Less than an hour after the #FreeTheDelegates movement—and therefore any glimmer of possibility for Project #NeverTrump—got strong-armed into oblivion by the Republican National Committee, I bumped into National Review Senior Editor Jonah Goldberg and Commentary Editor John Podhoretz in the concourse. (These conventions are nothing if not class reunions for political commentators.) Both writers were charter members of the Conservative Anti-Trump Club (Goldberg: "Well, if this is the conservative movement now, I guess you're going to have to count me out," Podhoretz: "he would be nothing less than a disaster"); both have been subject to anti-Semitic slurs from Trump supporters, and both have now found themselves adrift from the party they've long called home.
And yet we were not talking Donald Trump's final, decisive rout of his internal opposition. We were talking about today's other cataclysmic piece of political news on the right: Gabriel Sherman's report in New York magazine that the Murdoch family has decided to part ways with Fox News titan Roger Ailes in the wake of former anchor Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment lawsuit. Sherman has an axe to grind against Fox and Ailes, but his sourcing is usually pretty good. (In a reaction statement to Politico, 21st Century Fox said "This matter is not yet resolved and the review is not concluded.")
Sometimes the symbolism is too obvious to ignore. Less than 12 months after Donald Trump made the daring, calculated decision to run a campaign not just against the Media and the conservative establishment, but against the single most influential and profitable brand in conservative media, both of his main targets suffered life-changing defeats on the first day of the Republican National Convention. Conservatism as we have known it these past 20-plus years will never be the same.
There is no exaggerating the impact and dominance of Roger Ailes on cable news. (Disclosure: I used to work for Fox Business Network, and have never met the man.) There will never be a cable TV executive remotely as successful. Such is his importance that even the Murdoch family—ostensibly his bosses—have been reluctant to tangle with the 76-year-old, for fear of disrupting their single most profitable enterprise. (One of the many category errors that lefties make about Fox News is that it is an expression of Rupert Murdoch's ill will; in fact, it has always been about Ailes.)
Ailes recognized decades before Trump did that traditional media outlets in print and broadcast condescended to, sneered at, and certainly did not intrinsically understand huge swaths of the country, and that a clever broadcaster could leverage the resulting frustration and build uncommon loyalty through a mix of gleeful populism, rhetorical pugilism, and a leg-chair or three. His approach was both shrewd and instinctual, and it changed the face not just of media but of politics. Early telegenic Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolution of 1994 is impossible to contemplate without the feedback loop of Fox News (UPDATE: Of course, Fox News was founded in 1996, duh!). The "Entertainment Wing" of the GOP became increasingly indistinguishable from the party's talent base (indeed, personnel continue to wash back and forth from Capitol Hill to the Avenue of Americas).
But all that pocket-lining populism over time has built up political expectations that couldn't possibly be met, helping to create Trump's opening as well as some internal divisions and on-air spats over at Fox. It's no accident that Trump is reportedly thinking about launching a TV network should the whole politics thing fall short.
We will hear much this week about dissonances like how the party of free trade is now becoming the party whose nominee describes trade agreements as "rape." But of the many ways that Donald Trump has bent an unwilling host to his will, the fact that he took on the 800-pound gorilla of modern conservatism, and beat it at his own game, may be his most staggering achievement. Two ships are passing in the night, and it's only Day One.
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