Donald Trump’s rise to power within the Republican party set off an explosion of reactionary extremism within the right-wing ecosystem, but it’s important to realize that Trump did not create the present-day authoritarianism that dominates Republican politics, he only encouraged it and empowered it.
As president, Trump welcomed in some of the most extreme Republican members of congress, including former representatives Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows, both of whom went from throwing bombs as members of the so-called Freedom Caucus to setting policy for the entire government as White House chiefs of staff.
Trump’s ascent to the top of Republican politics also discombobulated the lavish world of right-wing media, which went from calling him a traitorous liberal before he became the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 to slavishly defending his every action and policy.
The ascent of Trump also supercharged the reactionary media environment by bringing in new figures like Joe Rogan or Clay Travis with more pop-culture brand identities and much larger audiences. Trump’s willingness to elevate and fraternize with extremists also elevated figures like Alex Jones into the heights of Republican influence.
Terry Krepel, the guest in today’s episode, had a front-row seat to all of this as the founder and editor of ConWebWatch. He’s been running his site since 2000, reporting on all the major developments in right-wing media, including several publications I once worked with during my former time as a conservative activist.
The video version of our December 12, 2023 conversation is available. The audio transcript is available for paid subscribers.
Julie Millican and Olivia Little of Media Matters on how right-wing media are integrating Christian religious conspiracy beliefs into political content
Slate writer Molly Olmstead on how Catholic television channel has refashioned itself into a Fox News mini-me
Historian Nicole Hemmer on how right-wing media holds the Republican electorate together
(Cover image: President Donald J. Trump participates in a town hall interview taping with Sean Hannity of Fox News Thursday, June 25, 2020, at Green Bay-Austin Struble International Airport in Green Bay, Wis. Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)
0:00 — Introduction
09:32 — Donald Trump’s emergence incentivized right-wing media to become more extreme
18:25 — Why right-wing media outlets went from despising Trump to slavishly defending him
34:37 — Conspiracy theories have always circulated in right-wing media but now they completely permeate it
40:57 — Racist conspiracy theories about immigration went from a fringe belief to common Republican viewpoint in less than 5 years
44:50 — The line between delusion and deception seems to be incredibly blurry for many reactionary activists
55:31 — How Newsmax went from a conspiracy newsletter to Fox News Channel’s top rival
58:08 — How WorldNetDaily founder’s daughter morphed into a prominent anti-Trump Republican
01:07:36 — Newer right-wing media figures like Joe Rogan have enormous audiences, but left-wing elites haven’t realized the change