This was brought powerfully home over the weekend, when the Trump campaign sent out a press release opposing the proposed merger of A.T. & T. and Time Warner. “Donald Trump will break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies that have gained enormous control over our information, intrude into our personal lives, and in this election, are attempting to unduly influence America’s political process,” the press release said. It went on to claim that, at the Times, “strings are being pulled by Mexico’s Carlos Slim, a billionaire who benefits from NAFTA,” and that “Amazon, which controls the Washington Post, profits from the flow of illegally subsidized foreign products through its distribution channels.” (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Post in 2013.) It also claimed that Comcast, which bought NBC in 2009, in a deal that attracted much scrutiny from regulators, is using its news subsidiaries to “engage in their Never Trump tactics.” (The largest conservative media empire, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., was left off Trump’s enemies list.)
As Phillip Longman argues in a new piece in Washington Monthly, “taking on monopolists” could be part of a Reformicon agenda. The merger is complicated, and it’s unclear whether there’s a strong antitrust case against it, but there is a long and proud history of antitrust activism in the G.O.P., which ended in the Reagan era. As Longman argues, this might appeal to the Party’s economically struggling base, as well as to many other American voters. But, as with so many other issues, the Trump campaign took a promising idea and turned it into a threat, in this case to use governmental power to exact revenge on large media companies.
The Reformicons have never been a very powerful force in the G.O.P., but in the post-election fight over the fate of the Party they have a new enormous obstacle: Donald Trump. It won’t be easy to overcome.