Editorial by John Ziegler

Important Primary Revelations

1/30/2008

Important Primary Revelations

(Note, this column was run in the Orange County Register on February 1st)

While it may be inconsistent with our political culture's remarkably short attention span and obsession with the next battle, much can and should be already learned from the rollercoaster ride that has been this Presidential Primary season. Among the many revelations that have come to light is that that talk radio and opposition to illegal immigration are both far less potent political weapons than has been previously perceived.

Quite simply, based on the results to date it is no longer possible for even ardent conservatives to make the arguments that talk radio is even particularly politically relevant or that strong opposition to illegal immigration is helpful in getting elected to almost anything.

It was only last spring when talk radio and the opposition to illegal immigration were inextricably linked as the former was widely, and plausibly, given credit for forwarding the cause of the latter by fueling the successful resistance to the U.S. Senate's amnesty bill. However, just seven months later it seems as if that event never happened, or, at the very least, was badly misinterpreted.

To examine this reality, let's take a look first at talk radio itself. The medium's undisputed King, Rush Limbaugh (with whom I agree on most issues and immensely respect as a fellow broadcaster) has been revealed in this primary season to be an Emperor with no clothes.

Rush has always had a 'rule' that he does not endorse candidates in Republican primaries. Of course, that really is not a 'rule' since in 2000 he 'anti-endorsed' John McCain in a two man race with the Governor George Bush in South Carolina. Rather than real a canon of his church, this 'rule' seems to be merely a way for Rush to keep himself from being embarrassed and revealed as no longer wielding a big stick should he back the wrong horse.

As a talk show host myself, I have always found it laughable that the only issue on which the medium's premiere talent has an official prohibition on expressing an opinion (he seems to have an unofficial ban on religious topics), happens to be by far the most important question facing his listeners, and seemingly the one over which he would have the most potential to actually impact the outcome: who should be the Republican Presidential nominee'

How anyone could take Rush, or any other talk show host who take a pass on this matter (some of the Princes in his kingdom have taken the same pathetic path), seriously on anything is totally beyond me. If there ever was an 'ah hah!' moment, this is it.

So instead of endorsing Fred Thompson (who was obviously his first preference) Rush decided to meekly wink and nod in Fred's direction while engaging in the anti-endorsement game again in South Carolina. This time around Rush focused his attacks on not just John McCain, but also Mike Huckabee. The order of finish in South Carolina: McCain narrowly beat Huckabee and Thompson (who relied heavily on local talk radio interviews to get out his message) finished a distant third, forcing him to drop out of the race. The decisive winner in Rush's adopted home state of Florida: John McCain.

Talk radio has always had a dubious record when it comes to influencing elections. Locally, my former colleagues at KFI, John & Ken, made an unprecedented effort to bring down Republican congressman David Dreier for being weak on illegal immigration in 2006. The race was never even considered in doubt and Dreier ended up winning by a comfortable 11 point margin.

The truth is that radio talk show hosts have far less influence over the actions of their independent 'minded listeners than presumed, and the size of their audiences, even as rated by a system that probably overstates their numbers, at best consists of only a tiny fraction of the overall population.

These dirty little secrets within the talk radio world also help explain how opposition to illegal immigration is a vastly overrated political force.

Those who are fully engaged in the totally justified fight to stem the tide of illegal immigration like to think that they represent a silent majority of American thought, but the early primary results tell a starkly different story. If this assessment was anything other than a self-delusion, how would it be even conceivable that the first four drop outs from the Republican Presidential race would also be the four strongest opponents of illegal immigration? How would amnesty backer John McCain now be almost certain to be the Republican nominee? Why is it that there has not been even one documented case of an incumbent or favorite being defeated for any significant office because they were not tough enough on the issue?

These are questions that foes of illegal immigration don't seem very eager to answer, or even ask. If they are honest with themselves they won't like what the facts clearly show and they aren't likely to get those answers from a medium that is far more invested in protecting its economic viability and perceived political power, than pursuing the truth.

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