Politico highlighted the “tension inside conservative media” over the rivalry between Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and explained that the tension has some figures “straddl[ing] the divide” in order to gin up ratings, drive candidates further to the right, and deny “airtime to the more moderate contenders they so disdain.”
Prominent media figures have noted that Trump and Cruz have each gained popularity among Republican voters and conservative media figures by "espousing orthodox conservative views" and echoing conservative talk radio falsehoods. The two candidates have enjoyed symbiotic relationships with conservative media, wherein they have praised them for positive coverage of their campaigns, and for taking GOP messaging “directly to the people.” Conservative media have, in return, defended both Trump and Cruz from public backlash in the wake of their extreme statements and policy positions. But the rivalry between the two candidates began to create a schism within conservative media when National Review and 22 conservative media figures released an anti-Trump article, kicking off a GOP civil war.
This tension was highlighted in a January 25 Politico article, by Eli Stokols and Hadas Gold, who detailed how Trump's “brand of politics has increasingly become aligned with the conservative radio talkers and bloggers” and has thus complicated Cruz's courtship of right-wing media. Stokols and Gold explained that the rivalry is exacerbated within right-wing media because although Trump has committed “transgressions with conservative orthodoxy,” he drives ratings and his hardline positions push other GOP candidates “further to the right.” Because Trump's “rhetoric and stated policy positions appeal to so many conservative listeners and readers that covering them generates ratings gold,” the article explained, conservative talk radio hosts have been carefully “straddl[ing] the divide”:
Ted Cruz worked early and hard to cultivate the support of the most important voices in conservative talk radio and on the web and was rewarded with an army of defenders who have for nearly a year inoculated him from criticism, advanced his message and bashed his rivals on a daily basis.
No more. With just days to go before the Iowa caucuses, Cruz's wires into conservative media have gotten crossed by Donald Trump.
While opinion-makers on the right found it easy to dismiss Cruz's earlier rivals - from Marco Rubio and Rand Paul to Jeb Bush - Trump has proved a tougher foil. That's partly because his rhetoric and stated policy positions appeal to so many conservative listeners and readers that coverage generates ratings gold.
But it's also because leading voices in conservative media recognize, and appreciate, that it has been Trump, even more than Cruz, who has driven the 2016 field to the right.
But while Levin, Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck, among others, all came to Cruz's defense during the height of the “birther” attacks, the Cruz campaign now sees some of the leading figures in talk radio helping build a bulwark against Trump. Trump's brand of politics has increasingly become aligned with the conservative radio talkers and bloggers, who have expanded their audiences by provoking grassroots activists, amplifying hardline positions and pushing Republicans further and further to the right.
Suddenly, some of Cruz's consistent supporters in the right-wing media are hedging their bets. Limbaugh, for example, has carefully straddled the divide; while giving his full-throated support to Cruz, Limbaugh has praised Trump's tactics, noting that, to his broad base of support, the tycoon represents “opportunity,” “newness” and the "breaking out of whatever it is that's got us shackled." Laura Ingraham, a staunch Cruz defender, also initially validated Trump's questioning of the Texas senator's U.S. citizenship before changing her mind and stating that the question has been resolved. But just days ago, Ingraham pointed out to her listeners Cruz's flip flops on free trade and immigration reform.