Tomi Lahren, the Trumpite girl wonder, seemed hurt. Famous for savaging Hillary Clinton, snowflakes and Black Lives Matter at auctioneer pace in the rant portion of “Tomi,” her nightly show on Glenn Beck’s BlazeTV, Lahren typically casts a cold eye on emotion. But her sangfroid appeared to fail her on Monday, March 20, after a long weekend taking heat from conservative quarters for announcing on “The View” that she’s pro-choice. (“I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”)
Most of the attacks were Twitter’s usual ad-feminem taunts and entry-level sarcasm—many accusing Lahren of turning coat and aligning with the liberals she purports to despise—but some conservatives brought out bigger guns, calling Lahren godless. Presumably to fortify herself for another social-media scalding, Lahren tweeted, with the tag “#mondaymotivation,” a you-go-girl inspirational quote. It was less a stock Lahren zinger and more the kind of thing that shows up on the Instagram accounts of yoga studios: “No one hunts small deer”—deer emoji—“this too shall pass.”
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Aw. That was about 11 a.m. By day’s end, nothing had passed but her tenure at The Blaze. The Daily Caller reported that production of “Tomi” was suspended—first for a week, and then, according to a report in the New York Post, permanently. Beck, Lahren’s boss, questioned Lahren’s libertarian bona fides as a zealous Trump supporter: “Wait, libertarian views? Help me out on Trumpcare, stimulus, and executive orders. Trump is anything but libertarian. #intellectualhonesty.” A source close to Beck told the gossip page of the Post, “Glenn is reminding the world of his conservative principles by sidelining Tomi after she insulted conservatives by calling them hypocrites.” (Conservative agitator Mark Dice put it this way: “@GlennBeck soured on @TomiLahren when she wouldn’t drink his #NeverTrump Kool Aid, & got jealous when she became a bigger star than him.”)
And so, in a blink of the eye, Lahren has gone from darling of conservative media to a thorn in its side. Just last month, President Trump himself called Lahren to praise her for praising him. Conservative publications like Freedom Liberty News raved about her “gorgeous” selfies taken in the name of veterans. But now, in spite of fans’ hopes that Fox would snap her up, Lahren remains, as the month ends, a pepperpot without a pulpit—and one worth watching.
Lahren remains, as the month ends, a pepperpot without a pulpit—and one worth watching.
Lahren may be hunted, but she’s no small deer. At 24, she is a full-fledged “news personality”—three parts actor, one part editorialist—and is regularly likened to Ann Coulter and Megyn Kelly. Not only has she presided over “Tomi,” whose clips draw tens of thousands of views daily, for nearly a year and a half, she has also introduced a devilishly compelling and new high-speed rant style with “Final Thoughts,” her end-of-show remarks. These little jalapeño poppers of bravura bile clock in at just 30 seconds, and are perfectly suited to social media, where Lahren has conjured up a gigantic one-woman franchise with some 5.5 million followers. (That’s 702,000 on Instagram, 666,000 on Twitter and 4.2 million on Facebook.)
In falling afoul of pro-lifers, however, Lahren is now at odds with the religious right. And in claiming that only a pro-choice position is consistent with libertarianism, she has given #nevertrump Beck a pretext to cut her loose as an infidel. There’s more here than a speedbump for a starlet. In a way, the test is less for her than the journalistic right writ large: Lahren’s departure from the Blaze might contain clues for the future of conservative media in the age of Trump and beyond, and even for the Republican Party.
Chiefly, the swiftness of the firing suggests that the resentments traditional Republicans bear Trump and Trumpites may be building up. And while most in conservative media are impotent to censure the president himself for his betrayal of signature conservative positions, they can flex some muscle by smacking down Lahren—and maybe others—as his proxy. In Lahren’s firing might even be a suggestion of what could happen, ideologically, if the GOP is ever emboldened—by their constituencies, by further legislative failures or by the president’s deepening ignominy—to take Trump to task for his disregard of both civil liberties and family values.
Lahren has certainly brought some new verve to the conservative sphere—she seems on track to be the Samantha Bee of the right. As a performer she’s derivative but compelling, as she affects the air of a straight-shooter noting ironies. “Let’s get something straight,” she often says. In Lahren’s entertaining fables, the ironies that interest her concern “snowflakes” and “participation-trophy” types, mincing grotesques whose sense of their absolute uniqueness has them insist on special treatment for just breathing air. Lahren borrows tropes from standup, opening softly before revving the outrage. Snippy pedantry often precedes her code-red fury: “A protest is a peaceful objection to a grievance,” she explained just after the women’s march in January. “A bunch of sore losers occupying a space is called a tantrum!” In Lahren’s teacher-talking-to-idiots pose, there’s a bit of the old Dennis Miller, who also leveraged rants for conservative causes, spotting fraudulent phrases among liberal elites.
Lahren has fashioned herself a loyal Trump defender ever since the campaign. In one noteworthy appearance, she admitted that Trump’s on-tape comments about groping women didn’t “look good,” but lambasted his prudish critics: “Don’t go around acting holier than thou about this, like you’ve never heard anyone say anything like that before. Give me a break. And don’t try to shame women who still support Trump. No, we aren’t crying in the corner about this, and that doesn’t make us any less woman. So save your pity.” But Lahren’s most famous rant—against Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who protested American racism by refusing to stand for the national anthem—is less a debunking and more a sprint to full-throated bigotry. After faulting Kaepernick last fall for what she called “mouth diarrhea,” she turned his modest protest into a pretext for this: “When will those in black communities take a step back and take some responsi-damn-bility for the problems of black communities? Because it seems to me blaming white people for all of your problems might make you the racist.”
Lahren’s most famous rant is less a debunking and more a sprint to full-throated bigotry.
Just three years ago, Lahren, who grew up in a military family in South Dakota, was hosting an evenhanded news roundtable called “The Scramble,” while in college at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. “The Scramble” looks every bit as a professional as “Tomi,” with Lahren front and center, but she was a different human then. On that show, there’s something vague, even ditzy, about her. She talks slowly, so when she loses syllables or flips words—as she still sometimes does today—she can’t move past it quickly, and it costs her credibility. Today’s speedy, avid delivery may have evolved, in fact, to compensate for her elocutionary shortcomings. In any case, no one would mistake Lahren for spacy now. Given her extraordinary speed, and acid emphasis (“tantrum” “millennial snowflake”), she often intimidates her interlocutors, who cite her intellectual ferocity and complain they can’t keep up with her.
Where does a punchy brand like Lahren’s go without a home? Her social media presence offers mixed clues. After her dismissal from the Blaze, Paula Faris of “The View” and Lahren exchanged ladylike tweets, each thanking the other for her warmth and good manners. Then Lahren’s sparring partner Trevor Noah tweeted support her way, and Lahren told Noah she loved him (no less). Was she considering fleeing for the warm embrace of the liberal media elite? Probably not, but all sides seemed to be gunning for her to quit at least Beck’s kind of conservatism. Before her Blaze run seemed over for good, another Twitter news personality, @therealcornett—whose bio says he’s “proudly blocked by” the likes of @MeganMcCain, @PaulBegala, @BarackObama and, yes, @GlennBeck—put up a poll that asked “Should @TomiLahren dump mentally ill @glennbeck and ditch #TheBlaze asap????” Eighty-eight percent of more than 250 respondents said yes. As of this writing, Lahren-watchers were still awaiting closure.
With her reach and influence, and presumably with decades of sass ahead of her, Lahren is rumored (without clear evidence) to be in Fox’s sights, where she would be the latest pledge in the pro-Trump FNC sorority, which includes Trump cheerleaders like Sean Hannity and Ainsley Earnhardt. Another Trump devotee is especially needed now that Megyn Kelly, who famously sparred with Trump during the campaign, has defected to opposition-party NBC. Lahren’s pro-choice leanings, which echo some of Trump’s only lightly disavowed statements on abortion, would likely not hurt her at Fox, where these days Trump seems to be a one-man ideology .
Lahren would also be a boon to the graying network, where the average viewer is 68. She is, as she says, a millennial. (“I’m a millennial, so I don’t like labels,” she once told Trevor Noah, in an unconscious riddle.) She is committed to “standing in my truth,” as she said of the pro-choice dustup, leaning on a locution often used by the under-30 crowd as a bulwark against gaslighting. (In another mood, Lahren might hear the dread whining in this phrase, but I won’t presume to stand in her truth.) In any case, “stand in my truth” is not an Ann Coulterism; Coulter, a boomer, usually talks ex cathedra—about the truth, to which she claims privileged access. But not “her” truth, which often carries overtones of identity politics.
But, importantly for Fox, Lahren, under Beck’s protection, has not only drawn a younger audience to BlazeTV; she has also played a millennial for her elders. She’s a pint-sized right-wing prodigy, applauded by graybeard commenters on Facebook for saying “I’m a libertarian” the way the same men might applaud—with decorous lechery—a precocious Taylor Swift impersonator on America’s Got Talent. Mindful of her senior-citizen base, Lahren has made her home not primarily on Snapchat or even Twitter but on venerable old Facebook. In its current function as a retirement home, Facebook is a perfect place for her to perform for Tea Partiers and older conservatives, leaning on her love of guns and country to come off as the dream daughter—like Ivanka Trump, but country and not snooty.
The decision to bench Lahren by the Blaze cannot have been made lightly. Lahren is by every measure the power forward of BlazeTV, which has already been hurt in ratings and reputation by its general refusal to board the president’s bandwagon. For now, in conservative media, as in conservative politics, not plumping for Trump is a dangerous game. Of course it means forfeiting presidential favor. But it also means losing out on the antic energy of performers like Lahren, who bring a Clockwork Orange-style crime-spree zeal to their takedowns of resisters, cucks and celebrities. By contrast, to keep complaining about Trump’s besmirching of conservative honor—as Ted Cruz, Megan McCain and Megyn Kelly all did—is depressing, a fast-track (for now) to irrelevance.
Lahren seems to have had a tacit pact with Beck: He could give her the conservative white-old-man seal of approval and then she would be allowed to be spicy and pro-Trump, which in turn would be evidence of Blaze’s big tent. But Beck is a genuinely principled conservative, and his commitments to both family values and libertarianism made Trump—multiply-married, genital-grabbing, pro-choice in some interviews—insupportable, and finally appears to have made Lahren insupportable, too. The Beck-Lahren divorce is only the most recent and visible example of the way the many uneasy bargains—hastily struck among Republicans, conservatives, libertarians and moderates since Trump’s election—are being tested now, and will continue to be. The still-bigger deer, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence, who have had to table differences with Trump in hopes of pursuing cherished legislation, may be next in the hot seat. If Ryan’s tax reform, or Pence’s desired overturn of Roe v. Wade, come to nothing, how much more will they be willing to sacrifice for this rogue president?
Lahren, for her part, bridles at the imperative—from anyone—to fall in line. In spite of her loud Trumpism these days, she often takes pains to remind the audience that she first supported Marco Rubio and doesn’t work for Trump. Saying she’s pro-choice may be yet another way to signal she’s not for this administration right or wrong.
Among Republicans, there are libertarians, who have quarrels with Trump. There are family-values types, who have quarrels with Trump. And then there is Trump—a reality-star who darkens his skin and lightens his hair and says whatever gets the biggest response. Sort of like Lahren. Which suggests that maybe she’s not trying to endear herself to Trump. She’s trying to be Trump. And when you’re 24 with 5.5 million followers, and a world of confidence, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s your ring that needs kissing.