The Slatest

The Domestication of Donald Trump, in One Fox News Clip

The divide that Donald Trump has exposed between conservative entertainers and conservative intellectuals, and among the commentators at the Fox News Channel, was on display during Tuesday night’s edition of the O’Reilly Factor. Bill O’Reilly, along with Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, has been one of Trump’s biggest defenders and apologists. O’Reilly’s guest, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, has been one of Trump’s biggest critics. And for nearly 12 minutes (an eternity in cable news time), they went back and forth over whether Trump was fit for the office of the presidency.

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The crucial exchange came near the end. What made it so interesting is that it provided a perfect example of the way conservative entertainers like O’Reilly have gone to bat for Trump. They haven’t spent all their time talking him up. They haven’t been particularly opinionated about the specifics of his policies. Instead, what O’Reilly and Limbaugh and Hannity have done is run interference for him. Limbaugh’s callers have been getting increasingly annoyed by the host’s willingness to “explain” Trump’s behavior without offering an opinion. (Limbaugh’s refusal to criticize Trump led to this amazing exchange, for example.) And this is precisely what O’Reilly has been doing. When you read this transcript, keep in mind that Bill O’Reilly is the most opinionated and moralistic and judgmental man on earth.

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KRAUTHAMMER: Do you believe he thinks that Cruz’s dad was associated with Lee  Harvey Oswald?

O’REILLY: No. But I believe that he puts that out there just to create mayhem and creating mayhem has won the election for him. Has it not?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, what you are saying is the end justifies the means.

O’REILLY: That’s what he says. He believes he has to win —

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KRAUTHAMMER: You’re saying, Bill, you’re saying, I don’t care if he is creating mayhem, he won. I don’t think that’s the right answer.

O’REILLY: I’m not saying that. I am just telling you, how he — you say, okay, I don’t want him with the nuclear code. And I’m saying to you, a lot of this is theater because the odds of him winning the nomination when he began in June were a million to one and he won it by creating mayhem and it was a brilliant strategy. It worked for him.

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KRAUTHAMMER: He wins it by floating conspiracy theories that you know and I know are in twilight zone land. In the same way that he led the birther movement. That wasn’t, you know, ancient history. That was five years ago. Do you believe that that was also a reasonable pursuit?

O’REILLY: No. It got him attention and it got him the goodwill of people who don’t like President Obama.

KRAUTHAMMER: Doesn’t that tell you something about the temperament?

O’REILLY: It tells me wants to win and his playbook is much different than the traditional playbook.

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Not once does O’Reilly really give his opinion of Trump’s behavior. He doesn’t say that he thinks it was just fine for Trump to accuse Cruz’s dad of some sort of involvement in the JFK assassination. He doesn’t say Trump had an important point to make with all the birther stuff. He simply explains it. This is all part of Trump’s normalization, or domestication. It’s happening in the culture at large, but it has especially happened in Republican precincts like Fox News. Donald Trump has been able to take over the Republican Party, despite his apostasy and thuggishness, because his extreme behavior has been made acceptable. If O’Reilly and his ilk had merely given Trump’s policies their support, it probably wouldn’t have mattered as much. Instead, they have normalized Trump’s conduct and personality, which should have been the things that kept him miles away from the presidency.

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