Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and radio talk host, is an influential figure on the Tea Party right, and his annual RedState Gathering has become an increasingly important event for passionate conservative activists — and for the Republican candidates who court them.
The opening of this year’s gathering happened to coincide with the first Republican presidential debate on Fox News. Hundreds of RedState attendees viewed the showdown at a boisterous watch party on Aug. 6, and many of them cheered lustily when Donald Trump dismissed anchor Megyn Kelly’s question about his history of misogynistic insults as an example of the “total political correctness” he rejects. Trump was scheduled to address the RedState event two days later; his appearance would plainly have been one of the weekend’s highlights.
So it was no small thing for Erickson to disinvite Trump from the conservative gathering, following the candidate’s crude implication that Kelly had hit him with tough questions because she was having her menstrual period.
Many of Trump’s fans are attracted by his reputation for blunt talk. They like the fact that he isn’t a professional politician. “But there are lines even blunt talkers and unprofessional politicians should not cross,” said Erickson in a statement explaining why Trump was no longer welcome at RedState. “Decency is one of those lines.”
Erickson is no fainting-couch priss; over the years he has emitted his own share of controversial put-downs and rude insults (some of which he has candidly apologized for). But presidential candidates are rightly held to a higher standard than bloggers and talk-show performers, and Erickson deserves credit for refusing to indulge Trump’s low-class vulgarities just because his poll numbers are high. “If our standard-bearer has to resort to that, then we need a new standard-bearer,” Erickson told the RedState audience.
Television networks don’t have the option of excluding a candidate like Trump from debates on the grounds that his comments are beyond the pale, or that his candidacy doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Federal regulations compel Fox and other news media to stick to “pre-established objective criteria” such as poll data when choosing which candidates will participate. All the more important, then, for private ideological groups such as RedState to insist on distinguishing the normal rough-and-tumble of politics from the kind of ugly incivility that poisons democratic discourse.
Many prominent Tea Party activists and media personalities have pointedly refused to call out Trump for his gross and abusive rhetoric, and it would have been easy for Erickson to stay on the bandwagon with them. Declaring Trump persona non grata took guts. It isn’t only Republicans who owe Erickson a round of applause.