Can the GOP break its addiction to show biz?

Can the GOP break its addiction to show biz?
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If the GOP is serious about rebuilding itself once Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE is finally gone, the party has to break its addiction to show business.

That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? After all, Democrats are the ones walking hand-in-hand with Hollywood, closer than a pair of lovers in a blockbuster rom-com. But that’s only one kind of show business.

Radio and TV talk personalities: they’re entertainers, too. And for decades, they have been the real power-brokers inside the GOP base. Throughout the last four years, they not only gave the president an unfettered forum, but also became some of his most important advisers and confidants. Sean Hannity campaigned for Trump; Tucker Carlson was reportedly the person who convinced him of pandemic dangers.


There is no equivalent on the Democratic side. Late night hosts like Stephen Colbert don’t hide their political leanings, but it’s almost impossible to think of them holding the policy and political sway Republicans have granted to their media stars.

That first came to the forefront with Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE’s takeover of the House in 1994. By that time, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show was drawing large audiences through national syndication.

His on-air influence was so important to the Gingrich victory that Limbaugh was named an “honorary member” of the freshman House Republican caucus.

A poll after that election showed that people who listened to 10 or more hours of talk radio a week voted Republican by a 3-to-1 margin. That meant Limbaugh and others like him could not be ignored by the GOP — and the die was cast.

In 1996, Fox News began broadcasting; right-wing media’s control over the party continued to grow. Bill O’Reilly helped rally the base against Democrats with a steady stream of commentary about culture war. He discovered a “war on Christmas” and attacked the idea of gay marriage. George W. Bush quickly signed on, supporting a proposed Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage — a move often credited with helping him win key swing states in a tight 2004 re-election battle.


With Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhy is Joe Biden dodging the public and the press? Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief Pentagon issues report revealing ex-White House doctor 'belittled' subordinates, violated alcohol policies MORE in the White House, these on-air power brokers adopted a different tone. In 2009, Fox’s Glenn Beck rose to ratings heights with an appeal that was edgier and more desperate than O’Reilly’s. Beck’s show was often a long-winded lecture in front of a blackboard filled with dense conspiracy theories: Obama was building concentration camps for his opponents, he said, and planned to fake a terrorist attack to boost his popularity.

Beck’s rants — a precursor to QAnon — helped energize the Tea Party in 2010 as it took over the GOP and won back the House. Gingrich-era conservatives like former House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were purged by these new members; they made Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) job miserable because he actually tried to work on some issues with Obama.

It was a short step from that mind-set to the “American Carnage” world of Donald Trump and the broadcast stars who helped pave his way. It’s a world where the president obsessively watches right-wing channels all day long, a world where TV zealots are considered potential Trump heirs and presidential timber. As a result, Republicans are now faced with a base that sees the world in stark terms — there is no “loyal opposition,” no compromise; there is only a titanic struggle between good and evil.

Understand this: That’s what entertainers get paid to do.

TV and radio hosts are not policy-makers or diplomats. They are not distributors of facts. They have one job — to keep people tuned-in with a good story. Like any sharp screenwriter, they know the elements of compelling melodrama: there has to be conflict, and the stakes need to be high — for example, the future of our nation and Western civilization. Most importantly, you need super-heroes and super-villains. There is no room for shades of gray; the good guys never hesitate to fulfill their destiny knowing the bad guys never back down in remorse or regret.

That’s a pretty good definition of the current Trump GOP base and its vision for the future.

Republican leadership now has some hard choices to make. If they continue to allow their media to dictate who they are as a party, nothing will change.

This freshman House class contains Republicans like Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo), who made a viral video about carrying her “Glock” with her to Washington. She’s among a cluster of new legislators who, according to former John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThree ways James Kvaal can lead postsecondary education forward Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Cruz hits back at Boehner for telling him to 'go f--- yourself' MORE aide Michael Steele, “see public service as more performance art than a battle of policy ideas.”

The GOP knows where that mentality came from. It can be stopped. Like any addiction, yes, show-biz will be a hard habit to break. But the invasion of the Capitol was the sound of a political party hitting rock bottom.

Democracy does not benefit if they choose to stay there.

NOTE: This has been updated from the original to correct the date FOX News began broadcasting.

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.