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Paul Hayden

Talk Radio Fails Conservatives

February 11, 2008

Our book, "The Death of Talk Radio?" warned about the threat posed by liberals trying to pass into law the so-called Fairness Doctrine. Little did we know that its viability would be in jeopardy from conservatives upset over major figures in talk radio playing favorites in the Republican presidential race. The conservative talk-radio assault on John McCain and Mike Huckabee has backfired in a big way.

Supporters of Huckabee are so angry that they have launched a "Send it Back" campaign, asking people who have copies of books by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to send them back to their authors. They're angry that Limbaugh and Hannity were trashing Huckabee on the air. Limbaugh and Hannity were joined by Laura Ingraham in trying to rally their listeners around Mitt Romney. The ploy failed. Romney won in seven contests on Super Tuesday but failed to win either California, where he expected to win, or any Southern state.

The "Send it Back" campaign also applies to Ann Coulter, who attacked Huckabee as the "Republican Jimmy Carter." Coulter, who has achieved notoriety for making personal attacks and writing books blasting Democrats, also said that McCain was so unacceptable that she would vote and campaign for Hillary Clinton if the Arizona senator was the Republican presidential nominee.

The phenomenon known as "Huck's Army" has emerged as a major force in the campaign and helps account for his success. On Super Tuesday, he made a surprisingly strong showing by winning the Southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia.           

"A vote for Huck is a vote for McCain," said Limbaugh, trying to warn conservatives to stay away from the former Arkansas governor. But that's not how Huckabee's supporters saw it. They voted for Huckabee because they saw him as the superior conservative candidate.

Tim Jones of the Chicago Tribune accurately observed that Super Tuesday was a test of whether the "thunder on the political right," especially from talk radio, would carry the day. Jones noted that Limbaugh's campaign against McCain had been having "little apparent effect." Now the same can be said of his campaign against Huckabee.

In a February 2 dispatch, the Boston Globe reported that Mitt Romney was "pushing hard against John McCain on conservative talk radio." The story added, "The Romney campaign is clearly hoping to feed the fires of anti-McCain sentiment that seems to be growing hotter by the day on right-wing talk-radio stations across the country."

But one has to conclude that the campaign largely failed. This suggests that talk radio is not as influential as some people seem to think.

Michael Medved, himself a conservative talk-radio host, said that he had resisted the "relentless war" being waged by the "reigning Titans of Talk" against McCain and Huckabee. "The grand pooh-bahs of the conservative elite have harmed their own credibility more than they have damaged the candidates," he asserted. That appears to be the case.

A self-described conservative supporter of John McCain responded to this Medved column by saying, "You nailed it, Michael. The days of pundits and politicians picking presidential nominees are over. The people are actually thinking for themselves for a change..."

Could it be that the liberal media are losing their influence and that the conservative media are losing theirs? That's the question we posed back in a January 4 column. That was at a time when Limbaugh was already on the defensive for attacking Huckabee, the big winner in the Republican Iowa Caucuses, and Fox News was under fire for excluding Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter from a presidential debate.

Conservative talk radio may have just waited too long to rally around Romney as the conservative alternative to McCain and Huckabee. They may have run out of time to influence the contest. But they only have themselves to blame.

Hannity, one of the most popular conservative radio hosts, had been an early and major booster of Rudy Giuliani, who is even more liberal than McCain, and actually spoke at one of Giuliani's fundraisers. This kind of "conservative talk" may have confused conservatives, at least in his listening audience.

It is highly ironic that Hannity now attacks McCain as too liberal when McCain has gotten the endorsement of Giuliani, who had been given so much favorable attention on Hannity's radio program and Fox News TV show. If McCain is too liberal to be considered as a Republican presidential candidate, why wasn't Giuliani rejected out of hand? He is far more liberal than McCain, especially on social issues. Could it have had something to do with Fox News chief Roger Ailes' personal and political ties to Giuliani? One analysis found that Giuliani was getting a disproportionate amount of air time on the Fox News Channel. He was getting more air time, for example, than Romney.

Needless to say, Giuliani's collapse as a Republican candidate also demonstrates our thesis¯that conservative media do not have the influence they think they have. In the end, conservatives will make their own decisions based on information from a variety of different sources.

This is one of the realities of the Ron Paul-for-president movement. He continues to get a significant percentage of the vote, especially among young people. He is not a favorite of the liberal or conservative media but doesn't seek their approval in any case.

Paul's network of supporters, assembled through new and alternative media, has resulted in millions of dollars of contributions, far surpassing the other Republican presidential candidates in the last quarter of 2007, which will keep him going into the Republican convention. That is another lesson of the Super Tuesday results. The people count. The media do not.

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Copyright ©2008 Cliff Kincaid

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