Dan Bongino and the big business of Trump’s return to power



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Dan Bongino, one of America’s most popular conservative commentators, lives in the seaside town of Stuart, Florida, less than an hour from Mar-a-Lago, where his friend Donald Trump is battling retirement. forced. Every weekday from noon to three – the coveted time slot once owned by the late Rush Limbaugh – “The Dan Bongino Show” is broadcast live across the United States, beginning with the voice of a presenter on the sound of hard-rock guitars: “From the NYPD to the Secret Service behind the mic, leading the fight to the radical left and the putrid swamp.”

One day this fall, minutes before Bongino went on the air, he learned that a drama was unfolding that offered prime material: In New York City, a live interview with Vice President Kamala Harris had was interrupted because two hosts of “The View” tested positive. for the revolutionary cases of COVID-19. Bongino, who protests against the compulsory vaccines and calls the masks “layers for the face”, announced to his audience: “None of them seem to work on ‘The View’. “But,” he said pointedly, “he was not jubilant -” unlike the mad leftists, who wish death on me and on everyone else in the world. COVID, because they are legitimately crazy satanic demons.

Bongino draws an estimated 8.5 million radio listeners per week, making it America’s fourth-most-listened host, ahead of Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and other big names, according to speakers magazine, which covers the industry. Although he only started broadcasting after three unsuccessful congressional nominations, he now runs a Fox News Saturday night show, a podcast that has ranked # 1 on iTunes, and a website that repackages them. stories in some of the most frequented articles. on social networks. In recent months, according to data from Facebook, his page has garnered more engagement than those of the Time, Washington To post, and the the Wall Street newspaper combined.

Audiovisual history is full of characters who play a combative character on the air but abandon the pose when they leave the studio. Bongino is not among them. “For the fifteen thousandth time, if you want to wear a mask, knock yourself out, papa-o,” he told me recently, after finishing his recording for the day. “It doesn’t matter. You do. That’s what pisses me off: if you dare say something like, ‘Hey, are these things really working?’ People say, ‘What the hell? You madman, heretic, son of a bitch of the flat earth! Kill that guy! “”

Bongino records at a desk adorned with a boxing bell, judge’s hammer and stone nameplate carved with the message “Be strong as a rock !!!” His aesthetic, visually and editorially, testifies to his political moment. Limbaugh, the dominant Conservative expert for three decades, was a dedicated housekeeper, with a physique that celebrated sybaritic contentment. Forty-seven-year-old Bongino is six feet tall and muscular, with a martial cut and goatee. Like other members of his cohort, including podcaster Joe Rogan and Infowars host Alex Jones, he favors a wardrobe of tight-fitting t-shirts. He displays a tattoo on his left bicep, and he often diffuses with a facial expression that resembles the angry emoji. Asked by a fan what he would do if he wasn’t a political commentator, Bongino replied that he would participate in mixed martial arts.

After exhausting Kamala Harris’s riff, Bongino turned to his main interest of the day: the “rigged” elections. For years, he has claimed that “deep state” plotters and foreign entities sought to sabotage Trump in 2016, infiltrating his campaign and leaking allegations about his relationship with Russia. (He turned that theory into a book, “Spygate,” one of four quickly generated volumes that bore Bongino’s name during Trump’s presidency.) These days, his story has broadened to include the president. Joe Biden – a “shameful, disgusting and grotesque bag of bones” – along with his son Hunter. “The FBI and CIA, members of it, have unquestionably attempted to rig the 2016 and 2020 elections,” said Bongino to his audience. In the latter, he explained, “they didn’t broadcast 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 widespread fraud were dismissed by his own senior officials in the Justice and Homeland Security departments, as well as federal and state judges. To the true believer, the lack of solid evidence simply confirms how well the rig was hidden. In the study of conspiracy theories (a description Bongino rejects), this is called “self-sealing”: the theory fixes the holes in its own logic. “A corrupt intelligence community, in conjunction with corrupt media, is going to devour this country like a cancer from within,” Bongino told his audience as he prepared a take-out. “That’s why I really hope Donald Trump shows up in 2024,” he said. “He’s the best candidate to clean the house. Because if we don’t clean the house, the Republic is gone.

Spend several months immersed in American talk radios and you will come away feeling that the violence of January 6 was not the end of something but the beginning. A year after Trump supporters besieged the U.S. Capitol, some of its most influential champions are laying the groundwork for his return, and they dominate a media field that attracts little attention from their opponents. As liberals argue over Facebook’s algorithm and reflect on TikTok’s disruptive influence, radio remains a colossus; for every hour that Americans listened to podcasts in 2021, they listened to six and a half hours of AM / FM radio, according to Edison Research, a market research and polling company. Talk radio has often provided more reliable indications of the political future than think tanks and elected officials. In 2007, even as Republican leaders George W. Bush and John McCain tried to make themselves known as immigration reformers, Limbaugh advocated laws that would deny immigrants access to government services and require them to speak English. .

Seven in ten Republicans want Trump to run again, according to a recent Politico and Morning Consult poll. Senior Party leaders perpetuate its fraudulent claims about the 2020 elections; in an interview with Fox News, Rep. Steve Scalise, House No. 2 Republican, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the result. Trump’s associates risked jail time in order to thwart a congressional investigation into the attempt to cancel the vote. At the state level, an unprecedented effort sidelines Trump’s opponents and rewrites laws to give supporters control of the election administration. On the balkanized airwaves of the United States, his supporters use their platforms to spread disinformation, undermine faith in governance, and inflame his supporters.

No one in the American media has benefited from the Trump era and its aftermath as much as Bongino. Since 2015, it has grown from a podcast fledgling 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 information warfare. Bongino, he added, “is one of our generals.” This vision of the cultural struggle is preponderant in Trumpworld. Alex Jones, who named his conspiratorial media brand Infowars, uses the motto “There is a war for your mind!” “

Trump has fostered a crop of broadcasters who owe their power to him, men like Sebastian Gorka, the former White House aide, and Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA. Brian Rosenwald, author of the story “Talk Radio’s America,” noted the triumph of ideology over experience. “Bongino is for people who believe in Trump’s press releases, who see the world falling apart and Biden as a rabid socialist,” he told me. Rosenwald compares Bongino’s rise to that of Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who reached Congress in 2021, though she has expressed belief in a “global Satan-worshiping pedophile cabal” and other delusions associated with it. QAnon. “At the time, Marjorie Taylor Greene would have been sent to the worst committees, buried by management,” he said. “But the old rules for how you gain stature are out of the way.”

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a nonprofit group that tracks and critiques the conservative press, said the field is changing for the first time since the ’90s, when Limbaugh, Fox News and blogger Matt Drudge established their domination. “They created the guidelines that people have followed for decades,” Carusone said. But Limbaugh is gone, and Drudge and Fox face more radical competition. “The new information ecosystem is taking shape over the next two years, and whatever comes out of it will pave the way for years to come.”

In the long run, Bongino’s most significant impact may not come from what he says on his shows. “My goal is for my content to be the least interesting thing I have done,” he told me. He used his money and influence to favor tech startups, such as Parler, Rumble, and AlignPay, which favor right-wing views. These companies are meant to resist traditional pressure campaigns, including advertising boycotts like the one Media Matters instigated in 2019, based on old radio interviews in which Fox host Tucker Carlson described women as ” extremely primitive ”and the Iraqis as“ apes ”. Carusone said, “What scares me about Bongino is that this guy could end up owning or controlling or directly building the infrastructure that operationalizes a whole range of extremisms.” He continued, “There were lines. You could say, “OK, PayPal, don’t let the January 6 folks recruit money to pay for the buses.” This new alternative infrastructure is not going to stop that. If another uprising is organized online, he said, “there will be a spike effect. Everyone will say, “How did this happen? Well it is summer event.”

After Bongino’s monologue on the intelligence community, he moved on to another case of skepticism about the US election. In Arizona, he informed his audience that a “forensic audit,” launched by Trump supporters who were certain his loss there was fraudulent, had delivered bad news: Biden received even more votes than ‘he had initially counted none. Bongino urged his listeners to be skeptical. “The numbers may be correct, but who was behind the numbers? ” He asked.

Encouraging this way of thinking is a reliable business bet; suspicion is an appetite which is never completely sated. And, as any gun shop owner knows, some businesses thrive when customers feel vulnerable. “The Liberals are the Man,” Bongino told his audience in August. “They run big companies. They run YouTube. They run Facebook. They run the government. We are the real misfits, we are the real rebels now.


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