Subjected to hours of Rep. Adam Schiff arguing for President Trump’s removal from office, Sen. Ted Cruz needed an outlet. He wanted to speak his mind, relate what he was hearing, and give a first-hand account of what was happening. He could have decided to sound off on Twitter about it (he did), or give interviews to Fox News (he did this too), but he wanted more time and fewer filters.
So, he decided created a podcast called “Verdict.” Teaming up with conservative podcaster Michael Knowles, he recorded half-hour shows in the middle of the night after the senators were released from the impeachment sessions. Knowles gave context for the audience and asked questions while Cruz explained the details of the case and discuss what this was all about.
Although Cruz and Knowles are both very clear about where they stand politically, the show was more informative than polemical. An experienced debater and attorney, Cruz gave credit where it was due, even praising his tormentor Schiff, and insisted on keeping with the facts and logic. He did not gossip about the senators, nor did he pile on Hunter Biden (an irresistible temptation), but asserted what points needed to be proven by House leaders and Trump’s lawyers. He then wrapped up each show by answering questions from listeners.
“Verdict” became the most popular podcast show in America, beating podcasters like Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro, and a whole slew of true crime podcasts. Somehow, a show commenting on a dull court proceeding concerning some vague charge involving the delayed approval of foreign aid to a poor eastern European country enraptured a wide audience.
Cruz and Knowles did not spice up their content or dumb anything down—perhaps the most amusing part of the show was a discussion over the precedent of drinking milk at the impeachment (which might apparently upset recent Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix)—but carefully broke down the points of the argument, many of which were abstract and far removed from most normal people’s experience.
Cruz reached his audience by being genuine and ditching the scripted narratives. Even when the mainstream news outlets did their utmost to highlight the prosecution, gushing over Schiff’s oratory while blatantly shutting out the arguments of the defense, Cruz was the one people ended up listening to. Not only did he validate the skepticism of most Americans, but he took the time to teach his audience and help them understand a byzantine legal tangle. It turned out most people were tired of the propaganda and simply wanted a first-hand account of how these things work.
Besides surprising everyone with the popularity of “Verdict,” Cruz introduced something new and potentially significant to political life: the podcasting politician. While he is not the first politician to podcast, of course, his success may make podcasting a more popular platform for other politicians. It’s not a coincidence that fellow Texan Rep. Dan Crenshaw started his own podcast this week.
As many have discussed, something similar happened with Twitter when President Trump circumvented the usual platforms and eschewed the usual messaging to promote himself by regularly tweeting his frustrations and holding mass rallies. Trump obviously wasn’t the first president to use Twitter or have rallies, but he was one of the first to use these tools as his primary means of identifying with voters on a more personal level. Even though many Americans detested Trump’s crudeness and candor, many also appreciated his honesty and humor.
Unlike President Obama, who seemed distant and inaccessible through the screen of a fawning media, Trump was close and easy to see. People could witness for themselves what the president thought of his critics, foreign powers, or current events—and, more importantly, they could learn more about these issues and develop their own thoughts instead of having a biased account from an increasingly partisan punditry. Naturally, some other politicians have used the same personal touch with their Twitter accounts (like Cruz, Josh Hawley, Greg Abbot, and Crenshaw), filming short videos and writing for online media outlets to communicate directly with their constituents.
For conservatives in particular, and fans of democracy in general, Trump’s effect on politics has been mostly positive. There is now more transparency, more accountability, and more choice for the average person. Americans can be far more informed about today’s issues than they ever were during Obama’s tenure, where every scandal was buried and every platitude was amplified. It’s no longer possible to have a compliant media airbrush an establishment candidate and expect voters to buy it, as Hillary Clinton found out four years ago and Joe Biden is finding out today.
For leftists who favor a technocratic elite and a one-sided media, Trump’s popularity and the parallel rise of alternative media have been a disaster. For so long, leftist leaders depended heavily on uninformed citizens who would give them the benefit of the doubt. Consequently, they try to keep things like Burisma, Sanders’s socialism, and Jeffrey Epstein’s “suicide” out of people’s minds altogether. When President Trump or some other conservative politician raises objections now, they can’t ignore them anymore.
Yet instead of mending their ways and adopting a more balanced, factual approach current events, mainstream outlets have doubled down on partisanship. As their audience diminishes, they have become bolder in their attacks on the president and his supporters, louder in their praise for the Democrats, and largely indifferent to actual news. They have become boring, annoying, and painfully biased, all of which continues to make them unwatchable.
This leaves a large segment of people increasingly without any credible source of news. This vacuum has directly contributed to Cruz’s successful foray into podcasting. He is doing what journalists are supposed to do: inform people. Other politicians or journalists who now complain about this should either try to keep up and improve their performance or find other careers.
With any hope, “Verdict” will finally continue bringing politics more into the Information Age and thus benefit conservatives and leftists alike. Normal people will learn more and thus have more power over deciding the way they are governed.
This depends on political leaders and members of the media deciding between accepting this change or fighting it. It’s time for a truly open competition of ideas with people ready to argue their case. Americans, and the world at large, are ready for it.