Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann maintains one of the largest press operations in Congress. Her staff goes out of its way to “place” the Republican firebrand on television and radio talk shows.
So Bachmann should “get” a thing or two about the realities of right-wing talk radio and conservative cable television.
For instance, while right’s radio and cable hosts have loyal audiences, they speak to highly-partisan audiences that like living in an echo chamber. That’s the nature of the game. Most liberal talk-radio and cable television programs focus on their side’s faithful — although, it is notable that some progressive hosts, such as Ed Schultz (a prairie populist who made his name in Fargo) and Stephanie Miller (the daughter of Barry Goldwater’s vice presidential running-mate) bust out of the echo chamber to take unscreened calls and actually debate conservative listeners.
But whether we’re talking about talk-radio and cable on the right or the left, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of Americans are getting their information from other sources.
In other words, even the most popular hosts are not necessarily the definitional players in our national conversation — let alone our politics.
This is something Bachmann should recognize.
But she seems to be confused — to put it charitably — and maybe just a little politically suicidal.
Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Show” the other night, she argued that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are the new voices not just of the Republican Party but of America.
King kept noting that the actual appeal of Beck — the hot new “star” of the right — and his compatriots is miniscule when compared with the potential audience. “They’re talking (to) about one percent of the population,” observed the veteran cable host. “They had no effect on the election… Would you want them to be the voice of the Republican Party?”
In fact, only the grand old man of right-wing talk radio, Limbaugh, can stake a reasonable claim on a listenership that exceeds 5 percent of the population. And even by Limbaugh’s wildest estimates of his appeal, his listenership does not account for 10 percent of the voting-age population.
But Bachmann wasn’t interested in real numbers, or in the very real prospect that she was proposing a strategy that could further narrow the appeal of a Republican party that has yet to rebound in the polls after two dismal election cycles.
Here, courtesy of the keen observers at Think Progress is a snippet of the conversation:
KING: Would you want the Limbaugh, that crowd — would you want them to be your voice as the Republican Party stands in this country?
BACHMANN: Well remember it’s who the American people are referring toLarry. And the American people are looking to voices like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck…
KING: I just told you — it’s 2 percent of America (that regularly tunes in to Bachmann’s favorite programming). It’s 2 percent!
BACHMANN: If you look for a critical mass, that’s the movement, that’sthe direction that the critical mass is going. And the American peopleare very smart people.
The American people are very smart people.
The vast majority of them pay scant attention to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Michele Bachmann. And when Americans come in contact with the toxic rhetoric of the right, they wisely reject it. (Back in the spring, when Limbaugh was making headlines with his “I hope Obama fails” ranting, polls showed that Americans approved of Obama by a 65-29 margin, while they disapproved of Limbaugh 46-30.)
The question that King was trying to get at, and that Bachmann could not quite wrap her head around, was the electoral reality that, even if President Obama and the Democrats stumble, the Republican party is going to have a hard time renewing itself with a “critical mass” that hugs the far fringes of the political continuum.
Perhaps that is why, when Bachmann was finished with her rumination, King did not try to argue with her.
He simply chuckled and said: “That’s funny.”