On super Tuesday, Right-wing radio was the big loser

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Benjamin Armbruster, Center for American Progress/Progress Report

As the 2008 campaign heats up, conservative talk radio is ratcheting up its radical right-wing rhetoric. Last year, hate radio successfully convinced conservative lawmakers to vote against comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, these right-wing hosts have been welcome figures in the White House for the past seven years, invited to exclusive gatherings with President Bush and granted coveted interviews with high-ranking officials. But all that good fortune might be changing. In recent weeks, these talkers have launched a campaign against Republican presidential candidates and any position perceived to be too progressive. But as yesterday's Super Tuesday results showed, hate radio has begun to lose its effectiveness. The American public voted against the wishes of the radical right wing and rejected a third term of the Bush administration.


Keeping undocumented -- and sometimes even legal -- immigrants out of the United States is the top issue for hate radio. Last June, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that "hate radio" had hijacked the political discourse on immigration with "xenophobic, anti-immigrant" rhetoric. That same month, then-Republican senator Trent Lott charged, "Talk radio is ruining America." An adviser to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee piled on late last year, stating, "Rush [Limbaugh] doesn't think for himself." Limbaugh, in particular, has aggressively gone after comprehensive immigration reform, blasting the failed bipartisan McCain-Kennedy bill. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "has stabbed his own party in the back I can't tell you how many times," said Limbaugh. Yet as conservative pundit Bill Kristol noted last night on Fox News, right-wing radio has been unable to convince the public that immigration is the paramount issue. Voters are instead more concerned about an economy teetering on recession. "Can we please stop pretending that immigration is a good issue for Republicans?" wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks last week. "The restrictionist side can't even produce a victory for their man in a Republican primary." Similarly, in last month's Florida primary, 58 percent of Republican voters said they preferred either a path to citizenship or a temporary worker program.


Hate radio is still resisting the scientific consensus that manmade global warming is a real and urgent danger. CNN's right-wing pundit Glenn Beck continues to attack former vice president Al Gore, airing a documentary last year entitled, Exposed: The Climate of Fear. "Al Gore's version of climate change has no longer become science," he said. "It's dogma. And if you question it, you are a heretic." He has repeatedly hosted discredited climate change skeptics to pretend that there are still questions about the cause of global warming. In recent days, Limbaugh has gone after the McCain-Lieberman bill, a modest proposal that sought to limit greenhouse gas emissions. But again, hate radio is on the losing side of this issue. According to a Jan. 2007 Environmental Defense poll, "81 percent of South Carolina's Republican voters believe the United States should reduce carbon dioxide emissions." GOP pollster Frank Luntz has called climate change "the single biggest vulnerability" for conservatives.


The number one issue for Republicans yesterday was the economy, with four in 10 ranking it first. Although 52 percent of Republicans "say the economy is doing well," that number is down from 66 percent last month and 82 percent last June. Hate radio, however, continues to cling to Bush's failed economic policies. "Frankly, folks, I don't find it very conservative -- I don't even find it Republican -- to start talking about wealthy people or hardworking entrepreneurs as somehow the problem, as the enemy that need to be punished," Limbaugh said earlier this week. In particular, he has taken aim at McCain, who voted against Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 because he said they overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy. (McCain now supports making them permanent.) But as NPR correspondent Juan Williams noted this morning, GOP voters appeared dissatisfied with the Bush administration's policies yesterday, and overwhelmingly voted against the wishes of hate radio.


Some members of right-wing radio recognize that they need to change their tactics in order to stay relevant. Michael Medved, who started out by hosting Limbaugh's show, recently wrote, "The big loser in South Carolina was, in fact, talk radio: a medium that has unmistakably collapsed in terms of impact, influence and credibility because of its hysterical and one-dimensional involvement in the GOP nomination fight." The Washington Post wrote this morning that the more moderate positions of some of the GOP candidates will hopefully be able to "save the party from some of its worst and most self-destructive instincts." Harold Meyerson, a Washington Post columnist, called the success of many of the GOP candidates a "direct affront to the Republican strategy devised by Karl Rove."

article originally published at http://www.americanprogressaction.org/progressreport/2008/02/pr20080206.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey