Dan Bongino and the big business of bringing Trump back to power

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Dan Bongino, one of America’s most popular Conservative commentators, lives in the coastal town of Stuart, Florida, less than an hour from Mar-a-Lago, where his friend Donald Trump is fighting against forced retirement. Every weekday from noon to three o’clock – the coveted time slot that the late Rush Limbaugh once had – “The Dan Bongino Show” goes live in the United States, starting with the voice of an announcer over the sound of hard rock guitars: “From the NYPD to the Secret Service to get behind the microphone and lead the fight against the radical left and the putrid swamp. “

One fall day, a few minutes before Bongino went on the air, he learned of a drama playing out that was offering first-class material: In New York, a live interview with Vice President Kamala Harris had been interrupted because two presenters of “The View” were positive were tested for breakthrough cases of COVID-19. Bongino, who railed against vaccination regulations and called masks “face diapers”, announced to his audience: “None of them seem to work on ‘The View’. “But, he said demonstratively, he was not gleeful -” in contrast to crazy leftists who wish me and everyone else dead … COVIDbecause they are rightly crazy satanic demon people. “

Bongino draws an estimated 8.5 million radio listeners per week, making him the fourth most popular presenter in America, ahead of Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, and other big names so speaker Magazine that covers the industry. Though he only got onto the radio after three unsuccessful runs for Congress, he now runs a Saturday night Fox News show, a iTunes # 1 podcast, and a website that repackages stories into some of the highest-traffic articles . on social media. In the past few months, his page has attracted more engagement than the company’s, according to Facebook data Justwho have favourited Washington post, and the Wall Street Journal combined.

The history of broadcasting is full of characters who play a combative character on the show but take off the pose when they leave the studio. Bongino is not one of them. “For the fifteen thousandth time you want to wear a mask, knock yourself out, Daddy-o,” he told me recently after finishing his recording for the day. “Whatever. You do. That pisses me off: If you dare say something like,” Hey, do these things really work? “Then people ask,” What the hell? You madman, heretic, you flattened Son of a bitch, kill that guy! ‘ ”

Bongino records at a desk adorned with a boxing bell, a judge’s gavel and a name tag carved in stone that reads “Be Strong Like a Rock !!!” Its aesthetics, both visual and editorial, bear witness to its political moment. Limbaugh, the dominant conservative expert for three decades, was a devoted handyman with a physique that celebrated sybaritic satisfaction. Bongino, forty-seven, is six feet tall and muscular, with a martial buzz cut and a well-groomed goatee. Like others in his cohort – including podcaster Joe Rogan and Infowars host Alex Jones – he prefers a wardrobe made of tight T-shirts. He shows a tattoo on his left bicep and often sends with an expression similar to the angry emoji. Asked by a fan what he would do if he wasn’t a political commentator, Bongino said he would compete in mixed martial arts.

After exhausting the Kamala Harris Reef, Bongino turned to his main concern of the day: “rigged” elections. For years he has alleged that Deep State conspirators and foreign organizations tried to sabotage Trump in 2016, infiltrating his campaign and spreading allegations about his dealings with Russia. (He translated that theory into a book, Spygate, one of four quickly produced volumes that bore Bongino’s name during the Trump presidency.) Today, his story has expanded to include President Joe Biden – a “vicious, disgusting, grotesque bag.” “. made of bones ”- just like his son Hunter. “The FBI and the CIA, members of it, have unquestionably tried to manipulate both the 2016 and 2020 elections,” Bongino told his audience. In the latter, he stated, “They didn’t post bad information about anyone – they hid information about Joe Biden and his corrupt son.”

Cartoon by Farley Katz

In Bongino’s world, it doesn’t matter that Trump’s allegations of rampant fraud have been dismissed by his own top officials at the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, as well as federal and state judges. To the true believer, the lack of solid evidence simply confirms how well the rigging was hidden. In research into conspiracy theories (a description that Bongino rejects), this is referred to as “self-sealing”: the theory fills holes in its own logic. “A corrupt intelligence community, in conjunction with corrupt media, will eat this country up from the inside out like a cancer,” Bongino told his audience as he set up for a snack. “So I really hope that Donald Trump will run for 2024,” he said. “He’s the best candidate for house cleaning. Because if we don’t clean the house, the republic is gone. “

Spend several months on American talk radio and you will feel like the violence of January 6th was not the end of something, but the beginning. A year after the US Capitol was besieged by Trump supporters, some of its most influential champions are preparing the ground for his return, and they dominate a media terrain that attracts little attention from their opponents. While liberals argue about the algorithm on Facebook and think about the disruptive influence of TikTok, the radio remains a colossus; For every hour Americans listened to podcasts in 2021, they were listening to six and a half hours of AM / FM radio, according to Edison Research, a market research and polling firm. Talkradio has often provided more reliable clues about the political future than think tanks and elected officials. In 2007, when Republican leaders George W. Bush and John McCain tried to rename themselves immigration reformers, Limbaugh advocated laws denying immigrants access to government services and forcing them to speak English.

According to a recent poll by Politico and Morning Consult, seven out of ten Republicans want Trump to run again. Senior party leaders uphold fraudulent claims about 2020 elections; In a Fox News interview, Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the result. Trump officials risked jail time to thwart a Congressional investigation into the attempt to overturn the vote. At the state level, Trump’s opponents are being sidelined with an unprecedented effort and laws are being rewritten to give the partisans control over the conduct of elections. On America’s balkanized airwaves, its supporters use their platforms to spread disinformation, undermine trust in the government, and inflame its supporters.

No one in the American media has benefited more from the Trump era and its aftermath than Bongino. Since 2015 it has grown from a young podcast in its basement to an audience of millions. Pete Hegseth, another Fox News host who served in the National Guard, told me, “I carried a rifle in the military and now I can serve in the information war.” Bongino, he added, “is one of our generals”. This vision of the cultural struggle is prominent in Trumpworld. Alex Jones, who called his conspiratorial media brand Infowars, uses the motto “There’s a war on for your mind!”

Trump has sponsored a number of broadcasters who owe their power to him, men like Sebastian Gorka, former White House adviser, and Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA. Brian Rosenwald, the author of Talk Radio’s America, noted the triumph of ideology over experience. “Bongino speaks to the people who believe Trump’s press releases, who are breaking the world and seeing Biden as an angry socialist,” he told me. Rosenwald compares Bongino’s rise to that of Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who reached Congress in 2021 despite voicing her belief in a “global cabal of satan-worshiping pedophiles” and other QAnon-related delusions. “Before, Marjorie Taylor Greene would have been put on the worst committees and buried by the leadership,” he said. “But the old rules of how to gain stature are out the door.”

Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, a nonprofit group that tracks and criticizes the conservative press, said the field changed for the first time since the nineties when Limbaugh, Fox News and blogger Matt Drudge established dominance. “They created the guidelines that people have run by for decades,” said Carusone. But Limbaugh is gone, and Drudge and Fox face more radical competitors. “The new information ecosystem is taking shape in the next year or two, and whatever comes out will determine the path for years to come.”

In the long run, Bongino’s greatest impact cannot come from what he says on his broadcasts. “My goal is to make my content the least interesting thing I’ve done,” he told me. He has used his money and influence to promote tech startups like Parler, Rumble, and AlignPay that are close to right-wing views. These companies are designed to withstand traditional print campaigns, including advertising boycotts such as those triggered by Media Matters in 2019 based on old radio interviews in which Fox presenter Tucker Carlson described women as “extremely primitive” and Iraqis as “monkeys”. Carusone said, “What scares me about Bongino is that this guy might end up owning, or controlling, or directly building the infrastructure that operationalizes a whole range of extremism.” He continued, “There used to be lines. You could say, ‘OK, PayPal, don’t let the Jan 6th people recruit money to pay fines.’ This new alternative infrastructure won’t stop that. ”If another riot takes place online, he said,“ there will be a whiplash effect. Everyone will say, ‘How did that happen?’ So it is been Event.”

After Bongino’s monologue on the secret services, he turned to another case in which he expressed skepticism about the American elections. In Arizona, he told his audience that a “forensic examination” launched by Trump supporters who were certain that his loss there was fraudulent had brought bad news: Biden had received even more votes than originally counted. Bongino urged his audience to stay in doubt. “The numbers may be correct, but who was behind the numbers?” He asked.

Fostering this mindset is a reliable business bet; Suspicion is an appetite that is never completely satisfied. And as any gun shop owner knows, certain businesses thrive when customers feel vulnerable. “The Liberals are the man,” Bongino told his audience in August. “You run large corporations. You run YouTube. You run Facebook. You run the government. We are the real outsiders, we are the real rebels now. “


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