Roger Ailes for President

The head of Fox News helps direct the conservative movement from behind the scenes. Why not lead it openly?

Ronald Reagan did it. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it. Why not Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News?

The "it," of course, is running for high political office. Both the Gipper and Arnold made the leap from the silver screen to the governorship of California and, in Reagan's case, the presidency. Ailes, prodded by his buddy Frank Luntz, is rumored to be considered moving from the plasma screen to the White House. Ailes himself is denying it, which is usually the first sign that someone is seriously considering making a go of it. Hillary Clinton dismissed the idea recently as well. They're all content. No reason to run for the presidency. Meanwhile, the exploratory committee gets set up on the side.

In Ailes' case, there are compelling reasons to go for it. He's already shaken up the Obama administration. President Obama and his janissaries have made no secret of their antipathy for Fox News. They don't dislike it. They hate it. Charles Krauthammer noted the other day that the administration seems on its way to creating an enemies list that has Fox at the top.

Ailes' genius has been to tap, not the silent majority, but the raucous minority, which is big enough to swell the ratings of Fox. These days almost any president seems to elicit deep animosity. Bill Clinton was regarded as a rogue imposter by his detractors. So was George W. Bush. Now Obama is regarded with a mixture of fear and loathing by many on the Right.

It was not always so. Initially, the Right was bewildered by Obama. His message of peace and brotherhood, coupled with his astute rhetorical skills, had it floundering. But I would date the beginning of the Obama backlash to the musings of Jerome Corsi's book The Obama Nation. With its battalion of talk-show hosts, Fox essentially picked up on the Corsi message-illegitimate president, suspicious birth, socialist, radical steeped in the texts of Frantz Fanon, and so forth-and helped further mainstream it.

Which brings us to Ailes. Yes, Rupert Murdoch is the money behind Fox. But I would argue that no media figure has personally had a bigger impact on American politics in the past two decades than Ailes. Maybe even longer. It was Ailes who helped reinvent Richard Nixon after his disastrous run against Pat Brown in the 1962 race for California governor. Liberals dismissed Nixon as so much roadkill. They were wrong. Nixon made his comeback. Ailes also helped Reagan during his run for the presidency in 1980. But it is at Fox that Ailes has truly come into his own. He has become a central figure in liberal demonology, a kind of Dark Lord, an invincible Voldemort terrorizing the innocent.

At a minimum, Ailes is prepared for battle. According to today's Los Angeles Times profile of Glenn Beck by Matea Gold, Ailes was unflinching when Beck told him he might be too much for him to swallow. Ailes would have none of it. The Times reports: "I see this as the Alamo," Ailes said, according to Beck. "If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine."

How would Ailes himself fare as a candidate as opposed to impresario of the conservative movement? Whether Ailes has the willigness to undergo the grind of campaigning is a question-mark. He may decide that he's already succeeded so well in helping to reshape the conservative movement that he has no desire to toss his hat into the presidential ring. But if he runs for the presidency, Obama might find that what ails him is Ailes.

 

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.