Life of the Party

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

Roger Ailes is the real head of the GOP.

I've been trying to answer this question: does the Republican Party have a "leader"? Surely it's not Michael Steele, the loose-lipped chairman of the RNC. Not Mitch McConnell, the funereal Kentuckian who heads the Senate's rejectionist GOP minority. Not Sen. John McCain; he's too busy watching his own right flank back home in Arizona. And certainly not the Bushes, elder and younger, hunkered down in Texas. As for the 2012 wannabes, none gets more than a fifth of the GOP vote in the early polls.

But I finally found my answer while I was watching Fox News Channel. Last Wednesday, the other news outlets were engaged in wall-to-wall, on-the-ground coverage of the horrific earthquake in Haiti. FNC, meanwhile, featured an hourlong Glenn Beck sit-down with Sarah Palin, Fox's newest "analyst," and wall-to-wall, on-the-ground coverage of the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, where a Republican, Scott Brown, seemed to be closing in fast on what was once Ted Kennedy's seat. "All eyes are on the Senate race in Massachusetts!" said Sean Hannity, who did his best to make it seem as though he believed it.

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.

The irony is that Ailes is not in the game to wield political power per se. He doesn't talk to the RNC and he can't stand most elected politicians, even the ones he puts on the air. …