GOP burns to the ground: Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and the self-immolation of the Republican establishment

They're against Trump now, but conservative elites have been kindling this wildfire for the better part of a decade

Published January 27, 2016 8:30AM (EST)

Sarah Palin, Donald Trump   (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Brendan McDermid/Photo montage by Salon)
Sarah Palin, Donald Trump (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Brendan McDermid/Photo montage by Salon)

This article originally appeared on Media Matters.

For the record, it wasn't Sarah Palin's rambling endorsement of Donald Trump last week that finally drove editors at National Review to launch the magazine's "Against Trump" push. The conservative media revolt had been in the works weeks prior to Palin's now-classic oratory display.

Still, there was something fitting about the Right Wing Noise Machine's simmering civil war over Trump breaking out into open warfare in the wake of Palin's embarrassing speech; a comeback that had lots of Republican supporters publicly cringing.

What's inescapable about the mounting GOP hand wringing is that Trump is a right-wing media creation. He's flourishing on the fertile playing field of bigotry and resentment that National Review, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and a litany of others, have helped seed for many years. There's little doubt that during President Obama's two terms they cultivated an anti-intellectual movement that now appears poised to seize control of the Republican Party.

Today, scores of conservative commentators remain utterly baffled as to what's driving the popularity of the man who, in a matter of weeks, may control the Republican Party nomination. How astonishing is that?

Not only that, but Trump's critics on the right are waging an all-out civil war with his fiercest media defenders, forcing media players to take sides in the slug fest.

For a movement that has often displayed amazing discipline in terms of targeting its cannon fire on Democrats and liberals, the Right Wing Noise Machine now finds itself stuck in circular firing mode.

On one side, Trump's denounced as a "vicious demagogue," a "con man," a "glib egomaniac," and "the very epitome of vulgarity." On the other side, Trump's army has derided National Review as out of touch, and accused the magazine of cozying up to "open border zealots," a cardinal sin on the right.

None of that disguises the fact that Trump is the monster the Noise Machine created by encouraging bigoted and dishonest forces within the conservative movement; by giving credence to the three year Benghazi cover-up charade, the two year IRS witch hunt, by fueling ugly passions about Obama wanting to take away everyone's guns, and by arguing he's uninterested in defending America's national security.

For years, lots of conservative pundits and talkers cashed large, and in some cases very large, paychecks feeding this ugly beast. Now the beast is beyond their control and they're going to whine all the way to New Hampshire?

Call it the perils of Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Conservative John Ziegler saw this media-enable crack-up coming months ago (emphasis in original):

Thanks to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge, Sarah Palin, a website named "Breitbart," and certain elements of Fox News (all of whom have both pushed and ridden the Trump bandwagon for selfish commercial purposes), the conservative base is living under several important delusions which has allowed for "Trumpsanity" to foster and grow.

Fact: The only entity that could likely stop Trump at this point would be a concerted effort by Fox News. But Roger Ailes and company are reportedly struggling with how to handle the Republican frontrunner, and have shown no interest in trying to take him down.

The conservative shock and awe of a possible Trump nomination, and the long-term political implications itcould unleash, is now real.

But the revolt likely arrives comically late to the game, since a September or October pushback would've made more sense. Indeed, the magazine is "telling the Republican Party to pull its ripcord long after we've hit the ground," noted GOP consultant Alex Castellanos.

That delay certainly raises questions about the competency behind the "Against Trump" endeavor. Denouncing Trump, National Review editors insist he "is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones."

But all of those things were telegraphed nearly half-a-year ago when Trump first sprinted to the head of the GOP pack. Why did it take National Review editors and nearly two-dozen writers six months to belatedly acknowledge the obvious and, most importantly, join forces to stop him? (National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote that the project was first launched in late December, but then had to be set aside because of the busy holiday season.)

And who has the conservative nation turned its lonely eyes to in its hour of common sense need? Glenn Beck (Obama's a "racist"), Dana Loesch, Katie Pavlich, Erick Erickson, and Brent Bozell, who once likened Obama to a "skinny, ghetto crackhead."

Talk about a rogues gallery of Obama Derangement Syndrome sufferers who have now banded together to preach political clarity. But when the intellectual cupboard is bare, you make due with what's still left on the shelves and hope the expiration date hasn't already passed.

The Right Wing Noise Machine was revved up to 11 during the Obama years in an effort to destroy his presidency. In the end, the Noise Machine's lasting contribution, in the form of a Trump nominee, may be assuring that Obama hands the White House over to another Democrat.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Civil War Donald Trump Gop Media Matters Sarah Palin