Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum—which is why God created Roger Ailes. The president of Fox News is, by default, the closest thing there is to a kingmaker in Anti-Obama America. And that, in turn, makes him the de facto leader of the GOP. In a relentless (and spectacularly successful) hunt for cable ratings, Ailes has given invaluable publicity to the tea partiers, furnished tryout platforms to GOP candidates, and trained a fire hose of populist anger at the president and his allies in Congress. While Beltway Republicans wring their hands or write their tracts, Ailes has worked the countryside, using his feel for Main Street resentment to attract and give voice to this year’s angriest—and most powerful—voter-viewers: those who hate the Feds, the Fed, and the Ivy League. It was Ailes who put the “party” in the tea parties by giving them a round-the-clock national stage. Next month Fox will have priority access to the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
The irony is that Ailes is not in the game to wield political power per se. He doesn’t talk to the RNC and he can’t stand most elected politicians, even the ones he puts on the air. “It’s beneath him to get into politics,” says a longtime friend. In his universe, the Washington equation is reversed: political power begets profits, not the other way around. But if politics is a nonstop talk show, being the head booker means you are the boss. If Fox feels Nixonian in its resentments and its sometimes shaky fealty to the facts, well, that is what Jon Stewart is for.