Who’s responsible for Donald Trump? The establishment honchos of the Republican Party first and foremost, for not having the stones to stand up and stop the crazy in their party over the last seven years when Steve King and Louis Gohmert and Michele Bachmann and all the others said the unhinged things they said. The cable networks, for covering his every utterance and letting him play them like a fiddle.
A less discussed culprit: Matt Drudge. He may not get the headlines he got 15 years ago, so if you don’t read his site you might think he’s kinda gone away. Well, he has not. The Drudge Report is as huge as ever: Around 700 million visitors a month.
And what they’ve been getting for the last six months is a steady stream of pro-Trump agitprop. Drudge’s own weird, quasi-libertarian, crypto-racialist-populist political views have found their perfect echo in Trump’s campaign. If you’ve read the Drudge site over the years, you know how expert the site has always been at finding and promoting news stories that aren’t capital-P political on their face but whose political moral, and the reason Drudge highlights them, is obvious.
A preposterous-sounding grievance from a minority group member; a left-wing academic making some nutty claim or another; some new manifestation of political correctness afoot. These stories are the mother’s milk of the site, and they create the same paranoia that Trump is creating, and among the same audience.
And the audience is gobbling it up—and regurgitating it in the hoped-for way. As Republican-turned-independent (and now Hillary Clinton supporter) Jimmy LaSalvia noted at Salon recently, after every GOP debate, the Drudge site polls its readers on who won. And every time, Trump has won, usually big.
It’s no wonder. The Drudge site is (gulp) its readers’ most trusted news source, and nearly every day it’s playing a pro-Trump piece high up. As I write this, Tuesday the 29th, the story is “New poll shows Trump strong among minorities.” The link is to a story on World Net Daily, a far-right site whose stock in trade is headlines like “Democrats Think Christians Bigger Threat Than Muslims,” and it’s to a poll commissioned by…World Net Daily! It finds that “40 percent of blacks are lining up behind Trump, as are 45 percent of Hispanics, and even nearly 19 percent of Asians.” Right.
Now, if you’re reacting to this by thinking so what, tell me something new, my answer is that I am telling you something new. In 2012, Drudge generally backed not Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or Rick Santorum or Herman Cain, but Mr. Establishment himself, Mitt Romney! You can go back and Google it and find loads of stories from that cycle about how Drudge highlighted pro-Romney stories and how the other GOP contenders groused that Drudge was helping Mittens.
Why the change? I’m not exactly a Drudge world insider. The public evidence we have is the big and very rare interview Drudge gave back in October to wingnut radio host Alex Jones, where he delivered gems like this one: “You’ve got to be the greatest you can be now—now. Before this country is so completely altered and we’re left with Hillary’s brain in the Oval Office in a jar. Cuz that’s what we’re getting. She is old and she’s sick. She is not a contender. They’re making her a contender with these propped up Saturday Night Live things; it’s like a head on a stick. And then on the Today show with [Savannah Guthrie]—a head on a stick. She is not a viable, vibrant leader for this country of 300—including the illegals, 380 million—Americans. So the media is trying to put us to sleep.”
Eighty million illegals. And you thought it was 11.5 million. See how the corporate media have been lying to you? For what it’s worth, Drudge has been a major promoter of Jones’s conspiracy-mongering websites, often giving them prominent links.
So now we’re getting to crunch time. How much juice does Drudge still have with GOP primary voters, especially in the key states? Probably a lot is my guess. It’s obviously impossible to say how much Drudge has helped Trump thus far. Trump probably didn’t need a push from Drudge to get where he is. But look at it from the reverse point of view: If Drudge had been anti-Trump these last six months, Trump very well might not be where he is right now.
The more serious question is how much juice Drudge might have in a general election contest. He will want to destroy Hillary Clinton, there’s no doubt about that. If Trump is actually the Republican nominee, Drudge will have his dream match-up: the right-wing nativist fuck-the-establishment candidate versus a Clinton. Destroying, or trying to destroy, a Clinton (Bill) is what made Drudge world famous in the first place, back in 1998. But that didn’t work out for him. And promoting the candidate that half the Republican Party would run away from holding its nose doesn’t seem like the best way to stop this Clinton.
Maybe deep down on some level even they only dimly grasp, all these people want her to be the president. She’s great for ratings and page views, and everything they don’t like about a changing country that they no longer speak to or for can be immediately blamed on her. Only a Clinton victory would support their idea of America as a place where the corporate media are brainwashing people to become diversity-worshipping automatons, and conservative media will be there to ride the decline.
And that’s what Drudge’s move from Romney to Trump proves: On the radical right, it’s not about stopping liberalism anymore. It’s about demolishing conservatism.