CLEVELAND — Tuesday, July 19, 2016, will go down in history as an inflection point for the Republican Party. Little liberal children will solemnize it with “pomp and parade,” and not just because casino magnate Donald Trump became the official (no longer presumptive) Republican nominee. It was also the day news broke that Roger Ailes’ days as Fox News head honcho are numbered .
As recently as a year ago, both events would have been utterly unthinkable. Ailes was firmly ensconced on his journalistic throne, seemingly untouchable thanks to years of success in politics and media while Trump was still viewed as a joke by the vast majority of political observers.
In these tumultuous times, perhaps it is appropriate that both men have connections to Richard Nixon, the famous political pugilist who experienced the extremes of both the “highest mountain” that Trump is currently on, and the “deepest valley.” Ailes started his political career helping make “Tricky Dick” look good on TV, and Donald Trump (who has connections with some of Nixon’s former aides) is seeking to replicate Nixon’s law and order message in 2016.
It’s 1968 all over again.
But neither the Nixon analogies, nor the unlikely odds that these two events would happen at all, much less simultaneously, are the primary reason this day is remarkable. The truth is that these events are also likely to be incredibly consequential for the future of conservatism.
Since 1980, the Republican Party has generally stood for policies like free trade and a belief that we can grow the pie, rather than fighting over who gets which slice. Donald Trump’s Republican Party, to the extent that “Trumpism” is coherent, is a much more pessimistic, populist and protectionist departure from that more optimistic worldview.
But if Trump’s ascendancy as standard-bearer signals a radical shift in tone and policy on the right, so too could the exodus of Ailes. It would be hard to overestimate the network’s impact on the GOP, or the possibility that things could change with Ailes’ ouster. For years now, Fox News has dominated television news ratings, a phenomenon that ironically coincided with the electoral collapse of the GOP and, ultimately, with the rise of Donald Trump. If it ends up changing, the GOP presumably changes, too.
The amazing thing is that the events of July 19 are self inflicted. Ailes’ travails are the result not of poor performance (the public loved his product) or of his enemies finally obtaining revenge, but of sexual harassment allegations in the workplace. And Donald Trump, who had his own (different) problems with women during the 2016 race, got more votes than any Republican nominee in history.
Having said that, if Barack Obama had set a sinister goal seven years ago to bring about the destruction of the Republican Party by the end of his tenure, it’s hard to imagine he could have executed the plan any more shrewdly. While the notion that Obama could have sabotaged Fox News is about as laughable as suggesting that the controversy over Melania Trump’s speech was due to Hillary Clinton’s penchant for destroying women, I have long suspected that the president was more than happy to egg on the destruction of the Republican Party — no matter the collateral damage for our nation.
There’s an argument that his roasting at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner goaded Donald Trump into running for president. That might be paranoid to suspect, but during the primary campaign, there truly was a sense that Obama publicly criticized Trump, at least partly, because he knew this would only boost Trump among primary voters.
Ultimately, you can’t blame any bogeymen for this. Some might even go so far as to speculate that Trump’s coronation the same day as the (reported) beginning of the end of Ailes’ tenure is some sort of karmic justice. Along with talk radio, the network helped create a populist political environment that coupled right-wing politics with a sexy tabloid culture and ultimately led to the rise of Trump.
They let the genie out of the bottle. It has been suggested that Trump might remake the Republican Party in his image. But some of this shift began with the rise of conservative talk radio and cable news. This might have started as a slow evolution more than a decade ago, but things came to a head on July 19. We finally reached the tipping point.
Consider the case of Ann Coulter, the provocative political commentator who helped boost Donald Trump, and who spent years selling books by appearing on the network. On July 19, Coulter publicly suggested that “every woman who has ever been employed by Fox” has stories about Ailes.
Some people are ahead of the curve. They find out what’s happening, and are for that.
Coulter doesn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.
Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a Senior Contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @MattKLewis