Trump sounds just like a right-wing talk-radio host

Talk radio has President Trump’s back. “Where does it say in the Constitution that if Washington’s establishment doesn’t like the results of a presidential election, they get to do whatever they want to do to overturn them?” asked the broadcast king, Rush Limbaugh, after the House formalized its impeachment inquiry in October. “They have been trying to get rid of Donald Trump under false, lying premises since election night.” Mark Levin claimed that several of the witnesses testifying in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings “exposed themselves as part of a cabal.”

To these radio hosts, Trump’s voters are the ones who are really under attack: “He’s a surrogate for their hatred for us,” said Limbaugh. Given this robust defense, it’s not surprising that Trump regularly retweets or quotes hosts like LimbaughLevin and Laura Ingraham.

But there’s more to these apologetics than the fact that right-wing talk radio hosts agree with the president’s views. Trump sounds just like them. Reality TV may have enshrined his celebrity, but Trump’s tone, his concerns and his willingness to shock people are most at home on the radio waves during rush hour.

He calls the House investigation “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” and a “hoax.” He asserts without evidence that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is “a corrupt politician and a criminal” and that Republicans are dealing with “human scum.”

It’s rants like these — which mimic what millions of conservative Americans consume on the airwaves — that have helped Trump build and cement a durable bond with these voters. This relationship might prove to be the president’s political salvation, propelling him not only past impeachment but maybe even to a second term.

When Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, reporters and analysts of all political stripes dismissed him as a sideshow. Not only did he lack political experience, but he kept saying things that politicians just weren’t allowed to say. One astute observer thought otherwise: Limbaugh. He said he and his producer were “laughing ourselves silly” during Trump’s announcement speech, but he also presciently observed: “This is gonna resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys” — Limbaugh’s term for mainstream journalists — “are gonna pooh-pooh it. They’re gonna relegate it to the carnival characteristics of the campaign and so forth, but it’s gonna resonate, just like [1992 and 1996 presidential candidate Ross] Perot did.”

How did Limbaugh know that Trump’s message would connect? Maybe because a lot of what the candidate said sounded like his show. The most controversial line in Trump’s campaign announcement speech was his assertion that Mexico was sending the United States “rapists” and others who brought drugs and crime with them. This claim horrified many Americans. But later that summer, after Trump was pushed on the point during the first Republican primary debate, Limbaugh defended himarguing: “You know, they try to dump on Trump, demand proof from him that the Mexican government is knowingly sending rapists, murderers and purse snatchers, and this kind of thing. They are! It’s something I know full well. We’ve had the stories. We’ve done them on this program.” And indeed, he had: For more than a decade, Limbaugh had been railing about “violent criminals” that “countries like Mexico” were “unwilling to take back.” To Limbaugh and his audience, Trump was showing a refreshing willingness to tell uncomfortable truths that Republican politicians shy away from because they are afraid of offending liberal sensibilities or being accused of bigotry.

Stylistically, Trump is far more talk-radio host than buttoned-down politician. For instance, he employs snarky nicknames to rip the mainstream media. While Levin bemoans the “Washington Compost” and “MSLSD,” Trump lashes out at the “Failing New York Times,” “Deface the Nation” and “Very Low Ratings” CNN.

The extreme rhetoric Trump uses, especially on immigration, has long been a staple of talk radio (and other conservative media, like Fox News and Breitbart). During the 2007 debate over bipartisan immigration reform, Limbaugh warned that the Senate bill would “fundamentally, and perhaps permanently, alter American society for the worse.” Fellow talker Michael Savage said then-Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (Miss.) was engaged in “gansterism” after Lott compained about talk-radio hosts.

Seven years later, when Republican House Speaker John Boehner revealed his principles for immigration reform, Limbaugh exploded again. To him, the push to admit immigrants who, he claimed, saw the United States as “no place special” was one more part of the left’s campaign to degrade America. Liberals were teaching young Americans in public schools, he said, “not only not to love the country, but they’re being lied to about how the country was founded, why it was founded, who founded it and what its purpose is.” And now, with immigration reform, Limbaugh fumed, the Republican Party wanted “the end of the country as we know it.” While Ingraham admitted in 2014 that she personally liked Boehner, she, too, declared that what he was doing on immigration was “a nightmare. It is political suicide both for the free market and ultimately for small-government conservatism.”

What enraged hosts and listeners the most was that, instead of going to war to defeat such dangerous ideas, establishment Republicans like Boehner were proposing them and trying to punish the few courageous conservatives who dared to fight back. That’s what happened to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) in 2015 when he voted against a procedural rule on a trade bill that would have given President Barack Obama authority to negotiate deals faster. Leadership’s attempt to punish Meadows enraged Levin, who called Boehner a “fool” and a “moron” and demanded: “We need a new Republican Party that’s principled, that’s conservative, that believes in America. Not this crap that goes on inside the Beltway.”

Listening to talk radio, it was clear that many of the people in right-wing audiences wanted this sort of fire from politicians, too. But they had concluded that most Republican politicians were too weak or too interested in currying favor in the clubby world of Washington to adequately battle Democrats. Later that summer, after analysts panned Trump’s performance in the first Republican debate, a Limbaugh caller named Chris epitomized this sentiment, explaining that pundits underestimated the anger of Republicans like him toward their party. These voters felt “almost betrayed.” To Chris, instead of two parties arrayed against each other, “like Republican versus Democrat,” it was “almost like two versions of one party, and the other side is the outsiders that aren’t part of it.”

This belief created fertile ground for Trump: His blunt calls to build a border wall, his willingness to sneer at norms dictating what he couldn’t say or do, and his instinct to punch back at critics thrilled conservatives who had been looking for a pugilistic politician who sounded like their favorite warriors on the airwaves.

And far from becoming more presidential after winning office, Trump has continued to shred norms, sticking to the sort of rhetoric more commonly found on talk radio than in the White House — especially on his Twitter feed. A New York Times analysis last month revealed that between Inauguration Day in 2017 and early this November, Trump had attacked someone or something in 5,889 tweets, while 1,710 tweets promoted conspiracy theories, also common on conservative airwaves. The impeachment inquiry has turned the president’s Twitter feed positively molten: He has labeled Schiff “sick and suggested that the chairman be arrested for treason. He has dubbed Democrats a “disgrace” and questioned their sanity. Like the radio hosts, he has called the impeachment investigation “bulls—,” a “coup” intended to take away people’s “freedoms.” He has demanded that lawmakers such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) be impeached (which isn’t constitutionally possible) and even endorsed the theory that his removal might lead to a “Civil War like fracture.”

To Trump’s base, rather than being unpresidential or dangerous, this rhetoric proves he’s a fighter willing to tell inconvenient truths and take on their burden — just as hosts like Limbaugh, Levin and Ingraham have for decades. Listeners believe that their values — such as a belief in traditional nuclear families and gender roles, patriotism, religiosity and economic freedom from government intrusion — which they see as crucial to American greatness, are under attack. And Trump has the power, the megaphone and the willingness to battle back against a cruel and intolerant liberal establishment that increasingly dominates society, no matter the firestorm he creates. As long as he’s doing that, his base isn’t going to let him be destroyed by the forces seeking to cripple the country they love.

Donald Trump broke the conservative media

“If in 96 days Trump loses this election, I am pointing the finger directly at people like [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and John McCain and John Kasich and Ted Cruz — if he won’t endorse — and Jeb Bush and everybody else that made promises they’re not keeping,” Hannity exclaimed, later threatening to endorse Ryan’s far-right primary challenger.

.. In fact, throughout the election season, it has appeared that Republicans have fielded more attacks from their supposed friends on the right than their political opponents on the left.

.. “The analogy that I think of is somebody who has a baby alligator in their bathtub and they keep feeding it and taking care of it,” said Charlie Sykes, a popular conservative talk show host in Wisconsin. “And it’s really cute when it’s a baby alligator — until it becomes a grown-up alligator and comes out and starts biting you.”

.. three key forces: Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Matt Drudge.

.. Simultaneously, the conservative news media sought to lock in its audience by characterizing the mainstream press as an industry comprising dishonest liberals — something with which the GOP was more than happy to go along.

.. “What it became, essentially, was they were preaching this is the only place you can get news. This is the only place you can trust. All other media outlets are lying to you. So you need to come to us,”

.. To avoid being called a RINO (Republican in name only), a Republican would have to take a hardline conservative position on nearly every issue. If, say, they were to hold conservative positions on 90% of the issues, the conservative press would focus on the 10% where there was disagreement.

.. only one candidate could be conservative enough to support for president: Cruz.

.. But something went awry. The most aggressive right-wing members of the conservative press — the members who constantly lambasted certain Republicans for not toeing the hard-right line on every issue — got behind perhaps the most unlikely candidate of all: Donald Trump.

.. “We have reached the bizarro-world point where, for all intents and purposes, conservatives are RINOs,” said John Ziegler, a nationally syndicated conservative talk show host who called Andrew Breitbart a friend. “There is no place now for real conservatives. We’ve also reached the point, I say, we’ve left the gravitational pull of the rational Earth, where we are now in a situation where facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, logic doesn’t matter.”

.. “You look at someone who a few cycles might have been derided as a right-wing lunatic, now they aren’t conservative enough,”

.. he believed some conservative pundits were “just drawn to Trump’s style more than policies.”

.. “I think that some of them just like Trump and were willing to cut him some slack on his shifting of positions because he’s a fighter and they like that,”

.. Ratings may have also played a role, according to conservative talkers who refused to jump aboard the Trump train.

.. Hannity in particular has faced criticism from some colleagues in the conservative-media sphere who allege he has been too cozy with Trump. Ziegler, the conservative radio host, said there’s “there’s no question” a “monetary element” drove coverage overall.

.. “Hannity is desperate for every ratings crumb on the Fox News Channel. … It’s all about ratings,” he said. “Hannity is not particularly talented, he’s not a smart guy — he used to just be a Republican talking points talk show host who happened to be in the right place at the right time. So he’s very vulnerable at any time.

.. while there are other outlets that belong to the conservative media apparatus, they lack the influence of the hard right. The National Review or Weekly Standard might earn the eyeballs of elites in Washington, but those in the heartland seem to prefer the style of the more aggressive pro-Trump outlets.

.. That has left conservatives who oppose Trump in a tricky position when trying to get their message to supporters. No longer can Ryan or Cruz turn to Hannity for a softball interview. They can’t work with Breitbart or rely on Drudge to help with their legislative agenda.

These Republicans have effectively been exiled from the conservative news media

.. “We have taught conservatives for many years to trust nothing other than what they hear in conservative media. Yet the conservative media has now proven to be untrustworthy.”

 

‘This is tyranny of talk radio hosts, right?’: Limbaugh and Coulter blamed for Trump’s shutdown

‘This is tyranny of talk radio hosts, right?’: Limbaugh and Coulter blamed for Trump’s shutdown

So what caused Trump to flip back? Some have suggested that he bowed to backlash from high-profile conservative pundits — notably Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh — who lambasted the president for appearing to concede on the wall funding.

On his radio show Wednesday, Limbaugh said the president was “getting ready to cave” on getting money for the wall in the budget.

“It’s a textbook example of what the drive-by media calls compromise,” Limbaugh said. “Trump gets nothing, and the Democrats get everything, including control of the House.”

Coulter, during a podcast on the Daily Caller, said Trump’s White House would become “a joke presidency that scammed the American people” if he didn’t build the wall, adding that “he’ll have no legacy whatsoever.” She also wrote a scathing column about the president and launched a flurry of criticisms on Twitter.

Fox News’s Laura Ingraham added Wednesday: “Not funding the wall will go down as one of the worst, worst things to happen to this administration. … Forget Mueller. The wall, the wall, the wall — has to be built.”

On “Fox & Friends,” Steve Doocy chimed in: “If there’s not a shutdown, he’s going to look like a loser.”

.. On Friday morning, “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade said that by pulling troops from Syria, Trump had breathed new life into the Islamic State.

.. “He also is doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing,” Kilmeade said in an interview with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “He said President Obama is the founder of ISIS; he just re-founded ISIS, because they have 30,000 men there and they are already striking back with our would-be evacuation. The president is really on the griddle with this.”

‘He takes no ownership — that’s just Trump’: President eschews responsibility for a shutdown he once craved

The Debrief: An occasional series offering a reporter’s insights

In 2014, Donald Trump sued to have his name taken off a pair of Atlantic City casinos he built three decades earlier that had gone bankrupt.

It took the president just 10 days this month to remove his name from something else he once proudly owned but that wasn’t going great — the federal government shutdown.

After threatening a shutdown for months over border wall funding and vowing last week that he would “take the mantle” of responsibility, Trump tried to shift the blame Friday, just hours before a government funding bill expired at midnight.

“The Democrats now own the shutdown!” he wrote on Twitter.

.. “You own the shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded in a tweet, adding a video clip of his meeting with Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the Oval Office in which the president declared: “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

.. The rhetorical Kabuki offered another example of a president who routinely contradicts himself without regard for the consequences. It also illustrated a chief executive who had brought Washington to the brink of a self-inflicted governance crisis with no clear strategy of how to manage the shutdown — or win it.

“It’s really indicative of how we all know he thinks so in-the-moment and so off-the-cuff that it winds up being dangerous,” said Jack O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, one of the properties from which Trump removed his name.

.. “The whole idea of once things are going wrong, he takes no ownership — that’s just Trump,” O’Donnell added. “He does not own anything that goes wrong. The problem is, he’ll blame anybody. Obviously, it’s the Democrats in this situation.”

.. He alternated between insisting that Mexico would pay for the wall through a convoluted, and false, interpretation of a new trade deal and suggesting that the U.S. military and other agencies would find money in their existing budgets to build the barrier if lawmakers failed to deliver — despite restrictions on federal agencies reprogramming funding.

.. And the president even began rebranding “the wall,” parrying Democratic denunciations of a concrete monolith at the U.S.-Mexico border by announcing that his administration would build “artistically designed steel slats.” That quickly prompted widespread derision.

.. He even appeared to be conspiring with prominent conservative talk show hosts to help guide him. Rush Limbaugh boasted that Trump had “gotten word to me” that he would shut down the government if he failed to win the wall funding.

By Friday, a desperate Trump had seized on the “nuclear option” proposed by congressional border hawks to discard the Senate’s long-standing filibuster rules and approve with a majority vote a House-passed spending plan that included the $5 billion.

.. Aides announced that he had indefinitely postponed his winter vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in south Florida, which was scheduled to begin Friday evening.

.. In the case of his casinos, Trump had divested himself of control of the properties five years before he sued the new owners, having retained a 10 percent stake for the continued use of his moniker.

In his lawsuit to remove his name, Trump asserted that the properties, which twice under his management had faced bankruptcy, had fallen into disrepair and tarnished a Trump brand that “has become synonymous with the highest levels of quality, luxury, prestige and success.”

.. To O’Donnell, the episode was “classic Trump.” The president, he said, had taken ownership of the shutdown in the televised showdown with Schumer and Pelosi to demonstrate his toughness to his base — without a plan to deal with the aftermath.

“That’s really what this was: ‘I’m a tough guy. Don’t think I can’t handle the heat,’ ” O’Donnell said. “The fact is, he can’t handle it.”