Rush Limbaugh may have set the stage for talk radio’s latest effort to prop up Donald Trump amid fears his popularity may be waning.
What is different this time is the “conservative” media’s use of Dr. Ben Carson as a foil to damage fellow candidate, Carly Fiorina’s reputation.
Call it a “head fake”. Defend Carson’s doubling down on concerns over a Muslim president by pointing out that Fiorina is “trashing” Carson for expressing such views. Limbaugh spent his second hour on Tuesday (9/22/15) taking Fiorina to task using Fortune Magazine claims to bolster his case that she engage in unethical business practices during her tenure at Lucent Technologies. He used a caller discussing Fiorina as a lead-in to sound from Jimmy Fallon in which Fiorina said, “He’s wrong…” and explaining that the constitution prohibits a religious test for office. Limbaugh stated there is no such provision in the constitution and defended Carson’s assertion using the term “Sharia law”, which never appeared in Carson’s original comments at the beginning of this manufactured controversy. That Limbaugh, who comes from a family of lawyers is unaware of Article 6 is hard to believe. That he would claim there is no constitutional restriction of a religious test in order to discredit Fiorina’s point is beneath him.
Nevertheless, Carson’s failure to initially specify that he meant Sharia law or that he meant “any religion, even a Christian” who opposed American principles gave Trump’s special teams an opportunity to take the field and punt on his behalf. How does that work? Simply defend Carson’s “political incorrectness” by showing he’s “just as strong as Trump”. Make no mistake, Carson is not talk radio’s “Plan B”. He is merely a way to highlight what they see as a Trump strength while using Carson’s steadfast defense of his views as a way to begin the process of taking out Fiorina. The whole call was not about Carson, but rather a way to bring up the Left’s talking points about Fiorina’s career. For Limbaugh, Hannity, et. al., the enemy is not the Left as long as liberal media is doing their dirty work. Fiorina and Carson are both skilled at making their own case. Neither needs to be defended by friendly media. What is going on here is an inexplicable attack on conservative principles by the very people who built their lucrative careers on the backs of listeners who trust them to both be objective and faithful to the movement. Talk radio now, as in 2008 and 2012 are not honest participants in the dialogue about the nature and future of conservatism. If Trump does not succeed, the talkers will move on to the establishment candidate as they have since Bob Dole.
Hanity, for example is defending Ben Carson’s “no Muslim for president” comments by making it a point to mention “Sharia law” every time he brings up Carson’s stated position. While that was clearly Carson’s intent — at least after he clarified himself — it is not what he actually said. Fiorina and other GOP candidates responded to media questions based on what was actually said; they had no obligation to read Dr. Carson’s mind. This is not to say Carson’s sincerely held views are unacceptable to most conservatives. Rather, it is simply a matter of accurately covering each candidate’s statements, resume and the like.
Many people see Carson’s public statements as naive. When you listen to him carefully and give him freedom to respond to follow-ups, it is clear he is knowledgeable, if not nuanced. As I stated earlier, he does not need to be defended. But talk radio seems to see a potential hole in their strategy; Ben Carson needs to hang on long enough for Fiorina to be taken out. Then we’ll see how loyal talkers are when it becomes a Trump vs. Carson race for the conservative vote. That won’t happen, but that doesn’t mean powerful opinion leaders won’t make the effort.
When opinion leaders are clearly “in the tank” for someone who has been an opponent of conservative values at the expense of others who are more deserving of honest coverage, one has to wonder what motivates them. All of these players are very wealthy and no amount of financial incentive from Trump could win such loyalty. We have speculated since the 2008 cycle that talk radio has been in bed with the establishment all along. Clearly, we were wrong. But what is driving these former spokesmen for movement conservatism to abandon the cause remains a mystery.