One of the biggest upsets in American politics was powered by right-wing media, according to analysis of last night's defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Minority Leader, who fell to an obscure Tea Party-backed candidate. Cantor's campaign spent nearly as much on drinks and dinners at steak houses as David Brat did on his entire primary push. Yet Brat easily defeated the seven-term Republican leader.
"The seeds for Brat's upset were sown on right-wing radio talk shows, particularly Laura Ingraham's," CNN's Brian Stelter reported. On Fox News last night, radio host and Brat booster Mark Levin celebrated the Virginia "ass-kicking." (During the same appearance, Levin urged Republicans to "stop chasing genitalia" in order to win elections.)
"There are parts of this country where if Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin are on the radio supporting you, that's worth a lot," Fox's Brit Hume noted. "In the right place, with the right constituency, those people hold real power."
Real power, indeed.
For years, that power was mostly directed at Democrats, and specifically at President Obama as talk radio and the larger right-wing media Noise Machine has worked tirelessly to demonize its opponents via nasty and often dishonest, illogical attacks.
After John McCain's dispiriting loss to Barack Obama in 2008, damaged leaders of the Republican establishment slowly shuffled off the national stage. And into that vacuum rushed Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, Rush-I-Hope-He-Fails-Limbaugh, and other players from the right-wing media lineup. They took over the messaging for the Republican Party, the attacks on the new president, and helped power the surging Tea Party movement in America.
Teaming up with the GOP and its unprecedented plan to obstruct a president who won an electoral landslide victories, the Noise Machine provided the mass media muscle and set out to portray Obama as nothing more than a suspicious, foreign, anti-capitalist socialist who distrusted America and wanted to take away citizens' guns. He was also condemned as a "racist" who displayed a "deep-seated hatred for white people."
The Republican Party, by and large, was happy to watch as the right-wing media took control of the GOP's communications apparatus, which allowed the right-wing media to take control of the GOP's public messaging. And when they were demonizing Obama and the Democratic Party, Republicans likely marveled at their good fortune of having millions of dollars in free media at their disposal each week to launch misinformation campaigns against the White House.
And for Cantor personally, the Noise Machine was a godsend. With no apparent interest in governing, legislating, or in public policy, Cantor's professional goal appeared to be to obstruct the White House at all costs, and to make Obama look bad at every turn. And for that, he had perfect media partners.
But then Cantor became the target.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, Brat "repeatedly accused [Cantor] of supporting amnesty for people in the U.S. illegally," which is not accurate. Cantor doesn't support "amnesty," by any reasonable definition, and has worked to make sure the Senate immigration reform bill that passed with bipartisan support last year hasn't received a vote in the House.
No matter. Brat's talk show booster Laura Ingraham began hyping the candidate's claims on her nationally syndicated radio show, as she vilified Republicans for even thinking about addressing the issue of immigration reform.
"Vote Brat and stop amnesty once for all," read a blog post on Ingraham's site. She also blamed Cantor for the "enticement" of the immigrant children into the country, which she described as "an invasion facilitated by our own government." And while appearing at a Brat rally last week, the talker suggested Obama should have traded Cantor to the Taliban in exchange for American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl.
So yes, Cantor pretty much got the Obama treatment from Ingraham and other influential segments of the far-right press: Misinformation wrapped around overheated personal attacks with constant attempts to demonize.
But this is what happens when Republicans help build an irresponsible Noise Machine that's designed to offend and designed to attack. What happens is that, in case of emergency, there is no 'off' switch
Just ask Eric Cantor.