Talk Radio and Donald Trump

The New York Times has a piece up about the conservative commentariat divide over Trump and features me heavily. I am generally okay with the piece, but a bit disappointed at the end as I think it imputes to me things I did not actually say. I suppose it is time to expound on the issue here. I have been putting it off and putting it off and it is probably time to address it.

Here’s the relevant portion.

But even Erickson did not seem convinced that this alone explained what he saw as a nihilistic turn among Republican voters. “I do think there are a lot of people that have just concluded that this is it — that if we don’t get the election right, the country’s over,” he said. As to where they might have gotten that idea, Erickson knew the answer. It was the apocalyptic hymn sung by talk-radio hosts like his friend and mentor Rush Limbaugh, whose show Erickson once guest-hosted, though in the time of Trump, it seemed unlikely he would receive another invitation.

This February, Limbaugh, who has applauded Trump without endorsing him outright, posed to Erickson the question of whether a commentator should try to act as “the guardian of what it means to be a conservative.” In effect, the legend of talk radio was laying down an unwritten commandment of the trade, which applies as well to cable TV: Do not attempt to lead your following.

First of all, not filling in for Rush is not some sinister black balling. My radio station gets flooded with angry Trump supporters on a daily basis because of me. I would not want that to happen to program directors across the nation and it makes absolute sense that I should not fill in for Rush or even Herman Cain, who broadcasts with me out of WSB. Their audiences are not aligned with me on the major issue of the day. It would not be fair to them and would subject program directors to all sorts of complaints.

But there are two points that I really want to address. Let me note out of the gate that I don’t think there was any intention to mischaracterize me by Robert Draper or the Times. It was more than three hours of an interview and we hopped all over the place. There are, though, some points that are worth expanding upon and clearing up.

First, I don’t think Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity are to blame for apocalyptic doom and gloom. There is no quote there because I did not say that. What I did say was that I think in general talk radio reflects audiences instead of leading audiences. To the extent there is doom and gloom it is because the audience feels it, not because the host leads them to it.

There are a great many people out there convinced that talk radio can convince people of certain things and I tend to disagree. Rush, for example, was not a McCain or Romney guy, but they got the nomination. Crediting him, or even crediting Sean, with Trump’s nomination this year flies in the face of their positions in 2008 and 2012. We have tons of stories about radio audiences in decline, yet somehow talk radio is more influential? That does not make sense.

Second, what Rush asked me came in response to my book, You Will Be Made to Care, coming out in February. One of the criticisms of me in the conservative media-sphere is that I presume to be the gatekeeper and guardian of what it means to be a conservative. Rush allowed me to respond to the criticism for his Limbaugh Letter interview, but I made clear to the Times he didn’t hold that view himself. Just, as a friend, he was allowing me to respond. My response was that when conservatives turned a blind eye to the Bush era, suddenly we had conservatives rallying around Harriet Miers and bank bailouts. If we did not hold our own side accountable, the voters would.

I have a lot of friends these days blaming other friends for the rise of Trump. I hate to see the attacks on Rush, Sean, Mark Levin, and others because I don’t blame them, don’t think it is true, and think if people were less pissed off about the situation that they would not be in such a ready state to throw them under the bus.

I disagree, for example, with Sean on Trump, but I do not blame him. As I told the Times, and it did not make it in the article, Sean and Trump have been friends for years and I know from personal experience that Sean is one of the most loyal friends a person can have. Several years ago leftwing protestors were targeting me because of a flippant remark I’d made about chasing a census worker off my property with my wife’s shotgun. It was blown up, distorted, and even the White House commented on it at the urging of liberal commentators. Sean was the first person to call and offered to send people down to my house, at his expense, to keep an eye on us.

For his part, Rush Limbaugh has been the greatest mentor a person could ever hope to have. He has been unfailing in his advice and candor. When I was seventeen and my dad and I were on the road looking at colleges, we discovered Rush while in search of Paul Harvey. I knew that one day I wanted to sit in the Atilla the Hun chair. Heck, I did not even want to be in radio, just fill in for Rush. That life goal has been met and on top of that, he’s been someone I can call on whenever I have an issue in media.

This is an awful year. Friends are at friends’ throats. Everybody is blaming everybody. For the Ericksons, personally, this year is our version of the year Charles and Di got a divorce and Windsor Castle burned to the ground. I’ve been in the hospital trying not to die, my wife has just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, my kids have more than once asked me why people hate us, they’ve been yelled at in the store, we’ve had people come to our house to yell at me, and everybody wants everybody else to pick a side. I am ready for it to be over, one way or the other.

Life returning to normal would be a good thing — a life where friends are not at each others’ throat over Trump trying to force each other to line up on one side or the other. I do not care for Trump and will not vote for him, but most of my friends are with him. They are still my friends.

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Erick Erickson

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