Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy’s appearance on CNN’s indispensable Reliable Sources on Sunday emphasized the importance of Palm Beach. Ruddy, who was named as one of the 100 most influential conservatives in the country by The Daily Telegraph in 2010 used the Obama years to turn Palm Beach County-based Newsmax into a more influential voice on the far right than the more established and mainstream publications. Ruddy’s journalistic lineage dates back to the Richard Mellon-Scaife “Arkansas Project” of the early 1990’s.
Like David Brock (whom my colleague Brook Hines will have a piece on in the near future) Ruddy cut his teeth in the Scaife world of investigating the Clinton’s. Unlike Brock, Ruddy remained a conservative and built his own ideologically-driven media empire outside of the mainstream Republican circuit, adroitly associating first with neoconservative foreign policy and then with tea party opposition to both President Obama and the GOP establishment. By the time the 2012 primaries for President rolled around GOP hopefuls were making the pilgrimage to Palm Beach County to worship at the alter of the empire Ruddy had built. The next year, Newsmax launched a TV network, one that made FOX News look moderate and reasoned. In 2017, with Trump in the White House, Ruddy and Newsmax have extraordinary power.
Palm Beach County also plays home to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter – the two most visible angry conservatives and two people the mainstream of the Republican Party often has to apologize for. At a time when more intellectual conservative media personalities such as Charles Krauthaumer and Stephen Hayes are lukewarm about Trump, and some like David Frum, George F. Will and William Kristol are outright hostile to the new President, Limbaugh and Coulter are the ringleaders of the cheering squad for the White House’s most extreme rhetoric.
Coulter’s championing of Trump with rhetoric more overtly racist than the candidate himself was willing to embrace in the primaries allowed the women who rose to prominence by advocating the jailing of President Clinton to become even more visible and credible to some than previously. Limbaugh, whose influence had waned in recent years has reemerged as a leader of the conservative line on talk radio thanks in large measure to Glenn Beck’s open ambivalence about what he sees as Steve Bannon’s racism – something that has prevented Limbaugh’s biggest talk radio rival from fully embracing Trump and in fact that among other things stopped Beck from casting his ballot for Trump last November. Limbaugh has no such moral qualms about Bannon or Trump for that matter and has become once again a leader in propagating the most extreme right wing rhetoric.
Since Trump was elected President, Beck has embraced much of his policy while continuing to regularly cast warnings about Bannon and his racism even taking to CNN to discuss him, thus making it unlikely Beck will ever truly support Trump. Beck’s unwillingness to put aside his (justified) opposition to Bannon’s racism means Limbaugh is now once again king of the conservative talk radio hill.
On the state level, the influential BizPac Review, an unabashedly conservative site has emerged as the biggest online player in local Palm Beach County politics and has a footprint even at the national level.
While a convenient fallback position for the alignment of conservative media in the area for many Democrats has for years been to claim how successful the party is locally, even that is changing. Al Gore got almost 63% of the counted vote in Palm Beach County in 2000 (and as someone who prominently featured in that county’s recount in 2000, I can tell you 64% probably intended to vote for Gore – the linked New York Times article is important to understanding what happened in that recount), yet by 2016, Hillary Clinton was carrying just 56.5% of the county vote. This is direct contrast with other urban counties such as Miami-Dade where Gore got 53% but Clinton got close to 64% and Orange where Gore got 51% but Clinton won 61% of the counties voters. Palm Beach County is trending Republican and the preponderance of influential state and national conservatives certainly isn’t helping matters.
Palm Beach County is now the epicenter of the conservative world in so many ways. It’s important progressives, particularly those in southeast Florida remain vigilant toward this alternative media that has cropped up.