NYT Correlates Rise of Talk Radio with Decline of GOP Presidential Success
New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall asserts that talk radio is decreasing the Republican Party’s chances of winning a presidential race — even though in the last two election cycles the candidates least favored by talk radio won the GOP nomination.
This advances an argument contrary to that in The Right Frequency.
In a column this week, Edsall cites a Mark Rozell and Paul Goldman essay contending Republicans were more successful when the mainstream media dominated. The NYT column says:
There is a striking correlation between the rise of conservative talk radio and the difficulties of the Republican Party in presidential elections. In an April Reuters essay, “Right Wing Talk Shows Turned White House Blue,” Mark Rozell, the acting dean of the George Mason University School of Public Policy, and Paul Goldman, a former chairman of Virginia’s Democratic Party, wrote:
Since Rush Limbaugh’s 1992 bestseller “The Way Things Ought to Be,” his conservative talk show politics have dominated G.O.P. presidential discourse — and the Republicans’ White House fortunes have plummeted. But when the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the 10 presidential elections.
The authors continue: “The rise of the conservative-dominated media defines the era when the fortunes of G.O.P. presidential hopefuls dropped to the worst levels since the party’s founding in 1856.”
The Right Frequency makes the opposite argument. While talk radio has been a powerful force in American conservative movement, it is not all powerful. It has influenced GOP primaries in the past but cannot pick the nominee.
Below is a passage from Chapter 1 of The Right Frequency.
In 2008 Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” very likely helped prolong the Democratic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. With John McCain having wrapped up the GOP nomination early, and an apparent Obama nomination, Limbaugh encouraged his listeners to vote in Democratic primaries, changing their party registration if necessary, to cast a vote for Hillary just to keep the contest rolling along, knowing Hillary would cling to any chance of victory. The idea was to create as much division in the Democratic Party a possible and give Republicans a better chance of winning in November 2008. But in the end, Obama won both the nomination and the election.
The view that conservative talk radio is an all powerful, or as former Republican Senator Trent Lott said, “talk radio is running America,” is ridiculously overstated. If that was the case, Obama would have never been elected president. For that matter, John McCain would not have been the GOP nominee in 2008, and the runner up would not have been Mike Huckabee, the two candidates least liked by talk radio hosts.
It is difficult however to deny the influence of talk radio on the political system. Of listeners to the news talk format of radio, 77 percent voted in the 2008 presidential election, according to the 2010 Talk Radio Research Project conducted by Talkers Magazine, which covers the talk radio industry.17 Compare that to 56.8 percent for
the general public. That does not mean Limbaugh, or for that matter Ed Schultz, is the reason certain people vote. It’s probably a nobrainer to say a frequent voter is likely more inclined than a nonvoter to listen to political radio. Still, it is quite likely that the entertainment value of talk radio—a mixture of satire and commentary—
has made ordinary Americans more engaged in politics than they would be if talk radio did not have such a large reach, even if some of those listeners are just tuning in to argue with the host.
Of Limbaugh, the book later says, “Nor has he controlled the Republican nomination process—obvious in the 2008 choice of McCain as the GOP standard bearer. He was no cheerleader for Mitt Romney during the 2012 primary either.”