The New York Times's Nicholas Kristof explained how conservative media is partially responsible for the success of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, noting that the conservative media “echo chamber” is responsible for “breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant.”
Trump's prominence in the right-wing media landscape has been rising since Fox News promoted his birther theory about President Obama in 2011. Since then, Trump has been a regular fixture on Fox News, with the network giving him almost $30 million in free airtime -- more than double any other candidate. Likewise, talk radio hosts including Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity have hyped Trump's presidential bid since the summer. Limbaugh has praised Trump for his “ability to illuminate” issues, while Hannity has characterized him as “impressive and refreshing.” And it's not only talk radio: conservative pundits have frequently championed Trump's offensive rhetoric.
In his February 11 article, Kristof explained how conservative media has capitalized on the “Pandora's box .... of fear and resentment” opened by the Republican party, creating an “echo chamber” that has tugged the party to the right by “breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant.” Kristof concluded that Trump -- “an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe” -- is “the consequence” of the “politics of resentment” within the Republican party:
So how did we get to this stage where the leading Republican candidate is loathed by the Republican establishment?
In part, I think, Republican leaders brought this on themselves. Over the decades they pried open a Pandora's box, a toxic politics of fear and resentment, sometimes brewed with a tinge of racial animus, and they could never satisfy the unrealistic expectations that they nurtured among supporters.
Political nastiness and conspiracy theories were amplified by right-wing talk radio, television and websites -- and, yes, there are left-wing versions as well, but they are much less influential. Democrats often felt disadvantaged by the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but in retrospect Limbaugh and Fox created a conservative echo chamber that hurt the Republican Party by tugging it to the right and sometimes breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant.
A poll released in September found that Republicans were more likely to think that Obama was born abroad than that Ted Cruz was. That poll found that Trump supporters believed by nearly a three-to-one ratio that Obama was born overseas.
The Republican establishment profited from the insinuations that Obama is a Muslim, that he's anti-American, that his health care plan would lead to “death panels.” Rick Perry has described Trump as a “cancer on conservatism” and said his movement is “a toxic mix of demagoguery and meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition” -- indeed, but it was a mix that too many Republican leaders accepted as long as it worked for them.
This echo chamber deluded its believers to the point that it sometimes apparently killed them. During the 2009-10 flu pandemic, right-wing broadcasters like Limbaugh and Glenn Beck denounced the call for flu shots, apparently seeing it as a nefarious Obama plot.
So today the leading candidate for president in the party of Lincoln is an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe. And he's not a conservative at heart, just a pandering opportunist.
Donald Trump is the consequence of irresponsible politicking by Republican leaders, the culmination of decades of cultivating unrealistic expectations within the politics of resentment. It's good to see leading Republicans standing up to him today, but the situation recalls the Chinese saying, qi hu nan xia -- when you're riding a tiger, the hard part is getting off.