Can Conservative Talk Shows Survive Victory?

Right-Wing Wins Take Wind Out of Talk-Show Hosts (WaPo)

Their guy just won reelection by 3.5 million votes. Their party strengthened its majority in the House, in the Senate and in statehouses, with the Supreme Court probably soon to follow. “Moral values” — their kind of stuff — are très chic.

This could be a disaster for the nation’s right-wing talk-show hosts.

Election Day was a triumph for conservatism, but it may have been a mixed blessing for the people who yak about it on TV and radio. Conservative talk, by far the most popular kind on the airwaves, has always traded on an undercurrent of grievance, a sense of being the underdog against the implacable, oppressive forces of liberal “elitism.” The farther conservatives were from power, the better the Us-vs.-Them model worked. The right-wing media matured and prospered under Democrat Bill Clinton, whose two terms in office were a gift that kept on giving to the Limbaughs, G. Gordons, Savages and lesser lights of the electronic right.

But now? Now the big pinatas of the left — the Kerrys, Michael Moore, gay marriage — have all been smited. Now the underdog is the overlord of . . . well, just about everything.

What’s a right-wing diss jockey supposed to rant about now?

These stories seem to come out after every election. In 1992, there were stories saying Rush Limbaugh would fade away because Bush 41 lost his re-election bid, proving that people were becoming less conservative. After Bush 43 won in 2000, the argument was that Limbaugh would have nothing to talk about, since he wouldn’t be able to criticize a Republican president.

The bottom line is that there is pretty much always something interesting to talk about, whether it’s politics, sports, or pop culture. I once heard George Will talk about his earliest days as an opinion columnist for National Review. He asked William F. Buckley, Jr., the journal’s founder, how he managed to continue to write three columns, contribute to the magazine, and so forth after so many years in the business. Buckley responded that there had yet to be a week when he failed to be irritated at least three times. My guess is that trend will continue for Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, and all the rest. If they need John Kerry to have something to talk about, they’re in the wrong line of work.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dodd says:

    Laura Ingraham had a lot of fun with this piece this morning. The reporter interviewed her for it and she told him she’d been expecting someone to wrote such a piece since election day – because they had done so in several outlets in 2000. He just said, ‘Well, I’m writing it again’ but didn’t quote this part of the interview.

  2. McGehee says:

    They just keep wishing, don’t they?

  3. Attila Girl says:

    The only threat to talk radio and blogs would come about if the mainstream media stopped leaning to the left.

  4. Dodd says:

    You’ve got that right, AG. That being the case, I think that all the evidence suggests that the likelier result is that Ms. Ingraham expectation that the growth of the last four years will continue unabted will be proven right.

  5. bryan says:

    As long as the ACLU, People for the American Way,, and Michael Moore are still printing the meal tickets, talk radio will survive.

    Plus, I’ve heard plenty of talk radio folks get onto Bush about things like the prescription medicare bill.

  6. Paul says:

    Perfectly said James.