As GOP buckles down on health care, conservative media loses interest – Washington Post

 In U.S.

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. (Ron Edmonds/AP)

On Tuesday, the fate of the Republicans’ attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act dominated news out of Washington. Phones rattled with alerts about the decision to delay a vote until mid-July. Camera crews jostled for shots of senators meeting with President Trump, then boarding a bus that took them past jeering protesters.

A viewer tuning into Fox News that night hardly saw any of it.

The network’s prime-time shows, ratings kings of cable news, ignored the health-care story. Fox’s 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. shows began with stories about a sting video that caught a CNN producer dismissing his network’s coverage of Russia and the 2016 election. “The Five,” Fox’s 9 p.m. show, began with the “bombshell” news that President Barack Obama had said — in October 2016 — that it would be “impossible” to rig the election. Nine minutes were spent on the Senate bill before a segue way into the CNN story.

The lack of “Obamacare repeal” coverage, unthinkable just six months ago, reflected a general decline of conservative interest in what had united Republicans for seven years. Conservative grass-roots groups have either ignored the latest health-care details, like Americans for Prosperity, or lobbied against the bill, like the Club for Growth.

Meanwhile, the White House and a symbiotic conservative media have largely moved on to other topics of media bias and cultural warfare. Fox’s multiple segments on the CNN sting came after White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters to watch it. Rush Limbaugh, whose dominant talk show was live during the Senate news, barely mentioned it at all.

“It’s not that surprising,” said Charlie Sykes, a former talk radio host from Wisconsin who has condemned what he sees as a move toward tribalism on the right. “You look at the trajectory of conservative media and it’s not been policy-oriented for a long time. It’s about whether you get the win or not. There’s nothing for Rush Limbaugh to sex up about a bill that’s neither repeal nor reform.”

It was not always like that — not when it came to “Obamacare.” Coverage of the bill’s passage, at the height of the tea party movement, was generally robust, if focused on details that irritated Democrats. (Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi’s infamous promise that people would “know what’s in the bill” after it was passed was about “the fog of controversy” churned up by conservatives.)

As a grass-roots movement, the tea party has largely disappeared or shifted its focus to states, where it has won real victories against the ACA. Since the start of the year, it has been outnumbered by “resistance” activists who continue to crowd town hall meetings and rally outside of congressional offices. Despite the struggles of the repeal bill, pro-repeal protesters have been rare.

“It’s pretty quiet,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), one of the few Republican members of Congress who has held and advertised open town hall meetings — which have been swarmed by Democrats. “There’s some hope that we will be able to change this on a wholesale level; other folks are saying no, the handwriting’s on the wall. It’s a fairly one-sided political equation in my district and in the districts I’m familiar with.”

Coverage on Fox News has captured the shift in real time. On the network, the only one that has scored presidential interviews this month, the repeal fight is covered as a priority of President Trump that his allies in Congress are doing a poor job of managing. In a friendly weekend interview, Fox contributor Pete Hegseth framed the health-care fight as a battle between unhinged Democrats and a careful president. He asked just one question about the bill itself: “Are Republican senators doing enough to have your back to get that health-care bill through?”

On Wednesday morning, “Fox and Friends” devoted just a few segments to the bill, all of them framed around a process that was unfair to the president.

“They had one job — repeal Obamacare!” said conservative columnist Michelle Malkin in the day’s first segment on the Senate news. “That’s it! And it’s fairly clear to most Americans what repeal means.”

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