Right-wing radio’s win on Cantor
By: Dylan Byers
June 11, 2014 04:44 PM EDT
Dave Brat didn’t have much money, staff or name recognition — but he did have Laura Ingraham.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary, the conservative talk radio host did more to raise Brat’s profile in his Virginia district than his own campaign could ever have done with its paltry budget and paid staff of two, political experts in the state and Washington said Wednesday. Through endorsements, mailings, media appearances and stump speeches, Ingraham, along with a couple of other media personalities on the right, helped turn Brat into a conservative sensation, enabling his stunning upset over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“I helped shine a light on a race where the establishment was vulnerable. I helped give Brat a platform that he was not getting through any other media outlet,” Ingraham said in an interview. “The national media wasn’t giving him his due and national tea party groups weren’t lifting a finger to help him. … I knew that if he had a little bit of a boost, he would make a really good run at this.”
Brat’s surprise victory is a powerful reminder, as if any were needed, of the immense influence talk radio has over conservative politics — it was not only Ingraham boosting Brat, but also Glenn Beck and Mark Levin bringing their considerable influence with the right to bear as well. Since well before the rise of the tea party, establishment Republicans have feared the medium’s command over the conservative base.
Cantor’s willingness to work with President Barack Obama on immigration reform was a move Ingraham staunchly opposed on her radio show and in appearances on Fox News and ABC’s “This Week.” Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, her public campaign went from anti-Cantor to pro-Brat. She praised him on her program, spoke at his events and even had her executive producer circulate his press releases to her own email list. On June 3, one week before the primary, Brat and Ingraham held a rally at Eric Cantor’s country club that drew more than 600 supporters, according to Ingraham.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said he believes Ingraham’s support was the deciding factor in Brat’s upset win.
“Something had to propel Brat forward other than dislike of Eric Cantor,” Sabato said. “She electrified the crowd when he had almost no money. He won the seat with peanuts, compared to Cantor’s millions. It was a clever substitution of free media for paid media.”
“She wasn’t just a talk radio host who simply used her program to promote Brat. She took it to another level,” said Chuck Todd, the NBC News political director and senior White House correspondent. “I think she does deserve credit in giving credibility to Brat.”
On Wednesday, Brat took a victory lap on Ingraham’s radio show to discuss their unifying pet issue — immigration.
“I think immigration reform is DOA. The American people spoke through Virginia yesterday. Everybody is getting a wake-up call,” Ingraham said.
“This is just the first little wave — I mean, it’s a huge wave — but it’s spreading throughout the country,” Brat replied. “The people want their country back.”
Brat’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment, but in an interview with POLITICO on Tuesday night, the candidate attributed his victory to voters’ frustrations with Washington and suggested that Cantor overplayed his hand by trying to brand Brat as a liberal professor. “They gave me $1 million in name ID and I think that got us going, I think,” he said.
Other conservative radio hosts played important roles as well: Levin hosted Brat on his radio show four times in the weeks leading up to the election. On May 29, Levin gave Brat a ringing endorsement, and encouraged listeners to donate to his campaign. “If you have a few bucks, give the guy some help because he needs it and he would be a great member of Congress,” Levin said on the show. The day before the election, he told Brat: “I’m all for you. I want you to win.”
“I don’t sit back and say, ‘Wow, David Brat won because of me. David Brat won because he had the courage to come out of nowhere and take on Eric Cantor, who I believe needed to be removed,” Levin said in an interview. “But I reached out to him and brought him on my show several times so more and more people could become aware of him. I put his site on my social sites so guests could support him. … What I’m proud about is that I used my microphone to communicate my ideas and viewpoints.”
Beck also hosted Brat on his radio program, one day before the election, and asked him to explain why he deserved the host’s support. By the time the interview ended, Beck was wishing Brat “the best of luck,” adding: “We need people like you to be able to get in and hold some of these guys’ feet to the fire.”
“Our listeners are sick of politics and they want people who stand on principles and do the right thing,” Beck said in an interview Wednesday, crediting his co-hosts and production team at TheBlaze Radio Network with having “discovered and spoke to Dave Brat long before the rest of the country.”
“It was a team effort with our millions of listeners coupled with the extraordinary efforts of Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin,” Beck said.
Ingraham also credited conservative pundits Ann Coulter and Mickey Kaus, as well as the conservative news sites Daily Caller and Breitbart News, with paying attention to Brat’s campaign when the national media was “asleep at the wheel.”
“It was a counterculture campaign, and she was right in the middle of it,” Sabato said. “She got a lot of publicity. She was on the news shows, which automatically have more credibility than the TV ads. And she’s charismatic.”
“I doubt the other talk radio folks [Levin and Beck] get on board without her very enthusiastic efforts,” said Todd.
The influence of Ingraham, Levin and others wasn’t lost on her colleagues at Fox News, either.
“There are parts of this country where if Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin are on the radio supporting you, that’s worth a lot,” Brit Hume, a Fox News contributor, said on Tuesday night. “In the right place, with the right constituency, those people hold real power.”
Megyn Kelly, the Fox News host, said on the air that Ingraham was “instrumental” in Brat’s election. “She campaigned for Brat, she rallied for Brat, and she must be very pleased with the results tonight,” Kelly said.
Ingraham doesn’t want to overstate her role: “Money isn’t everything, name recognition isn’t everything, even having powerful friends isn’t everything,” she said of Tuesday’s primary. “Americans aren’t happier, things aren’t working, and the country is saying, ‘My life isn’t getting any better — what’s your record of success Eric Cantor? What have you done for us?’ Brat is a smart guy, he’s committed and courageous.”
Given her influence, many candidates have solicited Ingraham for her support. And though she plans to get involved in future races — especially where she can back a candidate who opposes “amnesty” — she’s going to pick her fights.
“I’m making a list and checking it twice,” she said. “I’m carefully proceeding in how I get involved in races.”