Atlantic Writer: Republicans Are Attracted to ‘Demagogues’ Like Trump and ‘Huckster Entertainers’ Like Limbaugh

July 22nd, 2015 11:12 AM

NewsBusters readers likely are familiar with the saying “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic thinks Republicans have a propensity for certitude about false beliefs, and that as a result they’re susceptible to “demagogues” such as Donald Trump.

As for why GOPers are frequently mistaken in the first place, Friedersdorf blames, among others, “huckster entertainers like [Rush] Limbaugh.” He also notes that speaking truth to the party base “would be an unpleasant ordeal for most figures in the conservative movement.”

From Friedersdorf’s Monday piece (bolding added):

[Trump] is succeeding among the part of his party that rallied around Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain—and while GOP moderates will assert themselves eventually, as they did in 2012 by nominating Mitt Romney and in 2008 with John McCain, farcical candidacies are difficult for the GOP to avoid or end quickly because the party is averse to certain truths that would help inoculate it against demagogues.

Here are six of them:

  1. When someone makes a lot of money in business that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d make a good president or even a good steward of the economy.
  2. Just because Rush Limbaugh and other talk radio hosts take a figure seriously it doesn’t mean that anyone else should. Trusted conservative entertainers frequently fail to warn their audiences away from obvious hucksters.
  3. Mainstream media pundits and the Republican-Party establishment have their respective flaws, but that doesn’t mean that they’re always wrong and safely ignored. Sometimes their criticism of public figures is insightful and accurate…
  4. At times, transgressing against political correctness is a sign of intellectual integrity and bravery. More often, it requires no courage and is undertaken as a cynical gambit to get money, fame, or power from a block of disaffected Americans. Lots of figures who court conservatives are opportunists of this sort.
  5. The fact that a public figure drives the left crazy is not itself a good reason for conservatives to rally around them, no matter how emotionally satisfying some find it. Supporting a politician on that basis is shallow, irresponsible, and shameful.
  6. Bombastic rhetoric is not a proxy for conservatism. Too many GOP voters don’t see that, treating very conservative politicians like Jon Huntsman as RINO traitors while mistaking Trump-like poseurs for champions.

Stating all those facts plainly would be an unpleasant ordeal for most figures in the conservative movement, and it would positively undermine huckster entertainers like Limbaugh...

In the short term, the right benefits from avoiding those six truths: Obscuring them helps the GOP to fire up the base, ally with talented mass-media propagandists, and gain traction by playing on disdain for ideological adversaries rather than formulating a compelling alternative. In the longer run, GOP voters…elevate national jokes in primary campaigns…Ironically, the longer [Trump] retains significant voter support, the less chance there is for a real alternative to GOP-establishment pathologies to emerge.

By the way, the quotation in the first paragraph has been wrongly attributed to Mark Twain by, among others, Al Gore in his movie An Inconvenient Truth.