Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum—which is why God created Roger Ailes. The president of Fox News is, by default, the closest thing there is to a kingmaker in Anti-Obama America. And that, in turn, makes him the de facto leader of the GOP. In a relentless (and spectacularly successful) hunt for cable ratings, Ailes has given invaluable publicity to the tea partiers, furnished tryout platforms to GOP candidates, and trained a fire hose of populist anger at the president and his allies in Congress. While Beltway Republicans wring their hands or write their tracts, Ailes has worked the countryside, using his feel for Main Street resentment to attract and give voice to this year’s angriest—and most powerful—voter-viewers: those who hate the Feds, the Fed, and the Ivy League. It was Ailes who put the “party” in the tea parties by giving them a round-the-clock national stage. Next month Fox will have priority access to the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
It’s worth considering the different incentives of a television executive trying to maximize ratings, a political operative trying to win elections, and an ideologue trying to push public policy in a specific direction. These are not the same thing.