What Does the RedState Purge Mean for Conservatism?
When I first started making a go at being a writer, RedState was one of the websites I aspired to. Insightful commentary, good writing, and a solid conservative core were what made RedState such a good source for right-of-center news and analysis.
The site isn't what it used to be following a purge on Friday in which corporate owner Salem Communications, along with its political commentary arm Townhall Media, fired several writers and editors—including talents like Caleb Howe, Ben Howe, Susan Wright, and Neil Stevens. It seems that Salem is trying to do to conservative commentary what it has done to Christian radio: turning it into a monolithic entity with precious little variety and nothing truly interesting to say. After all, the common thread among those whom RedState fired was a less-than-enthusiastic view of Donald Trump.
Granted, some writers who aren't blindly supportive of the president remain, but the commonality of the writers who were sacked is obvious, and sources who spoke to CNNMoney made that point even clearer:
"They fired everybody who was insufficiently supportive of Trump," one of the sources who spoke with CNNMoney said, adding, "how do you define being 'sufficiently supportive' of Trump?"
"Those who had been under a contract with a higher per-click rate were mostly all tossed, only keeping those who were pro-Trump even if their traffic was comparable," another one of the sources said on condition of anonymity.
"Of those who make less under their contracts, they mostly tossed those who had been openly critical of the president," the source said. "It seems to have been a cost saving measure, but the deciding factor between any two people seems to have been who liked the president and who didn't."
One sacked contributor told The Daily Beast that the move reflected a shift on the part of certain factions within conservatism in general:
“There was a time that Republican politicians were terrified if [RedState] excoriated them from the front page,” fired contributor Ben Howe lamented to The Daily Beast. “But the modern conservative movement seems to have grown tired of accountability. ‘Liberal tears’ is the new operating principle. Unless you’re causing those tears to flow you aren’t being a team player.”
Even The Atlantic realized what the fate of these RedState contributors means for the state of conservative media:
RedState was a rare thing these days in the conservative media: a platform for an array of different opinions about President Trump.
That now seems to be a thing of the past, as media on the right has split into two camps: the full-on Trump boosterism of Breitbart or Fox News’s opinion programs, or anti-Trump critique as exemplified by National Review. On Friday, several contract writers were let go from the conservative website RedState and its editor, Caleb Howe, was fired. One thing many of them had in common was their vocal criticism of Trump.
Reactions from former RedState writers on Twitter revealed a mixture of sadness, anger, and even a bit of gallows humor:
Fired editor Caleb Howe learned of his fate as he was driving to a meeting with Salem/Townhall brass. He was so upset over his treatment that he unloaded a profanity-laden tweet that is unsuitable for a family-friendly website.
A former RedState editor—who left in 2015 to found The Resurgent, one of the sites I write for—weighed in as well:
I spoke with my friend and Resurgent colleague Susan Wright, and she explained to me frankly how Salem/Townhall hid behind a financial excuse when they let the contributors go.
"The way it was framed to us was as a decision based on economics," she told me. "They're reworking contracts and said they couldn't afford to keep everyone on staff. RedState, like many sites, makes its money from views. Drawing traffic is the name of the game. With that in mind, it makes no sense that they would dunk their top draw—which would be me, more often than not. Most months, my average draw was a bit over 800,000 views. Sometimes I hit a million views. I was never far from it."
"Every writer that was dunked today was anti-Trump," Susan added. "They can try to say it's just a money situation, but that excuse doesn't pass the smell test."
Have the conservative media become so fractured that commentators, websites, and other outlets fall into pro-Trump and anti-Trump camps? Do we live in an era where the right could split over the support of one man? I fear that we only do our cause harm if we allow Donald Trump to create cracks and fissures in a movement that has plenty of room for so many.
I do know that one thing is true: RedState is shooting themselves in the foot by letting so many immense talents go.