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How Fox News Is Destroying the Republican Party

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Wannabe kingmaker Roger Ailes is facing an open revolt.

More and more despondent conservatives are expressing alarm over the unfolding Republican primary season and what they see as the party's dwindling chances of defeating President Obama in November. Spooked at the general elections prospects facing frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (especially Gingrich), members of the so-called Republican Establishment seem to want to reboot the election season and try their nominating luck again.

Sorry, it's too late.

If the current state of concern transforms into a larger, enveloping blame game, Fox News chairman Ailes ought be a looming target. True, conservatives in recent years have shown virtually no interest in critiquing, let alone trying to rein in, Ailes' empire. Still, it's becoming increasingly clear that Fox's programming and the radical, fear-based agenda it's setting for Republicans is now doing lasting damage to the Grand Old Party.

That's because Fox News isn't simply offering a rightward take on the day's events, or innocently providing Republican-friendly commentary, of course. It's leading an exhausting, day-in, day-out attack campaign against Obama, Democrats and all their liberal allies. (Real or imagined.) Its relentless, paranoid crusade falls well outside the mainstream of American politics, which is why the Republican primary season, so proudly sponsored by Fox News, is shaping up to be such an embarrassment.

Make no mistake, kingmaker Ailes has made sure his channel's profoundly un-serious stamp permeates this year's GOP contest. For more and more spooked Republicans though, it's a stamp of failure and looming defeat.

For Ailes and company, that slash-and-burn formula works wonders in terms of super-serving its hardcore, hard-right audience of three million viewers. But in terms of supporting a serious, national campaign and a serious, national conversation? It's not working. At all.

As Fox News has moved in and essentially replaced the RNC as the driving electoral force in Republican politics today, and with Ailes ensconced in his kingmaker role, candidates have had to bow down to Fox in search of votes and the channel's coveted free airtime. That means campaigns have been forced to become part of the channel's culture of personal destruction, as well as its signature self-pity.

The truth is, the Republican Establishment all but ceded control of the party, or at least the public face of the party, to Fox News (and Rush Limbaugh) in January, 2009. Party leaders, demoralized by John McCain's electoral landslide defeat, faded into the background and obediently followed Fox News' often-hysterical lead as Rupert Murdoch's cable channel unveiled an unprecedented effort to demonize and delegitimize the newly elected president. (In the Fox-led world, it's conventional wisdom that Obama's a foreign, race-baiting Marxist who undermines Israel and is determined to destroy the American way of life.)

With Fox News at the irresponsible helm, the conservative movement in America, including the emerging Tea Party, became first and foremost a media movement, and one that gleefully cut ties with common sense and decency. (See: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh.)

As blogger Andrew Sullivan noted this week:

The Republican Establishment is Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and their mainfold products, from Hannity to Levin. They rule on the talk radio airwaves and on the GOP's own "news" channel, Fox.

With media outlets setting the conservative agenda, as well as raising campaign funds and boosting GOP candidates, it was Fox News that quickly transformed itself into the Opposition Party. It was Roger Ailes who, officially or unofficially, began to wear two hats: Program Director at Fox News, Chairman of the RNC.

In terms of whipping up bouts of anti-Obama hysteria, the crass Fox approach enjoyed some short-term success. However, that same media movement is now three long and rhetorically repetitive years into its Obama crusade and trying to nominate a presidential candidate via an extended national campaign. According to more and more worried conservatives, the results on display are disastrous.

Of course, conservatives should have thought that through before handing over the reigns to Ailes and his misinformation minions. Indeed, none of this is unexpected. It's all entirely predictable. It's what happens when a mainstream political movement embraces a radical media strategy like the one being promoted by Fox News; the movement marches itself off a cliff.

Conservative leaders themselves have freely adopted Fox News' profoundly un-unprofessional rhetoric about Obama, claiming just this week he's "pro-poverty" and his politics are "almost un-American." That's the Fox-ification of the GOP.

As Andrew Sullivan noted this week, the current GOP "purges dissidents, it vaunts total loyalty, it polices discourse for any deviation." That sounds a lot like Fox News.

Two years ago, despondent conservative and former Bush speechwriter David Frum, noting the sweeping power that Ailes was accumulating, observed that, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox."

As the Republican primary unfolds, I wonder if more and more poll-weary conservatives would like to fire their new boss.

Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.

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