March 24, 2016 Atlanta - Erick Erickson, host of The Erick Erickson Show and organizer of RedState.com speaks at News 95.5 and AM750 WSB studio on Thursday, March 24, 2016. Like others in the GOP, Macon native Erick Erickson is riding a wave of anger. As it has risen, so have his fortunes: blogger, TV commentator and, now, one of the chief critics of the man who would be president, Donald Trump.
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Macon’s Erickson emerges as voice of the 'anti-Trump' movement

In the best of times, Erick Erickson believes, he would mix two arts. A TV camera would be there, too.

“I want to have a cooking show where you bring in people of different persuasions and show there’s more to life than partisan politics,” said Erickson, whose genial, smiling mug may be the face of partisanship. “It’s amazing when people can realize there are a lot of people on the other side of the aisle who are just like them.”

If that sounds as if Erickson is going all conciliatory, he’s not. One of the nation’s pre-eminent conservative political bloggers, TV commentators and radio hosts, the 40-year-0ld Macon resident has taken aim at the biggest target in this year’s political race. In so doing, he has emerged in recent weeks as a voice — perhaps the voice — of Republicans working to derail a Donald Trump presidential nomination.

On radio and online, Erickson has used wit and scorn to discredit the billionaire developer. “Donald Trump continues to prove he is a classless moral cretin,” Erickson wrote on March 22 for his conservative blog, The Resurgent.

He’s also put his boots on the ground in this war with Trump. Earlier this month Erickson was one of a trio of influential conservative leaders who summoned fellow believers to a closed-door meeting in Washington. The topic: how to stop Trump from winning the GOP nomination — or, failing that, how to mount a “true conservative” third-party candidate this fall.

His hardball tactics, Erickson said, have spurred death threats from fervent Trump backers. He’s got full-time bodyguards outside his Middle Georgia home.

Erickson, who has a radio show on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB — a news outlet that, like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is part of Cox Media Group — believes these are tough times. Trump, he noted in an interview with the AJC earlier this week, continues raking in delegates like a winning poker player sweeps chips onto his lap.

“I think a Hillary (Clinton) White House is inevitable if Trump is the nominee,” Erickson said. “The Republican Party is going to come out so bruised from this primary season. And this is going to be the nastiest, most brutal, presidential election we’ve ever seen.”

Rendered even more brutal by political comments appearing online. At this, Erickson excels.

A few years ago, he called Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie.” He once referred to first lady Michelle Obama as a “Marxist harpy.” And, in what may be his most (in)famous observation, he called retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter a child molester with a sexual affinity for goats. (He’s gone on to apologize for that remark, made in a tweet.)

More recently, he reposted a GQ magazine photo of Melania Trump, a model before she married the GOP front-runner. The image is long on skin, short on clothing. Without naming Trump, the post added a caption describing a husband who is an “elderly, out-of-shape guy with very tiny hands.”

If Trump became president, it continued, the new first lady would have an ardent fan base — adolescent males with a sudden appreciation for politics.

“I probably should watch my words a little more carefully. But I don’t,” Erickson told The AJC. “In an age where people throw around the word ‘authenticity,’ I don’t want to come across as manufactured or guarded.”

Erickson sees his job as a blend of showman and conservative believer. He wants to entertain people on the commute home while also influencing the political discourse.

He has referred to himself as just a guy with a laptop, working from his home in Bibb County. That plays well with a fan base that values Erickson’s plain-talk approach to discussing politics. He also looks the part of the fellow next door, with his wide face, easy grin and pudgy build. It’s easy to imagine him standing in Lowe’s, puzzling over which PVC fitting will fix a leaky pipe.

But that image is not properly nuanced. He spent a good bit of his youth overseas. Despite his conservative credentials, Erickson has proven that he can work with Democrats to get things done. And he sometimes surprises. Following the shooting of an unarmed, black teen in Ferguson, Mo., Erickson used his electronic bully pulpit to call for the police to be more closely policed. He’s studying to get a Protestant divinity degree.

Most recently, he’s angered high-profile Republicans after saying he would consider backing a third-party candidate if Trump is the nominee. They fear that would fragment the GOP. Influential Republicans have slammed him, listeners have berated him and his voice-mails are jammed with pointed threats aimed at him, his wife and two children. One threatened to “to cut out my tongue and kill my wife and kids.”

Erickson appears unfazed by the uproar and the threats. “I sit in front of my computer and crank something out. And I click publish.” He smiled. “You can tell by the typos.”

‘Slings and arrows’

He was born in Louisiana and spent most of his early years in Dubai, where his dad was an oil worker. Young Erickson went to an English-speaking school with other expatriate children — not the typical education, perhaps, for someone who’d choose to settle Middle Georgia.

But that’s what he did, returning to America in his teen years. He attended Mercer University, then enrolled in its law school. A local firm hired him. It was, perhaps, not as challenging as it could have been.

Between bouts of boredom, Erickson began blogging about conservative politics on RedState.com. He had a conversational style of writing, and his assessments could be as blunt as the business end of a baseball bat. Before long, MSNBC and other national outlets were asking for his perspective.

About this time, he met Larry Schlesinger, a Macon rabbi — oh, and a Democrat, too. In 2007, each ran for, and won, a seat on the Macon City Council. There, said Schlesinger, the two discovered common ground.

“There’s nothing partisan in water-and-sewer or sidewalks,” said Schlesinger.

While Erickson’s time on the council was short lived, Schlesinger has remained and watched the former colleague’s increasing influence with quiet pleasure. Erickson’s the guy, he said, to spar with Trump.

“He’s got the guts to put up with the slings and arrows,” Schlesinger said.

Erickson has always said he didn’t plan to be a big-time guy in the GOP. That may have started that day in 2004 when a partner in his law firm paid a visit. By then, he was blogging regularly.

“What’s the definition of a dumb-ass?” the partner asked. Before Erickson could reply, his soon-to-be-former colleague answered his own query. “You,” the lawyer said. “Now go do politics.”

He did. Erickson took over the RedState website in 2005 and went full-time soon after. He hasn’t looked back (though he does keep his law license on standby just in case.).

In 2009, he held the first of what became annual RedState gatherings. Fewer than 200 people showed up at the Grand Hyatt in Atlanta — most, Erickson has said, were computer nerds. But among the sparse crowd was a handful of conservatives who’d already raised their gazes beyond laptops. Among them: Marco Rubio, who’d go on to win a U.S. Senate seat in Florida; Ted Cruz, soon to become the junior U.S. senator from Texas; and Nikki Haley, who’d be elected South Carolina’s governor.

The 2015 gathering? More than 1,000 people attended, including nine presidential candidates. Erickson told a 10th hopeful to stay away after his comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly aired on CNN.

That comment: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”

Those 17 words were enough to generate a lot more from Erickson and spark a feud that would largely play out through a volley of tweets and other online grenades. In an August 2015 blog post, Erickson announced that the welcome mat he’d rolled out for Trump had just been yanked away.

“(T)here are just real lines of decency a person running for president should not cross,” he wrote. “His comment was inappropriate.”

Trump didn’t take that quietly. In an October tweet, Trump noted that Erickson no longer worked at RedState — proof, Trump said, that Erickson had been “fired like a dog.”

(Erickson said he resigned voluntarily to focus on other obligations.)

The AJC invited the Trump campaign to respond to Erickson’s comments, but received no answer. That hardly means his supporters are staying silent.

Erickson’s call for Republicans to dump Trump, said Debbie Dooley, president of the Atlanta Tea Party, is an assault on conservatives. The billionaire candidate has lots of support from people who embrace Tea Party principles, she said.

Erickson, she added, has become “an elite,” the same political animal at which he once took aim. “He’s close to the establishment,” said Dooley. “He’s close to the Bush family.”

Others sneer at Erickson’s calls for a new direction in the GOP. The Macon conservative, they say, has helped plant a poisonous crop whose tendrils are enfolding the party.

“Make no mistake: Erickson shoulders some of the blame for the rise of GOP extremism,” said Michael Smith of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia are in vogue with the Republican field because of people like him. Now, those chickens have come home to roost.”

But Rusty Paul, a former state senator and ex-head of the Georgia Republican Party, has a different take. Paul, now mayor of Sandy Springs, believes Erickson may be the right guy in a wrong time.

“He’s become a big deal because the conservative movement is looking for leadership and looking for a voice,” Paul said. “It’s ironic, that Donald Trump’s success is one reason why (Erickson) has become successful.”

The two men, Paul thinks, may be in an unwitting struggle for the GOP’s soul: in one corner, Trump, pledging to build figurative and literal walls; and opposite him, Erickson, urging Republicans to stand back lest thost walls collapse on their party.

“He’s become one of the strong voices in helping define what is conservatism in the 21st century,” Paul said. “And he’s saying Trump ain’t it.”

MORE: Conservative talk host Eric Erickson hospitalized, reports blood clots in lungs

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