I wrote at RedState for 12 years, from shortly after its founding in 2004 to the end of the 2016 primaries, and I continue to value many of its current and former writers as friends, so it is with a lot of sadness that I learned of this morning’s summary firing of its Editor-in-Chief, Caleb Howe, and about half of the site’s writers. The site will go on, and has retained a number of talented people who will still be worth reading, but this clearly marks the end of an era and the end of the site’s distinctive grassroots anti-establishment conservative voice.
Founded at the high-water mark of the Bush era, the site hit its stride as Erick Erickson took a leading role in challenging comfortable Beltway big government conservatism, and enjoyed its greatest influence and success at the crest of the Tea Party wave from 2009-14, helping to promote a generation of conservative primary challengers like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, and Ben Sasse, and pushing for more resistance to DC’s go-along get-along culture.
Even as RedState grew explosively from a shoestring group blog to a power broker that attracted national figures to its annual RedState Gathering, it maintained the feel of a blog, not a magazine: the site never had an office, many of its contributors had day jobs, the pay for many years was irregular at best and the editorial direction minimal, and many of us got to know each other well without ever meeting in person. Writers based in the DC area or (like me) New York were always in the minority, and having a lot of folks on the ground across the South and other regions gave us a different perspective. Having a lot of amateur writers often meant having other kinds of professional backgrounds in the military, the law, campaigns, technology, even art. As I catalogued in my farewell to the site in June 2016, its alumni have spread throughout the worlds of conservative media and politics. But the site’s corporate ownership under Eagle Publishing and then Salem Media never really knew how to handle a platform with that ethos.
The rise of Trump and Erick’s departure to focus on his radio career began to erode the site’s influence, but under the leadership of Leon Wolf and then Caleb Howe, it kept a lively voice and presence – and traffic – throughout 2016 and 2017. But many of the site’s veterans – Erick, Leon, Caleb, myself, and others – took vocal stances against Trump, and that generated controversy and division, just as it has at many conservative media outlets. The sad reality is that there may be more supply of quality conservative writing skeptical of Trump than there is demand for it. More than a few prominent writers on the Right seem to have felt it necessary to bend in one direction (compromising their doubts about Trump to cater to conservative audiences) or the other (compromising their conservatism to cater to anti-Trump audiences).
Today’s spate of firings, apparently instigated by Salem, had obvious cost-cutting motives and do not seem to have been strictly about enforcing a new editorial line on Trump; some stridently anti-Trump writers, like Sarah Rumpf, have remained with the site, and few of the remaining contributors are unskeptical Trump cheerleaders. But it is hard to miss the pattern that Caleb and nearly all the others let go were loud Trump critics, while those remaining behind included basically everyone at the site who had made their peace with Trump to one extent or another. Even if there’s no company edict to support this White House, that suggests a top-down chill that will be ever harder to resist. As Erick has noted, it’s consistent with the pressures on the network’s radio hosts.
The conservative media ecosystem is at its healthiest when there are a variety of outlets that are – however internally diverse – built around distinct perspectives and voices. There are a number of people I like and respect who will continue to write at RedState, and it will doubtless survive and continue to contribute, just as its corporate siblings TownHall and HotAir do. But what is likely to be lost is the distinctive grassroots voice of a site that once stood for telling the powers that be in DC to shut up and listen to the people who took their promises at face value, and always have the courage of their professed convictions.