Friday morning, a friend asked me on Twitter: "Has there been a purge of Trump critics at RedState?" I thought he must be joking. RedState, where I've been a contributor since September 2016, is the last place anyone would expect such a purge. Since its founding, RedState has been distinguished by its commentary on principled, constitutional conservatism. Its writers made frequent appearances on national news shows. Members of the Senate and House quoted RedState posts regularly. Since the 2016 election, it has contained a mix of viewpoints, plenty of them critical of the president. It was unimaginable that the site would purge its Trump critics, and I told my friend so.
Then I checked my email and learned that I was wrong.
Salem Media Group, the Camarillo-based owner of RedState, had terminated my contract and those of a number of other RedState writers. Our firings were not based on web traffic; some of the fired writers were top page-view earners. We all had one thing in common, though: We're vocal critics of President Trump.
For instance, I wrote that although I approve of Trump's judicial appointments and elimination of regulations, his budgets are continuing to increase our national debt. I complained that he did not press hard enough for the repeal of Obamacare, which I believe increases premiums and reduces freedom. I wrote that Trump is unfit to be president — morally, intellectually and temperamentally. I called him a cruel bully, a philanderer, a narcissist and someone prone to issuing rash and unwise statements. Why, even his supporters say that we should ignore the nonsense he taps out on Twitter every morning.
Many others at RedState said similar things. And now it is clear: That criticism is no longer welcome.
Salem Media Group is a major publisher of conservative sites and books by authors such as Ann Coulter. It's also the country's largest broadcaster of conservative talk radio. So I understand why some of its executives might want to purge their sites of negative opinions of the president — opinions which are not particularly popular among grass-roots Republicans these days.
Like GOP politicians, conservative commentators feel constant pressure to take it easy on Trump. Many pundits I used to respect have become rabid Trump supporters, excoriating federal law enforcement on the flimsiest of evidence, and defending Trump's pals, like the murderous and dictatorial Vladimir Putin. RedState was one of the few places on the internet where a sizable group of us rejected such nonsense. But no more. Of course Salem Media Group has the absolute legal right to fire writers. But this obvious purge sends a chilling message: Vigorous criticism of the president will no longer be tolerated.
That will harm the site. Unfortunately, it threatens to undercut the credibility of its Trump-praising writers, as readers may wonder if that sentiment is genuine. It also poses a dilemma for the few remaining writers who have criticized Trump in the past. Will they dare do so again? I like to think they will, but they're in a tough spot.
If, among those who supposedly cherish freedom of expression, certain widespread viewpoints become taboo, where does that leave us? In a dishonest media atmosphere. More and more, conservative writers and pundits will claim to support Trump, whether they actually do or not. Meanwhile, those who refuse to engage in the charade will be increasingly sidelined.
This trajectory, left unchecked, leads to media that increasingly resembles that of totalitarian societies. That may sound like hyperbole — until you switch on Fox News, and realize how much of its programming already resembles state-run media.
No one media outlet is crucial to the conservative movement, but RedState did represent a rare place where conservatives were still allowed to express negative opinions about Trump in a freewheeling and robust manner. Now it's a safe space for Trump supporters. The site is still there, but the ideal is gone.
Patrick Frey runs a blog called Patterico's Pontifications.