The Laura Ingraham moment: Is it time for the talkers to become the candidates?

Right-wing media stars and GOP candidates are now equally extreme. What if Laura Ingraham and co. ran for office?

Published July 29, 2014 11:43AM (EDT)

Laura Ingraham
Laura Ingraham

Talk radio host and Fox News personality Laura Ingraham is, at long last, the toast of the right and the scourge of the evil backslapping GOP Establishment. We are in the Republican Party's Ingraham Moment, in which her topic of choice, immigration, has returned to its rightful place atop right-wing bitching lists.

She was the subject of a flattering profile in the conservative Sunday Times this weekend, in which Washington bureau chief Tony Harnden describes her "striking good looks and her status as the most listened-to woman on American radio talk programmes." She "is fast becoming the most powerful conser­vative voice denouncing any compromise on immigration," Harnden writes, "and call­ing for the deportation of the Latin American children who are amassing on the southern border of the United  States."

The catalyst for Ingraham's rise from influential right-wing talker to most influential right-wing talker of the summer was her role in Virginia's 7th District Republican primary. While the national Tea Party groups ignored the race completely, Ingraham was vocalizing support and appearing at rallies for little-known challenger David Brat. Brat would go on to pull off one of the most shocking primary upsets in history by crushing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. A revolt against comprehensive immigration reform, which Cantor had merely dabbled in, played a major role in his ouster.

Ingraham has since continued campaigning for anti-immigration Tea Party candidates like Joe Carr, another shoestring long shot who faces incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander in Tennessee's Aug. 7 Republican primary. If Carr pulls off that unlikely upset, Ingraham's popularity and the Republican Party's inability to ever expand beyond its shrinking base would both be at all-time highs. Which poses the question -- not really, but Harnden asked her, so whatever -- would Ingraham herself ever consider running for office?

Ingraham hinted that her forays into Republican primary races this year could be the foundation for a political career of her own. "I've been approached by various people to get involved," she said. "I'm keeping an open mind about running for office in the future."

So what's it going to be? Ingraham/Brat '16? Ingraham/Santelli '16? Ingraham/Cruz '16? CRUZ/SANTELLI/INGRAHAM/BRAT/COULTER '16 -- like a sort of Politburo-type ticket thing?? Let's not get ahead of ourselves -- Ingraham is still a couple of cycles away from the Oval Office.

But it's worth considering when these radio talkers, who command extraordinary audiences every day, will cease to be just talkers and take the plunge into a House or Senate race. Talk radio and other conservative media outlets used to serve as the rightward pole in a race, pulling Republican candidates in their direction, but never necessarily all the way. But given the rightward lunge of the Republican Party over the last few years, the gap has been closed: There's no air between Laura Ingraham/Mark Levin/Rush Limbaugh and the right-flank candidates challenging incumbents for office. Since the crazies are running the show, why not have their most famous delegates finally slot their names onto ballots?

If Laura Ingraham wanted a congressional seat representing a deep-red district, it would be hers for the taking. (She might even have to live in one of these districts first.) She'd bring extraordinary resources and name recognition to a primary, win it on a red-meat platform, and then earn the final seal of approval on Election Day.

In any House or Senate seat that's in an even marginally competitive district or state, though, it gets tougher. Oh, sure, she could still push her way through a Republican primary. In a general election, though, that's where the big problem comes into play: decades and decades of hateful comments directed at more or less every person and demographic. The opposition research would be as simple as a Google search. It could start with her college years, where she spewed "the most extreme antihomosexual views imaginable" for the Dartmouth Review, run through that entire book she wrote of fake racist Obama diary entries, end with her current xenophobic spree, and the hundreds of thousands of odious episodes in between.

But there's little reason for Ingraham or her right-wing media ilk, even after they've brought the Republican Party down to their level, to bother with a House or Senate race. It would be an extraordinary pay cut. And it would also be a significant reduction of power. Congresswoman Laura Ingraham or Sen. Laura Ingraham would possess about .00001 percent of the power she currently holds. She has a direct line to millions of people a day and can speak freely. She clearly has no interest in passing legislation, only stopping legislation through demagoguery, and serving -- serving, ugh, even that word! -- as a backbencher buried in the House Subcommittee on Capitol Janitorial Pensions meetings would be a real distraction from the important business of riling up crazy people about Mexicans.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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