Source: The Washington Post - Link
A simplified history of the Republican Party over the past 15 years goes like this.
Until 2009, it was largely directed by party officials and elected leaders. The emergence of the tea party movement, a reaction to the presidency of Barack Obama given energy by conservative media and organizations, forced the GOP to consider (if not integrate) far-right ideas and candidates into its agenda. With his presidential candidacy in 2015, Donald Trump gave primacy to those ideas and the fights that propagated over right-wing media. It was a recognition that media held more sway over voters than the establishment and one that, for obvious reasons, the establishment couldn’t make. It worked as a political tactic in 2016, allowing Trump to consolidate the establishment around him. And then he left office, and all that was left was the base.
Leaders driving the base became leaders being pressured by the base became leaders following the base became the base leading. That evolution explains a great deal about where the country is at the moment, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The real leaders of the GOP are the producers of the right-wing media that determine the pap that feeds the base’s outrage.