Can Republicans control the extremists on talk radio? Nope

Wayne Laugesen, the Editorial Page Editor at the conservative Colorado Springs Gazette, made the point last week on Rocky Mountain PBS’ Colorado State of Mind that the “general public” thinks conservative talk radio “is part of the GOP.”

And for good reason. You find the top GOP candidates, like Mitt Romney, holding forth on Denver talk radio, while avoiding TV or print media. As elections get close, you hear talk radio hosts acting as if they are part of that famous well-oiled Republican get-out-the-vote machine. You see GOP leaders say something in Washington, and then you hear it again on KNUS radio in Denver.

And when something outrageous trickles out of the talk radio world and into the headlines, it rapidly becomes linked to conservatives. See Rush Limbaugh. At the local level, see Mike Rosen, Brownie, Steve Kelley, Tom Lucero and Devon Lentz, Amy Oliver, Jeff Crank, the whole gang.

It’s pretty obvious that Republicans would like to figure out a miracle way to stop the hatred and extremism on talk radio so they can be better polish up the image of their party, especially among Hispanics.

“The talk on immigration comes out on talk radio anymore as just general hostility toward Latino culture,” said Laugesen.

But does anyone really expect conservative talk radio hosts to change their tune anytime soon? No, because if they did, they’d lose their audience, which listens to the shows precisely to hear the extremism they love.

The conservative talk-radio audience has been nurtured to want the extreme talk. That’s how the shows built what little audience they have. It worked.

As explained here, they captured a market niche alienated from the reasonable news media. Talk radio listeners like to connect with people who share their fringe views. (This is a generalization, I know, but still.)

How is that going to change anytime soon? It can’t, because if conservative talk radio moderates itself, it will die. Its core audience will change the channel.

But there’s hope, if you’re a Republican like Laugesen. The conservative white, aging, male audience of talk radio is on the way out. But chances are they’ll stick around long enough, with their extremism stuck to them, to make it all the more difficult for the GOP to re-invent itself.

View Laugesen video here.

Laugesen: A lot of Republicans will say, we’re not against Hispanics at all, we’re against illegal immigrants. Okay, we get that, but that’s not how it comes across. It’s not how it comes across on talk radio, which is, right or wrong, is viewed by the general public as part of the GOP, a big part of the GOP. The talk on immigration comes out on talk radio anymore as just general hostility toward Latino culture. So I think that’s really hurt Republicans. In 1984 you had Ronald Reagan who actively sought the Hispanic vote, and he got 40 percent of it. Later on in 2004, you had George Bush, who spoke Spanish, and was very good about courting the Hispanic vote got 44 percent. So it was going up. And–

Host Cynthia Hessen: And talk radio kind of talked it away?

Laugesen: Talk radio and a lot of politicians pandering for the white vote, apparently. I don’t know what their thinking is. Let’s try to be more conservative than the next guy by talking more critically about immigration, illegal immigration.

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