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Hannity, Tucker, and Me

Mirrors don’t lie.
by Joe Walsh
October 30, 2020
Hannity, Tucker, and Me
Joe Walsh in 2011 (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Donald Trump will lose in four days. Or in five days. Or in six days. But he will lose. And when he loses, everyone in the conservative media world will have a decision to make. If past is prologue, the vast majority of these folks on Fox News and in conservative talk radio will continue to feed their audience what they think their audience wants to hear. The vast majority will continue to be sycophants for Donald Trump and Trumpism.

When Trump came on the scene five years ago, and then went on to the Republican nomination, and then became president, people in the conservative media world—like me—had the exact same decision to make. Where would we stand on Trump? Most chose the Sean Hannity road: complete Trump toadyism. Trump is the greatest, he walks on water, he can do no wrong.

Those in this camp made the conscious decision to never ever say a bad word about Trump. A fellow talk radio host colleague of mine at Salem Media Group told me directly at that time that he would “never criticize” Donald Trump on his show even if it was warranted.

Some chose the Tucker Carlson road: Embrace Trumpism, but do your best to avoid talking about Trump himself. The difference between the Hannity and the Tucker paths is that when Trump does something wrong or stupid, Hannity denies it and claims that what Trump did was actually exactly right and brilliant.

Tucker, on the other hand simply blames someone else for Trump’s stupidity. Or changes the subject to talk about gypsies, or Deep State parcel delivery problems, or the growing epidemic of high school boys showering in the girls locker room. It might sound ridiculous—it is ridiculous—but as a business model, it might be even more robust than the Hannity option. And it requires the host to lie less, which isn’t nothing.

The other road—the one less taken—was to say out loud what you believe and think about Donald Trump, no matter what. If you’ll forgive me I’ll just call this the “Joe Walsh” road. It has proven to be pretty lonely and not conducive to making a ton of money and getting big cable rating.

Four years ago, I voted for Donald Trump. Not because I liked him, but because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. I criticized him often during that campaign, so much so that he blocked me on Twitter. I did not pay sufficient attention to Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. That’s on me. I’ve publicly apologized for that.

Three years ago, I decided to continue calling it like I see it with Trump and I pretty much abandoned the career path I was on. I was a national talk radio host who logged a lot of time on Fox.

But when Trump got elected, the company I worked for, Salem Media Group, made clear that all of their syndicated talk show hosts had to fully be on “team Trump.” And most all of the hosts—Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, etc.—fell in line.

To his credit, Michael Medved didn’t, and so he was soon gone. I didn’t either, and thus began three years of corporate browbeating, and the loss of listeners and affiliates. Because the more I paid attention to Donald Trump, the clearer it became that he was everything our Founders feared. And because I believed it, I said it.

Two years and four months ago, I officially became a “Never Trumper”—I think, the last remaining Never Trumper in the conservative talk radio world. In the end, it was the Helsinki Putin-Trump summit that pushed me over the edge, where, in front of the world, the American president stood with a Russian dictator against our own intelligence folks.

I went on the radio later that day and said that’s it, that’s the greatest act of disloyalty I’ve ever seen in an American president. I told my radio audience that I could never support Trump’s reelection. And from that point on I was basically an invisible man with Salem.

Last year, I officially gave up everything to mount a Don Quixote Republican primary challenge to Trump. I lost my radio show when I announced my candidacy—though it was a radio show I was well on my way to losing anyways. Because—unlike most Never Trumpers—I came from the world of the Trump supporters, I lost all of my supporters, all of my followers, and a lot of my friends. I got death threats on a regular basis.

I know: I never had a prayer, I ran head first into the Trump cult and 22 cancelled Republican primaries and caucuses. Hannity, and the rest of Fox News, basically ignored my primary challenge and wouldn’t have me on. Tucker Carlson? He was open to having me on his show but, in typical Tucker fashion, only if I agreed not to talk about Trump.

This year, with my primary challenge ending after the Iowa caucuses, I jumped back into the world of conservative talk radio—though with a much smaller audience—trying to convince Republicans and conservatives to oppose Trump. The jury is out as to whether a conservative anti-Trump voice can make it in conservative talk radio. But I’m going to give it a try.

This week, I will vote against Donald Trump and do something I’ve never ever done before: vote for a Democrat for president.

Donald Trump will lose in the next few days and Hannity and Tucker will keep killing it. They’ll keep raking in the cash and getting gonzo ratings. Every night, Hannity washes Donald Trump’s feet and rubs his forehead. And every night, Tucker Carlson finds someone else to blame for all the stupid, illegal shit Trump says and does. (And then he attacks CNN.)

The bottom line is: Hannity and Tucker decided, in different ways, to not say what they truly believe. And they are doing well not in spite of this fundamental dishonesty, but because of it.

Saying what you believe, on the other hand, is a professional liability in conservative media. Maybe it always was, and I didn’t realize it. I don’t know.

What I do know is this: I don’t have the big money. And I’m starting over on my career again. But I’m content. I’m at peace. I can sleep at night.

And, hopefully one day, I’ll be able to look my grandkids in the eyes and say I defended their country against a great threat, I placed the interests of their country ahead of my own personal interests, and that I kept my integrity.

Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh is a syndicated radio host and former member of Congress.