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Conservative Media at the Crossroads

A subscriber holds the March issue of the Limbaugh Letter. (Image credit: Mark Ellis)

In one of his recent The First TV installments, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly provided a summary of the challenges facing conservative media specifically, and political media generally, in the wake of last November’s disastrous general election. He did so by providing some numbers.

O’Reilly’s numbers indicate that Fox News is down 30% from February of last year. The decline that was exacerbated by the network’s disingenuous election night coverage has been well-documented, no need to pile-on again. O’Reilly calls it a “huge hit.”

O’Reilly claims that Newsmax, which became a safe harbor for Trumpservatives during the post-election debacles, is down 50% since the furor has subsided. Newsmax stridently rejects the claim as “cherry-picking.” (While noted, the conflicting claims are not materially germane to this piece. Nobody denies some fall-off since the election.)

It isn’t just the right-leaning cables that find their audiences dwindled. The anti-Trump jackal networks—like CNN and MSNBC—are suffering from veritable ratings dumpster fires that have burned themselves out. Without Trump to kick around, many of their propagandized lemmings have abandoned the boob-tube drum circle.

O’Reilly opened his clip with remarks on the state of conservative talk radio, referencing the passing of Rush Limbaugh, affirming that Rush is irreplaceable, and opining about what that irreplaceability might portend for a legion of Rush-inspired talkers, both mainstays like Hannity and Mark Levin and newcomers alike. (Author’s note: it was announced as this piece was submitted that Dan Bongino would take over Limbaugh’s time slot.)

There were three particular comments posted under O’Reilly’s YouTube clip that provide a compelling glimpse of what is going on in the world of conservative listenership and viewership. All three, paraphrased for brevity here, provide food for thought.

The first comment is the most obvious: the poster reminded everyone that there is always a drop in political interest directly following a national election, especially a particularly exhausting and divisive one. There has been no election in modern history nastier and more divisive than 2020. People are just worn out; only those most committedly engaged in the twists and turns of politics are able to sustain the level of interest that will drive them to religiously watch Tucker Carlson Tonight, Rob Schmitt Tonight, or post-Trump manure lagoons like CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. For their own sense of mental health and well-being, millions are temporarily taking leave of the relentless hue and cry of the political news cycle.

The second commenter spoke to the horrible outcome of 2020, making plain that he or she is not going to sit around and watch the Democratic Party destroy the United States. The sense here is that though Republicans are still strongly represented in Congress, watching each new development in the awful implementation of Democrat policies with the balance of power precariously but numerically tipped toward the Biden/Harris administration is simply too disagreeable to stomach.

With dangerous immigration malfeasance, job-killing executive orders, tax hikes, the Big Tech cancelation of conservative viewpoints and culture, and the Chinese water-torture promulgation of an extremist ideology characterizing the headlines, this comment is representative of people for whom the reality of the situation is just too depressing to constantly absorb.

The third comment in response to O’Reilly’s spot shapes up as the most alarming for the GOP and conservative America. Again, to paraphrase, “If our vote doesn’t count, why go through the motions of giving a damn?”

Voter integrity looms again in the national discussion.

The Orwellian-titled “For the People Act,” now worrisomely close to Biden’s desk, existentially threatens Republicanism with mass, untraceable, mail-in, unaccountable, illegal, and manufactured votes. This third comment invokes the hopeless realization that the Democrats are on the precipice of nationalizing the suspect strategy that paved their path to victory,

Introduced in January 2021, H.R.1 passed the House of Representatives on a near party-line vote on March 3, and advanced to the Senate, where VP Harris holds the tie-breaking vote. Senate Republicans still hold the filibuster card, and can block the bill from proceeding to a vote. While a majority of Democrats have expressed support for abolishing the filibuster, Democrat Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema remain opposed to ending the filibuster.

That’s precious little for the Republicans to hang their future on.

On the brighter side, Epoch Times news analyst Petr Svab’s breakdown of the focus on election integrity at CPAC (“CPAC: Conservatives Plot Course for Election Integrity Push” 3/9/21) provides some encouragement by detailing what GOP lawmakers and influencers are proposing to answer the nihilistic resignation of O’Reilly’s third commenter.

From Svab’s report:

It was the most heavily featured issue of the gathering, highlighted by speakers that included former President Donald Trump, while attendees voted it the most important issue, which was also apparent from the audience’s reactions during the talks. Speakers assessed what went wrong in November, and outlined steps the Republican Party needs to take to ensure the trustworthiness of the next election.

Here’s a summation—and possible resolutions—to the angst reflected in three comments that exemplify factors that may have caused not only conservative media, but all political media, to experience ratings reversals.

Point one: Yes, there’s always a fall-off in interest after a national election. If history provides any gauge, interest in the political and governmental direction of the country will slowly began to revive. Issues will arise, stalemates will loom, defections will occur, and revelatory information will surface. All or any of these known knowns, known unknowns, or unknown unknowns will attract the public attention again. The disengaged will re-engage. Ratings will improve, even potentially skyrocket.

Point two: Yes, it is disheartening for right-of-center Americans to witness what Biden, Harris, and the Democratic Socialists are doing to this great nation. On any given day, it seems as if there’s nothing substantive Republicans can do to stop their destructive agenda and systematic dismantling of all President Trump’s great achievements.

It’s hard to watch, but hopeful signs will emerge. Things will happen as a result of the leftist transformation that will stall and neuter the worst of what they are attempting to inflict. Conservative and Trumpservative elected officials will find ways to circumvent the best-laid plans of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and communist-in-waiting Kamala Harris. These patriots will mount an indefatigable and collective blitz against the Democrat machine. Their heroics will bring the disillusioned back into the resistance. A massive swing in 2022—reminiscent of the swings against Obama in 2010 and 2014—will reinvigorate, big-league, the will to win again and revitalize interest in conservative media.

Point three ain’t so easy. H.R. 1 must be ruthlessly quashed. Without meaningful election reform, if the Democrats’ vision of ballots sown like leaflets across the land survives, and if Republican and conservative candidates are aced out of contention in key battlegrounds, conservative political engagement and the associated interest in conservative media may take a permanent hit.

The left won’t be watching either—because a done deal in perpetuity is just as boring as a horserace, a prizefight, or a football game where the outcome is predetermined.

Mark Ellis is Associate Editor at the Northwest Connection, Portland, Oregon’s only conservative web/print publication. He is the author of the political thriller A Death on the Horizon.