Talk-radio types like Limbaugh taught generations of ambitious Republicans how to talk. Trump taught them what it meant to govern. https://t.co/6PMclcWqyO
— Tim Murphy (@timothypmurphy) June 4, 2021
A purely parasitic organization:
… The Republican Party has long been infused with an irrepressible hustle, what the historian Rick Perlstein calls “mail-order conservatism.” Talk radio and direct mail were not only effective at peddling reactionary politics to voters; they were also perfect vehicles to sell products, such as gold and home-security systems. For decades these conjoined strains of politics, entertainment, and marketing have eroded trust in public institutions and the media and provided a template for self-aggrandizement and enrichment. There is nothing really like this on the left; Infowars and Goop sell the same pills, but Gwyneth Paltrow is not fomenting rebellion…
But Trump’s presidency blew past the old frontiers: The performance of politics became the purpose of it, and the grind of governance became secondary to the responsibilities of posting. It was as if, after years of awkward but largely profitable power-sharing between conservative politicians and conservative media, the Republican Party at last stumbled upon the ultimate efficiency: What if both roles could be played by the same person? Trump once dreamed of spinning a losing presidential bid into his own media entity. During the pandemic, in lieu of crisis management, he turned briefings into a variety show, assembling a rotating cast of characters, and plugging an array of sponsors—MyPillow, Carnival, Pernod Ricard. You would not necessarily get good medical advice, but you would learn that Hanes is a “great consumer cotton products company” that’s being recognized more and more.
There was no issue grave enough to take seriously and no controversy too petty to weigh in on. Anything could be resolved via tweet, precisely because nothing really can; the ephemerality was the point. And a rising generation of politicians learned an important lesson about what conservative voters wanted. If Limbaugh taught them all how to talk, Trump taught them how to govern. His enduring gift was a caucus of content creators…
When Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon representative from Georgia, was stripped of her committee assignments in February by colleagues upset that she had harassed fellow members of Congress and blamed forest fires on the Rothschilds, she greeted the news with relief. “If I was on a committee, I would be wasting my time,” she said. Now she was more free to share videos of her CrossFit workouts with the hashtag #FireFauci. Not that showing up for committee hearings necessarily means you’re there to work. Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, who like Cawthorn and Greene spent her first weeks on the job scaring the shit out of her co-workers, recently hijacked a virtual committee hearing by posing like John Wick in front of a shrine of firearms in her living room. (“Who says this is storage?” she responded to critics. “These are ready for use.”)
Cawthorn, Greene, and Boebert were all members of the National Republican Campaign Committee’s “Young Guns” program, which takes its name from an earlier trio of House Republicans—one of whom, Paul Ryan, went on to become a vice presidential nominee and speaker of the House and unite the party behind a vision of budget austerity. There is surely some sort of ideology at work here, too, but it’s more Jake Paul than Paul Ryan; they are treating the Capitol like their own hype house, using the stature of their office for clout.
These younger, gunnier guns are taking cues from their elders. Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a content farm of a congressman who has filmed not one but two Avengers-style videos in which the ex–Navy SEAL parachutes out of airplanes to fight Democrats, also hosts a podcast. So does Devin Nunes. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has a podcast called Hot Takes. Before he became publicly embroiled in a federal sex-trafficking investigation (“If you aren’t making news, you aren’t governing,” Gaetz once said), he was considering retiring to take a job at the conservative cable channel Newsmax. In February, more than a dozen House Republicans—including Gaetz and Nunes—skipped work to speak at CPAC with Cruz. They took advantage of a covid-era policy that let members vote by proxy in medical emergencies; to them, promoting their brands is the job…
… In April, Marco Rubio called on the government to treat companies that pollute “our culture” just as harshly as it treats companies that pollute our water—sort of like an Environmental Protection Agency for tweets. Cruz, himself accused of poisoning the discourse by John Boehner, polled his hive on whether he should shoot the former speaker of the House’s new book with a machine gun. But none of the Republicans vying for Trump’s role have embraced the new posting reality as fluidly as DeSantis. In May, not long after guaranteeing Florida politicians the right to shitpost, DeSantis scored his biggest coup yet: passage of a bill to roll back voting access in the state, fueled by Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. When it came time to sign it, local reporters were stopped at the door—only a crew from Fox and Friends got in. DeSantis had turned an attack on fundamental rights into a live television event. Supporters of the ex-president stood behind him, cheering on cue, as the governor bantered with the hosts via satellite. Then he picked up a blue Sharpie, scrawled his name, and held up the embossed legislation for the cameras….