Changing the minds of Donald Trump’s supporters over his attempted insurrection will require a bombshell revelation of previously unreleased information because the nation is so divided in its media silos.
That’s the view of Professor Brian Rosenwald, an expert on media and politics at the University of Pennsylvania. Rosenwald says he has personally found the House January 6 Committee hearings “powerful,” but he doubts that they have yet moved the needle politically.
Still, Rosenwald doesn’t rule out that changing. And in an exclusive Raw Story interview, he added that Democrats might minimize their expected 2022 midterm losses thanks to the same media forces that have driven Republicans further to the right.
The reason: the emergence of bad candidates capable of winning Republican primaries but who voters might find too extreme in November, Rosenwald says. He says it’s unlikely that Democrats can retain control of the House but considers the Senate a tossup.
Rosenwald authored the 2019 book, “Talk Radio’s America: How An Industry Took Over A Political Party That Took Over The United States.” Here’s part of his Raw Story interview:
Q. How do you think the January 6 Committee hearings are going so far?
A. I personally find the January 6 hearings to be powerful and troubling for what they signal and how extensive this conspiracy is. But more broadly, I think that they are going to have a very minimal political impact unless there is some sort of real shock moment or surprise moment here, something that we didn't already basically know. The committee needs something that translates into a really good sound bite or a really powerful clear linkage where you say, “Okay, Donald Trump or other top Republicans, where they be in Congress, whether they be staffers committed not just a crime, but committed a crime that every American understands as a crime.”
Q. Why is that harder today as opposed to, say, during Watergate hearings?
A. One reason that Watergate was so powerful was that (a) you had tapes of Nixon, you had irrefutable proof and (b) you've got a crime that almost every American understands, which is burglary and coverup. That's very obvious and easy for people to understand. A lot of what you've got going on here with Trump are crimes that are less easy to understand, or that to people on the right seem justified. And there was reporting last week, at the end of last week that if anything, it hardened the attitudes of Republicans in swing states.
Q. Is that surprising to you?
A. I never thought that this was going to get committed Republicans to change their minds, given how many of them think that the election was illegitimate, despite a complete and total lack of evidence to support that. Even though we now know that Trump was hearing over and over from his own staffers, and his own legal officials, saying, “There's no evidence of this, sir. This is all made up. Let's stop this nonsense.”
Q. What about for those somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum?
A. I would say that if there is a chance that it has some influence with independents and with those suburbanites who have been trending Democratic over the last decade. People in suburban Atlanta, people in suburban Phoenix, and it could have some impact, but I think that to be very honest some of it's already baked in. It's a powerful case there's not that much that we're hearing that we didn't already know and that hadn't already been reported.
Q. That’s not encouraging.
A. It’s hard to cut through the clutter of our world. This isn't 1973 where you've got four channels on your television at night, and one of them, PBS, is playing the Watergate hearings every night and it becomes a national drama. What you've got here is so many options and so many distractions, and quite frankly, I think some people are just tuning out the news in general because it's so bad.
Q. So how do you cut through it?
A. There's got to be something in these remaining hearings that they've kind of held back. that hasn't leaked, that we didn't know about for that is something truly shocking you know some evidence that someone we didn't know was involved some clear evidence of somebody doing something they knew was wrong. And admitting such. Something new and shocking that captures the front pages and captures people's attention.
Q. And lacking that?
A. Otherwise, all it's going to do is convince Democrats and maybe some legal conservatives that there's a real big problem here. Meanwhile, the rest of Americans shrug their shoulders and point at the gas signs that say it's five- or six-something a gallon.
Q. Well, that’s sobering enough. So, you wrote the book on how talk radio took over the Republican Party which in turn took over the U.S. How do you handicap the influence of that in the 2022 midterms, particularly with right-wing media rallying around Trumpism?
A. Honestly, I think it hurts Republicans. I know that's probably counterintuitive to what you were expecting me to say. But I think it hurts Republicans because it's helped shape the candidates that they’re nominating. There are many of them who, in the pre-right-wing radio era, would have had no shot of winning a primary. You have a lot of people who are frankly, by historical standards, really rotten candidates, either because they're extreme or they're unqualified and whose main kind of selling point seems to be that they throw the most red meat to the base. They are most pro-Trump and pro-Trumpism and they excite the base.
Q. That was a big theme in your book, wasn’t it?
A. Yes. We all missed the big selling point of Trump in 2015 and 2016. The analysts and commentators and scholars were saying, “how is Donald Trump, the epitome of kind of a libertine lifestyle triumphing in this party full of Christian conservatives? He's like the anti of everything that they claim to support.” But when the light bulb went off for me, the answer was: Look, they want someone who's going to fight, who sounds like their favorite hosts, who has that style of “You tell me I can't say something? Well, I’m going to say it just to piss you off. I’m going to say it to own the libs. Because if we just fight, we might get somewhere.”
Q. That worked, didn’t it?
A. Yes. They had George W. Bush, great guy, evangelical Christian kind of living on their creed, but they saw themselves as losing ground under his presidency and not making the gains they wanted. And Donald Trump, with his transactional style, promised to deliver for them.
Q. So, will that work again for them in 2022?
A. It’s not certain. It's all set up nicely for Republicans. The economic environment favors them, the President’s approval rating is low, people's confidence is low in the direction of the country, gas prices are sky high. It’s set up for a wave election. But that being said, If you look at the people that they've nominated, it is a really weak crop of candidates, and many are running in states that are largely blue or purple. It’s likely that this talk-radio-ization of Republican politics could hurt Republicans more than help them.
Q. So what’s the best case for Democrats in 2022?
A. The best-case outlook is, they probably narrowly lose the House. They hold the Senate, and maybe even expand their majority, and then maybe pick up a governorship or two and make some State legislative gains. I can't see them holding the House unless something fundamental changes economically between now and say September. If gas prices went down a $1.50 a gallon, that might have a major role.
Q. What’s your advice for the Democrats?
A. I think they get there by stressing the extremism of the GOP and the fact that they're the ones with a positive agenda. They have to get there by localizing races. They get there by saying, “Look, you know I'm the one who agrees with you on more. I'm the one who's going to fight for you more. And touting achievements. Maybe they’ll get a deal on gun regulation. Or they can talk about lowering prescription prices, or a deal on reconciliation. Negative campaigning works, but you also have to have a positive agenda, focusing on the issues where the voters are most aligned with you. And you have to do it state by state, district by district. You’ve got to say to voters, “I’m going to offer you something.”