An authoritative voice on the right has been largely missing in action from the healthcare debate: Matt Drudge.
The internet news mogul, who harnesses the power to anchor much of conservative media behind the narrative of his choosing, has yet to enter the fray on the debate over the House GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The silence is deafening, particularly as Breitbart, which typically mirrors the Drudge Report, moves to savage the healthcare proposal spearheaded by House Speaker Paul Ryan. In the past, Drudge, too, has seemed to derive pleasure from mocking and ridiculing Ryan.
“I’m surprised,” Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist for The Daily Beast, wrote in an email. “This seems like a hot story, so I don’t think it’s about clicks. I can only theorise that (unlike Breitbart) Drudge is more interested in helping Trump than in hurting Ryan.”
Drudge has featured a small handful of stories about the healthcare debate on his website in the last couple weeks, usually slanted against the House GOP plan. But he has largely refrained from flexing his muscles and ripping the legislation like Breitbart, which until recently was run by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. On Tuesday afternoon, for instance, there was not a single story about the proposed bill on his website.
“Trying to figure out why Drudge has done something is usually very easy in retrospect, but extremely difficult in real time,” said John Ziegler, a former talk show host and conservative media columnist who writes for Mediaite. “Drudge’s two greatest motivations appear to be traffic and money and creating chaos.”
“I think with the healthcare bill he is conflicted and doesn’t see a horse to ride,” Ziegler added.
Drudge was a fierce supporter of President Donald Trump throughout the 2016 campaign. The internet tycoon used his highly trafficked website to push narratives favourable to Trump, while simultaneously slinging mud at the billionaire’s opponents.
Trump has offered tepid support for the House GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but he has signalled he may be willing to work with hardline conservatives in Congress to make changes to it, a move that would likely be welcomed by Drudge and the editors at Breitbart.
The thinking at Breitbart seems to be that the website can use its sizable readership to influence the process and push Trump toward the right. But as Ziegler put it, perhaps Drudge “sees no good angle yet” and is waiting to see how things pan out before making a move.
“It feels to me, and this is just a feeling, that Drudge is preparing to flip on Trump if he doesn’t start really kicking arse, taking names, draining the swamp, and lowering Matt’s tax rates,” Ziegler said.
Indeed, Drudge has hinted at dissatisfaction with the Republican Party, but has focused his ire on establishment figures, avoiding levelling criticism directly at Trump. In a tweet on Tuesday, for example, Drudge contended the GOP “lied about wanting tax cuts” and asked, “Can we get our votes back?”
While it’s not clear why he has held his fire thus far amid the raging healthcare debate, one thing on which everyone seems to agree is that it’s impossible to predict what Drudge will do next.
“He is his own man. Beats his own drum,” a person close to Drudge said on the condition of anonymity. “He often just follows his own interests.”
“And clearly that formula works for him,” the person added, “as Drudge is the must-read for all in power.”
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