To the extent there has been a meaningful critique of Obama from the right, it has come from a smattering of other Web sites, like Instapundit and Michelle Malkin, as well as from Rush Limbaugh. Significantly, all three engage with their audience in some way. Drudge’s doesn’t reply to e-mail. There is a blank space on his Web site, through which you can submit news tips. (I’ve tried to get in touch with him this way, to no avail.)
Meanwhile, a new right, nascent and based online, has begun to emerge. Pajamas Media has launched an ambitious television project, predicated on the kind of technological advancements that Drudge has shunned. And the struggle over the future of American conservatism is playing out on sites like David Frum’s New Majority. Even National Review, an outpost for traditional conservatives, recently hired the iconoclastic Reihan Salam in an effort to adapt. Thus far, the relationship between this new right and Drudge might best be understood as one of missed opportunity. The “Tea Party” protests that broke out in April took aim at two of Drudge’s favorite targets: the Obama administration and the ballooning federal deficit. Granted, Drudge was the protestors’ loyal cheerleader, turning their every move into a headline on his site. But being a cheerleader means being on the sidelines—precisely where Drudge now finds himself.
“Drudge gets so worked up every day about such petty stuff,” one New York newspaper editor told me. “That’s appropriate for carnival/campaign season, but it doesn’t as effectively fit the mood in a country that is serious about sober governing.” A nation beset by financial crisis at home and besieged around the world, in other words, has more on its mind than the length of a presidential speech or an unwatched ABC special, let alone the threat of Japanese robots. Yet it’s worth noting that this editor declined to put his comments on the record. Mark Halperin and John Harris, once among Drudge’s most prominent validators, also chose not to comment for this piece. The implication is clear: down the road, Matt Drudge could re-emerge. “He’s on a bit of a sabbatical,” explained a friend of Drudge’s. “He doesn’t care” that his influence isn’t what it used to be.
Perhaps. But the short- or long-term prospects of the Drudge Report recapturing its place at the center of our political media are bleak. Even if Drudge were to hire a blogger, open a comments section, and adopt a more substantive approach to news, it’s unlikely that he’d ever match his previous level of influence. Drudge is in part a victim of his own success. He spawned imitators and emulators, who in turn have only further splintered the media world. If there is an agenda to be set, no one outlet or editor has the power to set it. It’s simply too rapid and unknowable a thing to harness. While The Fix, put together by Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, and Playbook, put together by Politico’s Mike Allen, are often referred to as Drudge’s heirs, neither has the influence that Drudge once had, nor do they display the kind of naked ideological bias that was Drudge’s hallmark. Of course, their existence is a testament to Drudge’s legacy as a trailblazer in the field of Internet newsgathering and gossip mongering. But increasingly, a legacy is all the Drudge Report has to offer.