It’s a new moment of transition for conservative media in America. Back in the 1980s, the radio host Rush Limbaugh pioneered a form of right-wing talk radio that connected with millions of listeners, fueled resentment toward cultural and political liberalism, and helped elect Republicans across the United States. Fox News debuted in the 1990s, giving the American right a televisual powerhouse, while casting itself as an alternative to a mainstream media dominated by left-wing bias. In the following decades, conservative media increasingly shaped the style and substance of Republican politics—eventually epitomized by the brash, brawling former President Donald Trump, a one-time reality-TV star. Throughout Trump’s presidency, these media outlets championed him—and with him, a populist form of right-wing politics increasingly in tension with traditional conservative ideas. With Trump out of office, how is the conservative-media ecosystem adapting?

Brian Rosenwald—a historian of politics and media, and the author of Talk Radio’s America—says that these institutions are becoming, if anything, more Trump-like. They show sympathy for Trump’s supporters and no mercy with his detractors. Meanwhile, conservative media is continuing to portray Biden as a senile stooge of socialist radicals, and they’ll likely continue to opposed him no matter what he says or does. Whenever they might struggle to portray elected Democrats as villainous, Rosenwald says, these outlets will continue turning to cultural coverage, decrying a left-wing “wokeness” they see rising in schools, workplaces, and the corporate world. Right-wing media may eventually not need Trump but, as Rosenwald sees things, it will indefinitely need in business what Trump has always needed in politics: threats and enemies.

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Graham Vyse: How did conservative media help the Republican Party arrive at this moment?

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