“What’s going on with Fox, by the way? What’s going on there?” Trump asked at his rally Monday in central Pennsylvania. The old mill town of Montoursville is on a branch of the Susquehanna River, about halfway between New York City and Cleveland — the heart of Trump country. It’s also the site of a special election to replace former Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who overwhelmingly won his election in November only to resign in January. The President was speaking to the Fox News-viewing faithful.
“They’re putting more Democrats on than you have Republicans,” he griped to the crowd about his favorite channel. “Something strange is going on at Fox, folks. Something very strange.”
The line was not exactly a crowd-pleaser. Mostly, the audience seemed confused. A few people took the cue and booed the cable news channel.
Crowd-pleaser or not, Trump has been airing his concerns about Fox News increasingly often in recent weeks. Democratic 2020 candidates holding town halls on the channel seem to especially irk him.
After Bernie Sanders held a town hall on the channel in April, the President observed, “so weird to watch Crazy Bernie on @FoxNews.” The “audience” — he put it in quotes, suggesting something was amiss with the crowd — and the moderator, Bret Baier, were “so smiley and nice,” he griped. “Very strange, and now we have @donnabrazile?” The former DNC chair joined the network as a contributor in March.
The complaints continued the next day, with claims that his supporters were shut out of the studio audience in favor of Sanders supporters.
Many Trump Fans & Signs were outside of the @FoxNews Studio last night in the now thriving (Thank you President Trump) Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the interview with Crazy Bernie Sanders. Big complaints about not being let in-stuffed with Bernie supporters. What’s with @FoxNews?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2019
After Buttigieg’s town hall this week it was a repeat, with Trump complaining that the network was “wasting airtime” and “moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side.”
His concerns are not unfounded. The Democrats seem to be breaking through during their Fox appearances. At Sanders’ town hall, Bret Baier’s mention of “a government-run system” for health care was met with raised hands and cheers. When Buttigieg called Trump’s tweets “grotesque,” the audience laughed and applauded.
“I did want to watch,” Trump told his rally night’s audience. “You always want to watch the competition.” It was a telling quote in itself. Trump — and, probably, most Americans — take for granted that Fox sees Democrats as the opposition. His enemies were meant to be theirs. So what business does Fox have amplifying their message? the President wanted to know.
Trump has bullied Fox into submission before. Former host Megyn Kelly earned his ire (“blood coming out of her wherever”) after asking him about his treatment of women at the first Republican debate in 2015. In that feud, Trump won out. The channel got behind Trump as other GOP candidates withered in the face of his nicknames; Kelly left her job, she would later say, because of Trump. Despite the spinning it has required from Fox’s PR team, Sean Hannity has continued to appear with the President before and even onstage during his rallies.
Whether Trump will win this battle remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Democrats don’t seem to have much to lose by going on Fox. It gives them a chance to reframe moderators’ questions, which are often asked with a clear, conservative wind-up. It pisses off the President. And it shows that, for many Trump voters, Democrats’ policies are appealing. Whether policies informed Trump voters’ vote last time, or will next time, is a separate question.