Mic Highlights The “Sinister Extremists” Ted Cruz Helped Mainstream

Mic reporter Tom McKay explained that, while Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) “presidential ambitions died” in May, his “large, well-funded and well-connected conservative network” made up of “sinister extremists,” conservative talk radio hosts, and “far-right think tank” leaders will survive long after his presidential bid.

Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid gained early support from talk radio hosts like Steve Deace and Michael Berry, each who have long records of espousing extremist, bigoted rhetoric. Deace has accused Democrats of leading a “war on whites” and warned of an army of jihadists coming to take over America to argue for a higher white birth rate. Berry has a record of racially charged rhetoric, including describing black people as “jungle animals,” referring to protesting University of Missouri football players as “thugs,” and mocking victims of Chicago gun violence. As Media Matters’ Angelo Carusone explained, “Powerful media hosts like Deace used their ties with the [Cruz] campaign ‘to advance their own cache and appeal to their audiences and reinforce their own relevancy.’”

The May 26 Mic article highlighted these figures and explained that the rise of Cruz’s network “will likely linger long after the initial rush has faded.” The article also pointed out that “Cruz was part of a ‘cumulative effect’ driving other candidates, including Trump, to the right,” which has allowed Trump’s campaign to have “‘really inspired proper right wing extremists … to climb out from under the political rocks in which they have been hiding.’”  

From the May 26 Mic piece:                

Unlike other Republican contenders this year, Cruz busied himself building a large, well-funded, and well-connected conservative network. Some of these boosters and advisers will go on to play a role in the Trump campaign, while others may become future standard-bearers of the ideological conservative movement.

Cruz “put a lot of emphasis in sort of delegating the organizing to the media figures and to the leaders within those spaces,” said Angelo Carusone, executive vice president of progressive media watchdog Media Matters. “People like [radio hosts] Steve Deace in Iowa and Michael Berry in Texas, Glenn Beck, these are people that one, he's pumped a fairly large amount of money into advertising his programming ... they're serving as a validator for him and they're doing their very best to convert their audiences.”

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Michael Berry is one of the most important figures in talk radio in Houston, Texas, where he uses his platform to spread racially charged opinions on young black kids who have run-ins with the police ( “jungle animals” ), Islamic culture ( “forced genital mutilation” ) and Black Lives Matter (a “pro-thug narrative” ). One of the regularly occurring segments of his show is appearances from a blackface performer using the stage name Shirley Q. Liquor, whose act has been repeatedly protested as racist.

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“The more candidates tout him as important (as Cruz does regularly), the more his language becomes commonplace and becomes part of what is considered acceptable on the right,” wrote Media Matters Associate Research Director Sal Colleluori in an email to Mic. “This is of extreme value to Cruz specifically, but even Trump. The more we mainstream anti-immigrant and anti-African-American language, the more their base of support is used to hearing — and sympathizing with — these extreme notions.”

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Steve Deace, a nationally syndicated radio host originally based out of Iowa, boasts an audience of tens of thousands of listeners. They tune in to hear the self-declared alpha male rant about the “manginas” in charge of today's GOP, suggest that a “whole generation of women [is] on the lookout for some alpha males” and cast Republican leadership's mission as “pass Obama's agenda, lie to conservatives, defraud voters and total capitulation.”

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Deace's influence in Iowa helped Cruz obtain a crucial victory in the state — which plays a crucial role in shaping media perceptions of viability due to its early primary dates — by helping mobilize a small but vocal vanguard of far-right activists in conjunction with other organizers like U.S. Rep. Steve King and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. According to the Des Moines Register, Deace was a key leader of a team of 12,000 volunteers who made 25,000 calls and 2,000 home visits daily in the days leading to the vote. He has simultaneously used his prominence to land key appearances on national media, where he tones down the rhetoric to make him and Cruz seem more reasonable.

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According to Matthew Feldman, a professor of fascist ideology at Teesside University, Cruz was part of a “cumulative effect” driving other candidates, including Trump, to the right.

“In most people's lifetimes there hasn't been a frontrunning candidate who has pushed so many far-right buttons as Trump, or for that matter, Ted Cruz,” Feldman wrote. “But it is only Trump's campaign that has really inspired proper right wing extremists, who have found the broken taboos around race, political violence and conspiracy theory a real boon for their brand of revolutionary politics. It is the first time in more than a generation they have been able to climb out from under the political rocks in which they have been hiding.”