For months, Donald Trump realized that no matter how extreme his rhetoric became, conservative talk-radio hosts would generally stand in his corner. So imagine the Republican frontrunner's surprise early last week when he took a few rhetorical shots at rival Ted Cruz -- which sparked an immediate back lash from far-right radio.
Specifically, Trump called Cruz a "maniac" for his frequent confrontations with congressional Republican leaders, drawing a swift rebuke from Rush Limbaugh
, Mark Levin
, and others, each of whom were eager to defend the Texas senator.
Trump has not repeated the criticism since.
In any presidential campaign, we tend to think about which candidates will appeal most to various constituencies, groups, and sub-groups, but in Republican politics, talk radio has a real impact, and as Politico reports
today, this appears to be Cruz Country.
With a month left until the Iowa caucuses, attacks on the ascendant 2016 contender have nudged his talk radio supporters back into line, pushing them to throw their valuable support behind the candidate they want to win rather than the one who assures a strong audience. And with tens of millions of listeners -- and a large slice of likely GOP primary voters -- at stake, the backing of these right-wing opinion-makers is significant. Their preference for Cruz, in fact, suggests the upswing in his standing in Iowa and national polls has some durability.
"He's my guy," Glenn Beck said. "I like Ted Cruz a lot."
Trump, who generally acts with a degree of fearlessness, is not blind to the situation. Consider this exchange
the other day between the Republican frontrunner and Fox's Howard Kurtz:
Kurtz: [A]fter the 'maniac' comment, two powerful voices in radio, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, generally been supportive of you ... Trump: Two great guys ... Kurtz: ... criticized you for taking on Cruz. Did that make you rethink it a little? Trump: Well, I like those two people. They've been very supportive and it did. It made me think about it a little bit because Mark and Rush have been so nice to me and, and I did think about it a little bit.
In case it's not obvious, it takes a lot to get Trump to have second thoughts on any subject, but when some of the biggest voices in conservative talk radio pushed back against some Trump rhetoric, he quickly did as they demanded.
It's probably overstating matters to argue that talk radio plays a king-maker role in national Republican politics -- Limbaugh & Co. didn't care for John McCain or Mitt Romney, and both won their respective nominations -- but in a competitive race, these voices influence much of the conservative base. It's a welcome edge for any Republican candidate.
The fact that Cruz has their support and respect, coupled with the fact that the hosts will defend him when he faces fire from his GOP rivals, is a key reason the Texas Republican is on the rise.