She likes Ministry and the Cure, and was once a registered Democrat. But today, Dana Loesch (pronounced Lash) is a rising star in the world of right-wing commentary. Since she first sprang up with the Tea Party movement in 2009, Loesch has become one of the most frequently featured talking heads on CNN, where she is a contributor, as well as popping up on Real Time With Bill Maher and ABC News programs. Primed to be the next Ann Coulter, she’s following in the footsteps of her mentor, Andrew Breitbart, who passed away earlier this month.
Indeed, last week on Piers Morgan Tonight, she was one of the commentators chatting about the Republican primaries and the Southern strategy to Wolf Blitzer, who was filling in for the host.
“It’s really bittersweet,” she said of her more frequent appearances on Morgan’s show since Breitbart’s death earlier this month. In the days just after he died, she said, “I was sitting there getting ready to do part of the panel in which he used to participate, they had me in the same square that he was in, which was kind of heavy there for a moment.”
Younger (she’s only 32), hipper, and (on TV at least) less divisive than Coulter, the petite, dark-haired Loesch is utterly telegenic. Perhaps that’s partially why Breitbart, upon meeting her for the first time in Quincy, Ill. at a Tea Party convention, decided to take her under his wing, appointing her as the editor of BigJournalism.com.
He recognized that she’s a politico triple threat, telling the Riverfront Times in 2010 that Loesch “was almost the embodiment of everything that I want to happen with journalism. She has the ability to write, she has the ability to report and has every stellar quality a communicator could possibly want for television, radio and Internet-based forms of media.” He ended by saying: “She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s fearless. She’s a pure rising star.”
Glenn Reynolds, a libertarian who runs the political website Instapundit, was at the same Quincy Tea Party event and was just as impressed with Loesch: “As soon as I saw her, I could tell she was going to be a star,” he said. “She just had the charisma that some people have. She was a great speaker, she was attractive, she was rock ’n’ roll.”
Not surprisingly, that rock ’n’ roll attitude can also get her into hot water. In January, she found herself on the defensive for statements she made on her syndicated radio show The Dana Show: The Conservative Alternative, which airs in St. Louis. On the topic of the soldiers in Afghanistan who were caught peeing on dead Taliban fighters, she said: “Can someone explain to me if there’s supposed to be a scandal that someone pees on the corpse of a Taliban fighter? Someone who, as part of an organization, murdered over 3,000 Americans? I’d drop trou and do it too. That’s me, though. I want a million cool points for these guys. Is that harsh to say?”
Though there were many things wrong with her statement, including the fact that Taliban fighters are not the same people who were responsible for 9/11 (that would be Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden), today she says she was just using “absurdity to highlight absurdity.” Many suspected it was the reason her appearances on CNN were briefly stopped in January.
That hiccup notwithstanding, her profile is rising. But how exactly did this mom (and former mommy blogger) of two homeschooled young boys living in flyover country in St. Louis become the next big right-wing thing?
She’s as perplexed as anyone. “I never thought that I was going to end up and be a political pundit at all,” she said. Her parenting blog and subsequent column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch helped raise her local profile. But it was her involvement in forming the St. Louis Tea Party that helped build her national profile, as did her nascent radio show.
First, she had to overcome her stage fright to go head-to-head with the big boys. “You know, it’s like baptism by fire. You think it’s the thing you’re most terrified of until you have to do it,” she said.
Though she’d been on television before, during an appearance on Anderson Cooper 360, where she squared off against Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone’s lefty political writer, seemed to be a turning point.
“Afterwards Anderson asked me to stay because he wanted to say hi. He was very complimentary. Then it went from there. I think they thought—‘Maybe we like her. She’s not one of those crazy, two-headed Tea Partiers.’”
She had transformed from leaning left in college at Webster University, where she was studying journalism and listening to The Cult and Siouxie and the Banshees, to a fervent right-leaning pundit. After she met her husband, Chris, who was a Republican, she dropped out of school and got married and started a family. “I had my mid-life crisis when I was like 19 and honestly I felt like I needed to do something different.”
Though she didn’t change her views right away, when the Sept. 11 attacks happened, she had her “Come to Jesus” moment, politically. She had been blogging about the Gore/Bush election on her first website, Antiradar. “It was just basically kind of arguing with myself about supporting Gore over Bush and then, of course, after 9/11 happened, then it kind of cemented me further, because the last thing that I gave up in terms of going towards becoming a conservative was where I stood on military and foreign policy.”
She’s different from many right-wingers you’ll meet. She’ll cop to being a feminist—sort of—if feminism were defined by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and not what she sees as “victim” politics of her current feminists (she’ll cite the Sandra Fluke controversy as everything that’s wrong with modern-day feminism).
“I think that word’s gotten a bad rap. I really do. I think that there are other women who have given it a bad rap. I just don’t believe in self-victimization as a tool, as a way to empower yourselves,” she said.
She lists Margaret Thatcher, Michelle Malkin, and Sarah Palin as three people she admires. The last is not surprising; in a way Loesch has a lot in common with the former vice-presidential candidate: both are pretty, are powerful public speakers (as a cofounder of the Tea Party in St. Louis, she often spoke at rallies), who’ve had a fast rise to public prominence. But the trait that Loesch shares the most with Palin is the ability to connect with the average American—she’s not from the coasts, and she’s not palling around with politicians in D.C.
“I think her angle is different,” said Instapundit’s Reynolds. “She’s much more of a flyover country person. She’s from St. Louis—it kind of shows in her approach. She’s more interested in persuading people or having them hear her out.”
“She speaks for a vein of conservatism that isn’t very well represented in this country,” he continued. “You’ve got your sort of National Review-style conservatism, your social con–Rick Santorum style of conservatism, and here’s this rock ’n’ roll chick. She showed up on some show—when the Tea Party movement was very new, it was mostly portrayed as scary, right-wing, angry white males—but she showed up to an event wearing a Public Enemy shirt. That’s just brilliant.”
Loesch knows that her location gives her an odd advantage. “I’m glad that I live in St. Louis. I’m glad that I don’t live in D.C. I’m glad that I’m removed from the circuit. I love being insulated by being in the Midwest. It’s a different perspective and just a different take on it.”
Of course, not everyone loves her. In September, Keith Olbermann named her to his Worst Person in the World list, ++when he called++ a column she wrote, one of the “all-time dumbest things in American journalism,” prefacing that statement with: “It’s important here to remember that she’s not very bright.”
And Salon.com editor at large Joan Walsh dubbed her as being “from crazytown,” and a “total moron.” The latter two criticisms are proudly displayed on Loesch’s own website.
Because she doesn’t call herself a Republican (she uses the term conservatarian), she is often at odds with people on the right (don’t get her started on Mitt Romney), as well as the left. She uses Twitter as a stomping ground, and often gets into spats with fellow right-wingers, including neoconservative New York Post columnist and Commentary magazine editor John Podheretz , who told her after one Twitter fight: “OK, I’m done. It’s very sad what’s happened to Dana Loesch, who was a wonderful blogger and a breath of fresh air politically.”
Her most frequent nemesis, however, is Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters and author of the book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, who often takes Loesch to task for her views, acting as a left-wing watchdog.
The duo fight nearly daily, but their sparring sessions are hardly an elevated form of political discourse, and instead resemble toddlers scrapping in the sandbox. A sampling:
Loesch: “I still can’t get over how @EricBoehlert spends more time obsessing over me than having a personal life.”
Boehlert: “seriously, @Dloesch you are grown woman. why are you on talk radio, 2 wks later, discussing law student’s sex life? #getalife #getajob”
Boehlert, not surprisingly, is less than impressed with Loesch’s rise within mainstream media. While he thinks she’s well spoken on television, Boehlert said she’s overmatched in her TV debates. “It just is odd, you turn it on—there’s Donna Brazile, who ran Al Gore’s campaign. There’s Paul Begala, who counseled one of the most successful presidents of the last half-century, and there’s Dana Loesch, a St. Louis talk-show host,” he said. “And then there’s David Gergen, who’s been in more administrations than anyone can count. It’s one of those ‘one of these things doesn’t really belong.’”
He dismisses her radio show as “Rush Limbaugh-lite.” “She clearly wants a big syndicated deal, so she says about as many outrageous things that she can fit into in two, three hours.”
And, worse, Boehlert thinks she’s duplicitous. “On her radio show and her website, she’s far, far right. And then she does this TV shtick where she’s just a thoughtful, slightly right conservative,” he said. “At least Michelle Malkin—she’s crazy on the Internet and she’s crazy on TV. Dana seems to have developed a split personality for her career. She does not talk about urinating on dead people on TV. Let’s put it that way.”
Loesch and her Breitbart.com colleagues, he said, “are much closer to performance artists than they are bloggers and journalists. I don’t think they believe any of this stuff. It’s like an off-off-Broadway production.”
His biggest criticism is that her content is filled with factually incorrect information. “I like pointing out that she’s a chronic liar,” Boehlert said. “As opposed to a general liar.”
When told of Boehlert’s comments, Loesch laughed. “I’m ‘she-Satan’ to him, I’m positive.”
Still, for someone able to spin the sort of vitriol she’s capable of, she’s surprisingly likable. Though she has polarizing views, she welcomes all opposing viewpoints, and says she has many lefty friends.
In that way, she’s very much like her mentor, the late Breitbart. “It was just so difficult to not like him,” she said. “You know, he kind of was the same; he had a lot of liberal friends. You know, people would think they would absolutely hate him because of his politics, but they got along with him so well.”
“I just couldn’t live with just surrounding myself with people who completely agreed with me,” Loesch said. “As long as you’re a decent person and you’re not some sort of crazy kid-toucher or psycho axe murderer, then we’re cool.”