Politics & Policy

The Corner

Ben Shapiro’s Astonishing Success

On Sunday night, The Ben Shapiro Show became the second top podcast on iTunes. Shapiro is surpassed only by Oprah, believe it or not, on the podcast charts. That should tell you all you need to know: Shapiro, an intelligent conservative and a contributor to National Review, is batting in the big leagues.

This is an example of what can happen when conservatives engage the culture. Shapiro does not back off from talking about conservative principles. But he’s never dry or boring, and he’s accessible above all. By this I mean a few things. First, his videos can be easily found and watched on YouTube. Taken from his podcast and speeches, they are both short and long, depending on what the viewer is looking for. He also produces enough daily content to reach out to new viewers and keep old ones hooked. A short clip from one of his speeches on campus can lead a curious viewer to a longer clip from his podcast, to one of his articles, to his website, and eventually to watching full, hour-long speeches.

Second, Shapiro keeps up with popular culture, responding to celebrities, television shows, and more, while offering a conservative perspective that is all too often ignored. Third, he is unflinching. He is unafraid to make difficult arguments or to call out opponents for dishonesty. “Facts,” he says, “don’t care about your feelings.” Fourth, Shapiro explains what he means such that non-political obsessives can understand him. This, I think, is his real talent. One of his tricks in this regard is to avoid making exclusively political arguments. Everyone, after all, is tired of our broken, dispiriting politics. Shapiro gets this, and instead speaks the language of morality.

To get the full experience, watch Shapiro make the case against abortion on his podcast, and do so more effectively than almost anyone else. He frames his argument in response to actress Olivia Wilde, and makes his case in eight minutes. He speaks quickly and passionately, demanding: “When is it okay to kill this?” Running through the physical development of a baby over time, he wants an answer. Unsurprisingly, that video has been viewed by almost 900,000 people. I bet it made more than a few young viewers rethink their positions.

But more important than the size is the makeup of Shapiro’s audience. You simply do not get to compete with Oprah, TED, and This American Life without reaching a broad swath of people. This also matches with my anecdotal experience. I can’t tell you how many times a young, non-politically engaged friend of mine will ask me if I’ve heard of Ben Shapiro. Did I see his appearance on Dr. Drew? Did I watch his speech at Missouri?

These viewers are the young people that conservatives usually miss. They don’t watch cable news—that stuff is for their parents. If they are going to hear about politics, it will be from YouTube and other social media outlets. That’s just a fact. The only question is whom are they going to see? Which fast-talker will catch their eye? For some it will be Milo Yiannopoulos, a disgusting thinker but a born self-promoter. Luckily, however, plenty of viewers are turning to Ben Shapiro, a principled conservative.

If we want to take back the culture, others will have to follow Shapiro’s lead: Deliver strong arguments, but do so without putting your audience to sleep.

Elliot Kaufman — Elliot Kaufman is an editorial intern at National Review. He studies political theory and history at Stanford University. His writing has previously appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Stanford ...

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