That Loesch finds her cultural references just as readily on the left as the right goes a long way toward explaining her appeal as a media personality. In a manner reminiscent of Ann Coulter before her, she gets attention, and gets away with some of her more bombastic statements, because they're wrapped up in an unlikely package, one that Republican consultants in a windowless room somewhere have surely labeled as "young and hip." She checks many of the same boxes as Sarah Palin—spotty college education, bootstrapping career, willingness to play up her femininity and motherhood—only without the office-holding ambitions and strident anti-intellectualism. It's a persona that stands in stark opposition to the perceived old white maleness of conservatism, even as it is studded with plenty of Red State totems. Loesch owns guns and home schools her children; she still loves heavy metal, but expresses great affection for bluegrass, too.
Loesch's ease in both worlds, and her frequent emphasis on her conversion from liberal to conservative, makes her something of a type: a Woman Who Saw the Light. Consider the narrative of Michele Bachmann's Democratic upbringing (from which she was saved, she tells us, by reading a Gore Vidal novel); or fellow talk-radio star Tammy Bruce, another former lefty feminist; or Star Parker, a welfare opponent who was herself formerly a liberal on the dole; or, with the reverse trajectory, Arianna Huffington. There's nothing like the fervor of a convert, and fervor translates handily into a certain kind of media stardom these days.
Like Coulter, you're never quite sure what Loesch believes and what's meant to provoke, but of the two women, she is, on the whole, the far more sincere one. She says she considers herself a Tea Party spokeswoman—a sort of missionary to the lamestream media, if you will—not a polemicist. At least, that's how she justifies her deal with the devil: "What battle has ever been won by staying in camp and talking to your fellow soldier?" she asks. "It's liberty evangelism." And the joy of arguing on cable gets her martial metaphors flowing. "You're there to hunt bear," Loesch says. "[Cable news] is the new gladiatorial match."
Consider one such bout against two hoary old symbols of the party establishments, on Anderson Cooper's show during the April budget battle. Loesch glows expressively between the pallor of Democratic war horse Paul Begala and the incipient rosacea of old GOP hand David Gergen, each of whom waits quietly for his turn, confident in the weightiness of his years of experience and expertise. When they do speak, it is mostly to call out Loesch's tap-dancing around the issues, but she deftly sidesteps their attempts to get her to grapple with meaningful budget cuts. When she insists that Planned Parenthood funding is fiscally significant because "over time it adds up" Gergen throws his hands in the air. Begala sadly, futilely shakes his head as she shifts blame away from the Tea Party for having focused only on tiny slivers of the budget.
Surely anyone judging the arguments on their merits would say that either Begala or Gergen had won the debate. But not so fast: The quick, charmingly aggressive Loesch was by far the most memorable of the three. Her competitors didn't win the debate, because this wasn't a debate. Loesch was hunting bear, and Begala and Gergen lumbered straight into her traps.
Correction, June 8, 2011: This article originally misspelled Phyllis Schlafly's name.
Correction, June 9, 2011: This article originally said that Joan Walsh and Eric Boehlert implied that Loesch and Breitbart did more to create the Weinergate scandal than just publishing photos. Loesch made this charge, but Boehlert and Walsh have disputed it.