The night began with a campaign-style biographical video and ended with a standing ovation. The candidate called President Trump’s behavior “grotesque” and lamented the “media noise machine on the right wing.” He attacked Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham by name.
Viewers of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s town hall event on Sunday could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled onto an hour of prime-time MSNBC.
Nope. This was Fox News.
The network that liberals love to hate wants to be a required pit stop for Democrats running in the 2020 presidential primary. And despite a snub last week from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who denounced the channel as a “hate-for-profit racket,” Fox News is finding some success.
Mr. Buttigieg’s hourlong appearance spawned headlines, solid ratings, and kudos from liberals pleased to see the South Bend, Ind., mayor calling out Fox News pundits on their own network.
.. The reaction was chillier among some of the network’s core conservative viewers — including one miffed resident of the White House. “Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete,” President Trump wrote on Twitter before the town hall event began. “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems.”
At a rally in Pennsylvania on Monday night, the president kept up his criticism. “What’s going on with Fox, by the way? What’s going on there?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd, which responded with boos. “They’re putting more Democrats on than Republicans. Something strange is going on at Fox, folks.”
.. “It’s clear their audience is split on whether it was a good idea to offer Buttigieg airtime,” said Eric Bolling, a former Fox News star who now hosts “America This Week” for the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Fox News has stayed uncharacteristically quiet about the reception to its Democratic town hall events. The network refrained from hitting back at Ms. Warren’s attack last week, and it declined to comment on Monday about Mr. Trump’s taunts.
On Sunday, Mr. Wallace, who was moderating Mr. Buttigieg’s town hall event, was again in the spotlight. Mr. Trump, in his pre-emptive tweet, compared the anchor unfavorably with his father, the former “60 Minutes” host Mike Wallace, and knocked him for praising Mr. Buttigieg’s “substance” and “fascinating biography.”
“Gee,” Mr. Trump wrote, “he never speaks well of me.”
That prompted a rare rebuke from Brit Hume, the Fox News senior political analyst. “Say this for Buttigieg,” Mr. Hume tweeted at the president. “He’s willing to be questioned by Chris Wallace, something you’ve barely done since you’ve been president.”
Mr. Hume added, “Oh, and covering candidates of both parties is part of the job of a news channel.”
“If you want to counterprogram Fox, you have to do it to their face,” said Lis Smith, who runs Mr. Buttigieg’s communications strategy. “We can’t just retreat to our self-reinforcing echo chambers.”
“If you want to talk to every voter, you have to meet them where they are,” Ms. Smith added.
When Sean Hannity of Fox News appeared onstage at a rally with President Trump — and called the press corps “fake news” from the podium — it was the culmination of the network’s shift from its “fair and balanced” founding days to a post-Ailes MAGA messaging machine.
‘This is tyranny of talk radio hosts, right?’: Limbaugh and Coulter blamed for Trump’s shutdown
So what caused Trump to flip back? Some have suggested that he bowed to backlash from high-profile conservative pundits — notably Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh — who lambasted the president for appearing to concede on the wall funding.
On his radio show Wednesday, Limbaugh said the president was “getting ready to cave” on getting money for the wall in the budget.
“It’s a textbook example of what the drive-by media calls compromise,” Limbaugh said. “Trump gets nothing, and the Democrats get everything, including control of the House.”
Coulter, during a podcast on the Daily Caller, said Trump’s White House would become “a joke presidency that scammed the American people” if he didn’t build the wall, adding that “he’ll have no legacy whatsoever.” She also wrote a scathing column about the president and launched a flurry of criticisms on Twitter.
A lot of conservatives with big platforms were very, very angry at Trump this week.
If the government shuts down tonight over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall, feel free to blame conservative punditry.
This week Ann Coulter described Trump as a gutless “sociopath” who, without a border wall, “will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people.”
Radio host Rush Limbaugh said on his show Wednesday that without the $5 billion, any signing of a budget stop gap would show “Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything.”
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said that without wall funding, “the swamp wins,” adding that Trump will “look like a loser” without wall funding and stating, “This is worth shutting down” the government.
There’s no way around it: A lot of people on the right are very upset with Trump (and each other) right now. And they’re taking it out on the president — on his favorite television network, on talk radio, on podcasts, and online — and it’s worked to put the pressure on him. Trump has abruptly changed course to demand $5 billion for a border wall (a demand the Senate isn’t likely to give in to). And now the government is facing a “very long” shutdown.
In the words of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), referring to Coulter and Limbaugh, “We have two talk-radio show hosts who basically influenced the president, and we’re in a shutdown mode. It’s just—that’s tyranny, isn’t it?”
.. Republican voters are still solidly behind Trump (his approval rating among Republicans polled by Gallup is at 86 percent). But unlike some portions of Trump’s base, the voices of the party who supported Trump because of what he could do as president rather than who he is as president are deeply displeased with him.
Some on the right are upset about the administration’s decision to pull out of Syria and, perhaps, Afghanistan — and are very worried by news of James Mattis’s resignation from his role as defense secretary.
Others are angry that more than two years into Republican control of all three branches of the federal government, Planned Parenthood still hasn’t been fully defunded. Then there’s that executive order banning bump stocks. And the continued existence of Obamacare.
.. But this week, many of the right’s biggest names were more or less united on one particular issue, with Fox News pundits and some of Trump’s most important surrogates and supporters leading the way: build a wall, or you’re done. As Fox News’s Laura Ingraham said on her show Wednesday night, “Not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration.”
.. They urged a government shutdown (and even the closing of the United States’ border with Mexico) in full knowledge that Trump was listening, even as Republican senators prepared to fly home for the holidays with no expectations they’d need to be present for a vote to keep the government open.
House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows said Wednesday that Trump’s “base will go crazy” if border wall money wasn’t provided in the stopgap government funding measure, and he was joined by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who tweetedabout wall funding with the hashtag #DoWhatWeSaid.
That same day, Ann Coulter published a syndicated piece titled “Gutless President in a Wall-Less Country,” in which she wrote that contrary to what some might believe, many of Trump’s supporters were well aware that he was a “gigantic douchebag.” She wrote, “If anything, Trump’s vulgar narcissism made his vow to build a wall more believable. Respectable politicians had made similar promises over the years — and they always betrayed the voters. Maybe it took a sociopath to ignore elite opinion and keep his word.”
But she added, “Unfortunately, that’s all he does: talk. He’s not interested in doing anything that would require the tiniest bit of effort.”
That piece may have gotten her unfollowed on Twitter by the president. Then she went on the Daily Caller’s podcast to say that the entire purpose of Trump’s presidency appears to be “making sure Ivanka and Jared can make money.” But by Wednesday evening, Trump was arguing that the wall would in fact be built, “one way or the other,” saying that perhaps the military could construct it.
On Thursday, Trump said during a signing ceremony for the farm bill that “any measure the funds the government must include border security,” but added, that the wall is “also called steel slats, so that I give them a little bit of an out — steel slats. … We don’t use the word ‘wall’ necessarily.”
That same day, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that Trump had contacted him and said, “if whatever happens in the House and Senate comes back to him with no allocation of $5 billion for the wall, then he’s going to veto it.” But that doesn’t seem to have soothed many of conservative media’s loudest voices, like Coulter, who tweeted a “border wall construction update” on Friday: “Miles completed yesterday–Zero; Miles completed since Inauguration–Zero. NEXT UPDATE TOMORROW.” (For the record, border wall replacement is already taking place, and new construction is slated for next year.)
That’s because contrary to popular opinion, many on the right who voted for Trump, particularly in conservative media, didn’t vote for a personality. As Coulter put it in her column, “The Washington Post loves to find the one crazy, trailer park lady who supports Trump because she’s had religious ecstasies about him, but most people who voted for him did so with a boatload of qualms.”
Rather, they had specific reasons for voting for Trump.
- Getting out of foreign wars, for example, or
- ending Obamacare, or
- curbing abortion. Or, most importantly for many,
- curtailing immigration and
- building a border wall.
And they aren’t seeing much progress. And they’re not happy about it.
I reached out to Coulter, and asked her if her support for Trump was contingent on a wall, or whether toughened border security would be enough. She responded via email: “WALL — or whatever Israel has,” with a link to a Jerusalem Post article about Israel’s border security mechanisms, adding “definitely NOT a B.S., completely meaningless promise of “border security.”