In 2006, Keith Olbermann became a national name as his ratings jumped 67% ahead of Democrats’ congressional takeover. In 2010, Glenn Beck was a ratings bonanza for Fox, pulling in as many as 3.4 million viewers – a figure that’s all the more astounding when you consider his show aired at 5 p.m. and not in prime time. Later that same year, Republicans handed Democrats the worst congressional defeat for any party since World War II.
In the Obama election years 2008 and 2012, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow emerged as the leading cable personality of the left. In both those years she racked up rare victories over Sean Hannity, her Fox time-slot competitor, in the key 25-to-54-age advertising demographic. In 2016, Trump’s dominance of cable news was so total that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough publicly flirted with running as Trump’s vice president, and CNN President Jeff Zucker would later apologize for running so many unfiltered Trump rallies, though both men would rather you forget these things happened.
Despite Tucker Carlson being the undisputed cable news story of 2020, Trump’s political fortunes seem out of sync with the runaway success of conservative populism on television. Carlson is doing better than Trump.