Media Matters called this long ago when we announced that under the hyper-partisan stewardship of Roger Ailes, Fox News had ceased to function as a news organization and instead had morphed into a purely political entity. Untethered in the age of Obama, Fox News swiftly cut any remaining ties it had with traditional journalism, pushed aside the Republican National Committee, and hurtled head-long into the business of pure attack politics, with the ultimate goal being to retake the White House.
It became Fox News, the Opposition Party. And Roger Ailes, GOP kingmaker. Or so that was the plan.
Now, as Republicans sputter in their attempt to find viable candidates to challenge Obama next year, we're discovering Ailes is an incompetent kingmaker (see, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump), and that unhinged Fox News is completely wrong for the role of the Opposition Party.
Ailes might know cable television and how to foment a constant state of on-the-air panic about Democrats. But his efforts to lead a 2012 electoral charge against Obama appear to be faltering, with election observers suggesting the Republican field of candidates for next year's primary season is embarrassingly thin, as more and more would-be opponents beg off the challenge of taking on Obama.
We'll leave the specifics of 2012 campaign and the candidates to the prognosticators. What's worth noting now, though, is the extraordinary damage Ailes has done to Republican chances next year, and how under his leadership, the conservative movement has chased itself down a very narrow rabbit's hole that only feral Obama-haters can begin to make sense of.
New York magazine nicely captured the state of affairs with this cover line for its recent issue, which featured an Ailes profile:
Fox News Made a Circus Out of the Republican Party. And Boy, Does Roger Ailes Regret It Now
It's become clear that Fox News' radical brand of anti-Obama programming cannot sustain a political movement that needs to attract independent voters for a national campaign. There's no evidence, for instance, that middle-of-the-road voters think Obama "virtually spat in the face" of Israel last week, or that he is a socialist, or a Nazi or a racist.
In other words, they're not nuts.
Most voters didn't view the passage of health care reform as the "very hour" that America turned "completely towards socialism." They don't think Obama was born in Kenya, that his agenda is driven by "reparations" (in order to "settle old racial scores"), or that opposing the president today is the last, best way to avoid "another Holocaust."
All that Obama trash is the type of garbage-in/garbage-out content that Fox News force feeds its loyal viewers who endlessly diet on the Obama-hating buffet. And yes, the echo chamber is in full effect and the daily, hysterical claims about the president that get repeated on right-wing talk radio and the far-right blogosphere convince Fox News acolytes that they're documenting what a political monster Obama is.
But in truth, Obama dead-enders -- the ones who lashed out at the President of the United States when he announced the killing of America's Most Wanted criminal -- have simply been constructing a parallel universe to inhabit.
As prominent neoconservative, and Iraq War supporter, Jeffery Goldberg noted in The Atlantic, following the freakout last week regarding the president's speech about peace prospects in the Middle East, the right-wing discussion about Obama in this country has become "unmoored from reality." (Note: Goldberg was being kind.)
And nobody has done more to purposefully unmoor that discussion than Roger Ailes. And now for Republicans trying to win a election in 2012, nobody deserves more blame for unmooring that discussion than Roger Ailes. Because there's little evidence a political party can pursue a national campaign premised on the kind of chronic falsehoods and nonsense that Fox News traffics in on a daily basis. (Remember, the 2010 midterm elections were local votes, not a national one.)
Ailes has ratcheted up the get-Obama rhetoric to such an extreme, not-believable level, and Fox News has become so central to the national identify of the conservative moment and the Republican Party, that it may be impossible for GOP candidates (at least the ones hoping to appear credible to mainstream voters) to completely distance themselves from the carnival of rage and fury that Ailes promotes.
And that's where Ailes' grand, immodest plan of playing the dual of cable TV maven and GOP kingmaker has come undone. That's where Ailes has discovered that instead of dovetailing, the roles are at odds as the cable carnival barker remains committed to peddling Obama hysteria, while the kingmaker looks for a way to get more votes than the other side. Right now in that contest, the carnival barker is winning in a rout.
From New York's Gabriel Sherman:
So it must have been disturbing to Ailes when the wheels started to come off Fox's presidential-circus caravan.
All he had to do was watch Fox's May 5 debate in South Carolina to see what a mess the field was—a mess partly created by the loudmouths he'd given airtime to and a tea party he'd nurtured.
Loudmouths, indeed. And we've already seen how that patented Fox News rage and fury doesn't match reality; not just factually but even rhetorically. For instance, the running assumption on Fox News for two years has been that Obama is leading an historic, sinister attack on our freedoms and that he won't stop until the Constitution has been shredded and our borders surrendered. Obama, as Rush Limbaugh often stresses, represents "a threat to the nation" because the president has put America "under purposeful assault" from within.
But honestly, if Obama really were a demon purposefully assaulting America, wouldn't there be a line of prominent Republicans queued up around the block anxious and willing to try to end Obama's White House reign? Wouldn't there be an embarrassment of A-list riches on the GOP campaign trail? Instead, an entire lineup of would-be candidates has spent the winter and spring politely declining to run; an obvious tip-off that the Fox News, right-wing portrait of Obama doesn't hold water.
It seems clear Roger Ailes today wants to run Fox News and serve as the GOP kingmaker. But it's not working, and he can't possibly succeed at both, which means Ailes will likely guide Fox News to continued ratings success, while driving the Republican Party's presidential hopes right into the ditch.