Republicans trapped in media jail on their own
The GOP media echo chamber has become a prison cell the party cannot get out of.
California’s recall election last week made it clear, as the governor. Gavin NewsomGavin Newsom Democrats looks at vaccination mandates ahead of midterm Republicans caught in California recall trap Two of Newsom’s four children test positive for COVID-19 PLUS (D) retained his office during a landslide, 64% to 36%.
His margin of victory was hardly won in advance, even in this strongly blue state. Polls in early summer showed a nearly 50-50 split among likely recall voters. The pandemic, homelessness, years of drought and record forest fires have left people tired. Democrats were not motivated to vote.
But then came candidate Larry Elder, a typically unrestricted right-wing radio host. Elder ticked all the MAGA boxes for the Republican base: he idolized Trump and vilified mask warrants, vaccine warrants, environmental regulations, family leave, and minimum wage.
Inside the echo chamber, Elder was the answer.
Inside the echo chamber, he was a true radio star of national significance. He has been seen on Newsmax, OAN and Fox News – where he has made 52 appearances so far this year. And he regularly attacked the mainstream media as a real source of polarization. Rob Stutzman, a veteran Republican strategist based in Sacramento, called him “an almost perfect caricature of a MAGA candidate.”
But outside the echo chamber – across those self-made prison walls, away from the informative GOP solitary confinement – the world was very different.
Outside the echo chamber, eight in ten people were in favor of wearing the mask and 70% of the population had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. In exit polls after the recall vote, 70% said the governor’s pandemic control measures were not unduly strict; 54% saw Newsom as someone in touch with their general concerns.
After weeks of Elder’s Trump statements – and a Newsom campaign that made voters hear about it – 55% of exit polls said they would be ‘worried’ or ‘scared If the governor was removed.
Sixty-two percent rated the Republican Party unfavorably.
It was a staggering loss in a recall election that cost the state $ 276 million. The Republican base has been shaken: their echo chamber of confidence has somehow been mistaken. Elder’s supporters booed and shouted even as he urged them in his concession speech to be “gracious in defeat.”
But this Republican base has only themselves to blame.
Their frustration with the system is, in many ways, understandable. California no longer has a competitive Republican Party; conservatives – especially in rural areas – feel little in Sacramento speaks for themselves. Only 24.1 percent of voters here are registered Republicans; in 2003, that number was 35 percent. Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, was once home to country club Republicans with national influence. Ronald Reagan called it the place “where good Republicans go before they die.” Joe bidenJoe BidenSunday Shows Sneak Peek: Coronavirus Dominates As Country Battles Delta Variant Has President Biden instituted a vaccine mandate for only half of the country’s teachers? Democrats look at vaccine mandates ahead of midterm MORE won Orange County in 2020, and this week he voted to retain Newsom, 53% to 47%.
In response to this kind of urgent dilemma, political parties normally broaden their base and build larger tents. The recall election gave Republicans a chance to start this change.
Some GOP candidates, like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, have tried the centrist approach – but have been unable to penetrate the right-wing media bubble.
MAGA cable news, radio shows, websites, blogs and newsletters have ignored Faulconer. A former Trump aide even encouraged him to give up so a “strong conservative” could step in.
Faulconer wound up with 8.6 percent of the vote. Given the choice between a large tent or the familiar echo chamber, the GOP voted here to lock themselves inside and throw away the key.
A loss of this magnitude could give Republicans another opening to rethink, revise and modify – but that door can also be closed. Larry Elder won’t step aside: he’s now widely regarded as California’s GOP leader and has been hinting strongly that he will run for governor again next year, when Newsom’s regular four-year term ends. And Elder is a great guest on cable news.
Ultimately, there may be no escape from the right-wing media herd mentality that has isolated the California GOP. Even after last week, the Republican base – captivated by the loudest voices – will likely continue to push back on these rare attempts at moderation and bridge building.
Instead, the base will build the walls of its information prison ever higher, blocking out the sun.
Eventually, the party will be trapped in the shadows – but will undoubtedly call it light.
Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and reporter, and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was news director for NBC, writer-producer for “Dateline NBC” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on twitter @ ironworker1.