was also a moment where even Peggy Noonan would point to voter frustration over the bad deals GOPers had cut for years (a theme Trump would exploit to great effect five years later).
The more traditional conservative outlets would offer less dramatic, more balanced criticisms of the GOP Congress, but the tone would on balance be critical. After all, these institutions see their mission (correctly) as carrying the banner for conservatism, not the GOP.
What this means, however, is that when the GOP does not hold the White House, almost no one in Righty media consistently makes the partisan case for the GOP Congress, a problem compounded by leadership’s failures in managing their caucuses or coalition. And this, I would argue, is a substantial part of How You Got Trump.
I am not arguing that conservatives should become flacks for the GOP, regardless of whether it holds the White House or does not. I am merely noting that the MSM rarely torches the Democrats in the way Righty media does the GOP Congress and that the asymmetry seems to have contributed to a populist presidency instead of a conservative one.
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