You may have heard that the Fox News Channel and Donald Trump are at war. One of the conservative news network’s star anchors, Megyn Kelly, challenged Trump in a debate she co-moderated last year; since that time, he has constantly insulted her on Twitter and on television (including on other Fox programs). He has also criticized a number of other Fox News personalities (Brit Hume, Charles Krauthammer, Stephen Hayes, George Will, and others) in very personal terms. And as Gabriel Sherman has reported, Fox News initially attempted to bring Trump down and prevent him from winning the nomination.
Well, on Monday night FNC’s Sean Hannity held a forum with Trump in Nevada ahead of Tuesday’s caucuses. But it wasn’t another battle in a long war. Instead, Trump—who has recently spoken highly of Planned Parenthood, bashed the Iraq War and George W. Bush, and advocated for a health care mandate—batted away softball questions, and went unchallenged on his more liberal positions. If Monday night’s event showed anything, it is that the Republican Party still hasn’t figured out a way to unite against the man who very well might break it apart.
The Hannity interview was in one sense unremarkable: Trump regularly receives fawning coverage from Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, another Fox anchor; the war between Trump and Fox has never been a full-on struggle. But Trump has consolidated his position atop the Republican field in the past week, proving he can win in a place like South Carolina and receiving positive poll results in demographically diverse states across the country. With a slew of primaries on March 1, the party and its media organs need to unite behind a non-Trump alternative ASAP. And yet, it just doesn’t seem to be happening.
The reasons for this are myriad. The media’s Trump addiction, which extends to even liberal networks like MSNBC, is of course above all about ratings and money. No one can afford to make him too unhappy. But there are other reasons that extend specifically to Fox: Many at the network are surely frightened of what it would mean to fully go after a man so popular with their viewers. And Trump quite clearly has established personal rapports with Hannity and O’Reilly. But now, with the future of the Republican Party potentially on the line, and with so little time left before Trump is truly unstoppable, it wasn’t crazy to think that perhaps Fox might finally turn against Trump in some sort of sustained way.
Well, maybe it was crazy. The failure to do so Monday night was just one more instance of the party’s collective failure. Trump himself sailed through the evening once again unscathed; he even came across better than he normally does because the calm atmosphere meant that he presumably felt temporarily comfortable discarding the nastier, bigoted side of his personality. (For the most part, at least.) Hannity’s questions were atrocious, but the audience’s were worse: Fox News, which views black Americans as either criminals or perfect conservatives, found a black woman to ask whether Trump would reform our criminal justice system, which she said was broken because the people who worked in the Obama administration were free to break the law.
Last week ended with Jeb Bush dropping out of the race, while this week commenced with Marco Rubio gaining a number of endorsements and watching Ted Cruz’s campaign descend into chaos. It’s possible that the GOP and its media apparatus will still have the opportunity to bring Trump down. But time is ticking away, and the staged spectacle Monday night was just one more stop on Trump’s long, free ride.