It's an interesting question. Matt Yglesias thinks the media elite runs the conservative movement. Proof:
Suppose there’s some sellout that John Boehner wants to implement. Boehner recognizes that he needs to pair this with a symbolic but meaningless gesture. Now suppose he sits down in a room with Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Donohue, and David Koch and persuades all three of those people that this is the right way to proceed. Then the next day, Boehner unleashes his symbolic gesture and his compromise, and the coverage of it on Fox News, The Rush Limbaugh Show, and the Fox-affiliated radio shows is all positive. That alone gets you the three most popular talk radio shows, the television network, The Weekly Standard, a dose of influence at every single conservative think tank in America, and the important organizing efforts of Americans For Prosperity.
How far is a right-wing challenger going to get with those forces arrayed against him?
Not far. And the basic principles of elite signaling indicate that support among that group will lead to more support. It wouldn’t be a smart move for Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney to get on the wrong side of Rush & Fox. Jim DeMint might or might not find it useful to act as a rightwing defector from dealmaking, but he wouldn’t actually get anywhere without conservative media to back him. In essence, coordinated action among a very small number of people can cut the oxygen off from the tea party fire any time they want to. So the question becomes not how “the tea party” will react, but how a relatively small number of influential conservative media figures will react.
This strikes me as overstating elite conspiracy theories. The swinging dicks that Yglesias namechecks tend to support Team Red, but that doesn't mean their self-interest aligns so neatly that they would sit down in a room together and collude. Issues that divide the right, like immigration, have proved as much in the past. Look at CPAC's inability to grapple with a handful of right-leaning homosexuals.
But one begins to worry that Tea Partiers are overly credulous when it comes to conservative elites. So many of its members trust the factual veracity of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, and imagine the motivating factor of everything they broadcast is ideology, when profit and ego are inherently alloyed in the mix. These voices are incentivized to make a huge deal out of something like earmark reform, while steering clear of more consequential policy failures especially when they're fraught with divisive controversy or cannot be distilled into useful soundbytes. They remain the only way to really reform conservatism, while being the main forces restricting it to a form of entertainment.
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