Newt's Surge: 'It's The Media, Stupid!'

The American Left has been repeating a persistent meme that the Republican base is somehow less intelligent and less sophisticated than the progressive voter base. I confess to having held that belief myself, but it may be time to transition to a more fact based belief. I now see them more as Stockholm Syndrome survivors.

Fox News began in Oct 1996, with the original name of Republican TV, and right wing radio long before that. Fox has grown into the country's largest cable news station: in 2010 they had more viewers than MSNBC, CNN and HLN combined.

Meanwhile right-wing pundits and politicians such as Sarah Palin and Andrew Breitbart have said for years that Republicans should only allow themselves to be interviewed by Fox or other right wing media, characterizing any media not steeped in their ideology as threatening to the base.

Mitt Romney's recent comment "I'll be on Fox a lot because you guys matter when it comes to Republican primary voters" drives the point home. Right-wing media has so thoroughly penetrated the base that it is no longer necessary to use "mainstream media" to speak to their desired demographic.

With the near monopoly that right-wing radio and TV have on Republican media consumption, the power they have, and use, to control the message is huge, and often unquestioned. A Pew Research Center for the People and the Press study, and more recently, a Fairleigh Dickinson University study, both show Fox viewers to be less informed than people who watch no news.

Since that isn't a natural result of watching the news, the obvious conclusion is that Fox is misinforming their viewers. In fact, when looking at the Pew studies, we see a trend of viewers becoming less informed over time. Rush Limbaugh, Grover Nordquist, Frank Luntz, Bill O'Reilly and Shawn Hannity -- a group of media personalities and a few issue folks -- are widely acknowledged to be the strongest forces in the Republican party. Sound machine stars have become the real power.

Gingrich's surge strongly suggests that the media is more powerful than the party. He has set in motion a Pavlovian response from a Republican base well-trained by the right-wing sound machine. We hear people on TV say "the base wants someone to fight the fight," or that "they are angry." But the reason that republican base responds to Gingrich's hostile, vitriolic diatribes tis because they mirror the hate speak of right wing pundits on TV and radio. He sounds like what the Republican base listens to to all day.

Here are some quotes; some of them are from right wing media, some of them from Gingrich. Can you tell pundit from politician?

1. "If only Al Sharpton were around, Lincoln would have known he was a victim of racism."
2. "I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around a campfire but are lousy in politics."
3. "You're entitled to your opinion. I frankly don't really care what you have to say."
4. "In every election in American history both parties have their clichés. The party that has the clichés that ring true wins."
5. "The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument."
6. "I'll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo - every filthy Democrat in the US Congress."
7. "Best food stamp president" (said in reference to President Obama)
8. "I've been to Africa three times. All right? You can't bring Western reasoning into the culture. The same way you can't bring it into fundamental Islam."
9. "Affirmative Action candidate" (said in reference to President Obama)

The tone of these statements, the derisive intent of each, is so similar they all could have been said by the same person.

Now here is who said what:
1- Ann Coulter; 2 - Gingrich; 3 -Hannity; 4 -Gingrich; 5- Gingrich; 6- Hannity; 7 - Gingrich; 8 - O'Reilly; 9 - Rush Limbaugh.

Gingrich evokes the same emotional reaction in the base as do the pundits. In psychology this is called "classical conditioning," better known to us as a Pavlovian Response. It could be one of the underlying reasons for Newt's surge.

Newt, although he carries so many negatives, has become a very real candidate. This has little to do with his positions or policies. He has found a messaging 'sweet spot' that is pitch- perfect to the personalities in right wing media. Establishment Republicans are now trying to use the sound machine to attack Gingrich, but until recently they misunderstood the full extent of what Fox et al has accomplished, how deeply their conversation has penetrated the right, the extent to which power has been transferred. Only now is the establishment worried that the monster they have created will eat the women and children and then destroy the village. For the establishment Republicans, it is a realization that may have come too late.

Charles Higgins is an entrepreneur and financier from the MidWest, now writing from an island in the Pacific Northwest. This is his first piece for Off the Bus. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to The Huffington Post's coverage of the 2012 election season, please contact us at