Let’s look at a timeline ... one that goes back to the 1950s, over 60 years ago.
We begin in 1958 with the founding of the John Birch Society – a radical, right-wing, conservative organization that promoted limited government, racism, and conspiracy theories. Among their earliest backers, we find a familiar name: Fred Koch, father to the Koch Brothers.
Some people have said “Trumpism is essentially Bircherism”
Conservatives nominated the Republican candidate for president in 1964 - Barry Goldwater. And despite a landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson, conservatives doubled down on their limited government and free-market ideas so that in 1971, they produced the Lewis Powell Memo, titled "Attack on the American Free Enterprise System". This was triggered by the activist rise of Ralph Nader and his challenges to corporate America. This memo became the Blueprint for conservative corporate interests to retake America by taking control of the media.
And they succeeded. Despite forced resignations of VP Agnew and President Nixon and prison sentences for Nixon’s staff members, Republicans won control of the White House only 6 years later, electing “the Great Communicator”. That success came with the shocking help of a traditionally Democratic voting bloc – the labor union membership now known as “Reagan Democrats”.
Through the Reagan administration in the 1980s, we find the rise of anti-government language, especially Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform. “Reform”? No – this organization drove the Republican opposition to all tax increases, no matter what. Lawmakers signed a Pledge to always oppose tax increases and, later in the 1990s, Norquist hosted the “Wednesday Meetings”, a regular meet up of all the conservative groups to get everyone on the same page with the same talking points.
Also during Reagan’s time, we saw the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine and – to no surprise – an explosion of Talk Radio dominated by right-wing commentators led by Rush Limbaugh.
In 1994, Republicans take control of the US House, led by Newt Gingrich and powered by the “Contract with America”. An important part of that takeover is someone whose name we’ve come to know well – Frank Luntz, word master for Republican-speak.
Soon enough, in 1996, Fox News is launched by Roger Ailes. Ailes had proposed such a news outlet for conservative Republicans 25 years earlier in 1971 when he was part of the Nixon administration.
The 2010s brought us the big corporate political win with Citizens United, which opened the door for corporate political spending. And importantly, Sinclair Media started buying up Local Media outlets until today they reach 40% of the households nationwide with their extreme, conservative slant to the news.
And that takes us to “The Incident”. 2016 and the election of Donald Trump, media star. It took 60 years of dedicated planning and effort, but strong right-wing Conservative fanatics have taken over the Republican Party – and the proof is Donald Trump.
How do they do it? How do conservatives make their ideas dominate the Republicans and influence the public? It isn’t that remarkable. They have a recipe.
First, the conservative thought-leaders set the frames: limited government and promotion of the free market, concentrating on business interests – their own private interest.
Second, they distribute these frames through a network of think thanks and their partnership with the Chamber of commerce. The think tanks give them “intellectual cover” for their radical ideas, something that the Powell Memo called for.
Finally, the frames become the established norm through wide exposure via their conservative media network – “normalizing” radical conservative ideas like Supply-Side economics, or “Reaganomics”, for example.
This is a top-down approach. Ideas emanate from the top, a small cadre of conservative thinkers and leaders who form a “single source of truth”. They feed those ideas down through the conservative “pyramid” until they have indoctrinated the base, using the framing strategies and communication network that they’ve built over 60 years.
It seems simple … and unbeatable.
This is Part 1 of a 4-part series. Read the whole series here:
Part 1: Conservative Takeover