February 14, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Will Fox News Save Trump?
The president hasn't signed the spending bill yet. Here's why.
The Editorial Board does not stand in opposition to elite news media. It loves the Times and the Post and even CNN (well, mostly). But the Editorial Board does stand with speaking plainly about our politics. Alas, elite news media often fails at that.
Most outlets continue to wonder if the president will agree to bipartisan provisions hashed out by the Congress that keep the government running while giving the Trump administration much less than it asked for to build a 100-mile wall on the border.
But here’s the thing. The decision is not really Donald Trump’s.
Yes, technically it is. Of course, that’s the case. But c’mon. Let’s not kid ourselves. The president is going to do whatever the right-wing media will tolerate, because whatever the right-wing media will tolerate is what his supporters will tolerate. In all likelihood, Trump’s approval rating (in its aggregated form) will never drop below 37 percent or so as long as Fox News, Matt Drudge, and other hacks stand with him. Put another way: he’ll be fine as long as they lie for him. If they stop lying, his goose is cooked.
Specifically, Trump’s days are numbered if the right-wing media decides, for whatever reason, to tell, or at least start hinting hard at, the truth about this president, which is that he’s a fraud. The man who campaigned against perceived weakness in the body politic is the most enfeebled president of our lifetimes. Everybody knows this except the people getting conned. In the fight over the border wall, he has experienced what all bullies fear: being exposed for what he is, a scared, petty, weak, small man.
To everyone else, the decision to sign the funding bill is a question of prudence. Yes, shooting yourself in the foot hurts; it’s oh-so humiliating. But take the L and move on. To Trump, though, this decision is epic. It’s the difference between being president and being primaried. If the right-wing media loses faith in him, his ratings will plummet so low someone, perhaps Nikki Haley, will capitalize on his weakness.
So I can’t say I’m surprised that Trump still hasn’t committed to signing the bill. He’s waiting to see what the right-wing media has to say. So far, it would appear he’s getting mixed messages. Sean Hannity seems to be saying the deal is OK, go ahead and sign it, whereas right-wing pundits like Michelle Malkin, who is Sean Hannity’s competitor, take the opposite tack. That’s bad for a president who can’t concentrate for more than a minute. He’s not capable of sifting through conflicting signals.
Fortunately, for Trump, the consensus appears in his favor. Pundits are so far avoiding blaming Trump for the Democrats handing his ass to him. (He’s getting even less money than what the Democrats offered during the shutdown.) The topic of debate isn’t Trump’s weakness, but so-called “poison pills” put into the legislation. (One of those, by the way, is giving federal contractors the back pay that’s due to them.)
But even as they find ways to avoid blaming him, they are paving the way for Trump to shoot himself in the foot again. What’s he supposed to do at this point? Reject the legislation and permit the government to shut down again? If right-wing media is anything, it’s short-sighted. It can’t imagine being held responsible for fights it picks.
Ultimately, this boils down to credibility, especially at Fox News. (Trump can lose Ann Coulter and even Lou Dobbs, but he can’t lose Hannity.) In reality, the president won’t get a wall. Not through a shut down. Not through an emergency declaration. Not by shifting already appropriated money. (Mick Mulvaney keeps saying Trump can use disaster relief funds; that’s almost certainly illegal.) He’s not getting a wall, so the president is redefining “wall,” and hoping the right-wing media swallows it.
It might work. The above image was on Fox News last night. Of course, “the wall” is really “Normandy fencing” or barriers or things that were already on the border. The new legislation calls for 55 miles of new structures, not “a wall.” But if the president claims victory where there is only self-humiliation, and if the right-wing media carries that water, it does not matter, politically speaking, that up is down, left is right.
What matters, for Trump, is that the right-wing media keeps lying for him.
We’ll see if it does.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.