Fox News and Donald Trump are reaching a detente at last; yesterday Megyn Kelly went to Trump Tower for an hour-long meeting she described as allowing “a chance to clear the air,” after which Trump went to the Fox offices to have lunch with network chief Roger Ailes. This comes after Kelly had the temerity to ask Trump about sexist remarks he had made in the past, which led him to unleash a months-long campaign of insults at her (The Donald doesn’t like to be challenged, especially by a woman).
The time had obviously come for Kelly to make nice, and more importantly, Fox needed to smooth over any conflict with Trump, given that he’s likely to be the Republican nominee for president soon.
Though Fox is a unique and complicated media outlet, this is is a preview of what’s to come from many quarters on the right. People and organizations which have criticized and even attacked Trump, some in the harshest possible terms, will come around. They might not start praising him to the heavens, but they are going to join in the effort to get him elected. Because the alternative will be irrelevance, the last thing anyone in politics wants.
Let’s take, as a first example, our old friend Karl Rove. Politico reports today that while Rove has been criticizing Trump in public, behind the scenes he and American Crossroads, the super PAC he helped found, are telling donors that Trump can beat Hillary Clinton, so everyone needs to be prepared to get behind him. Now why might that be?
Consider that American Crossroads and its sister “charitable” organization Crossroads GPS are together the premier vehicle for rich Republicans to play in elections. In 2012, they spent $176 million on the campaign, more than any other group. If Trump is the nominee and American Crossroads said, “Forget about this election — we won’t support Trump,” where would that leave them? On the sidelines, with no role to play (at least in the presidential race), no contributions coming in, no salaries for their staff, no commissions for their consultants, and no influence. When there’s a presidential election going on, the last thing political players like them want is to be left out of the game.
American Crossroads goes after the big money, but there is a whole universe of operators and organizations who depend for their incomes on convincing conservatives that by handing over $20 or $50 or $100 they can fight today’s bête noir, whether it’s Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and that with their contributions they can push back on social change and turn America back to the place it was when they were young. Once your name and address are on one of their lists, they’ll be bought and sold again and again, so you can be targeted with appeal after appeal for donations to do your part in fighting the good fight. It’s a gigantic grift — many of the organizations spend little on actual political work, and the contributions help line the pockets of the people who run them. In the last couple of years, even some conservatives have gotten uncomfortable with this gigantic grift. But too many people are getting a taste for it to be dismantled.
Even for those who aren’t just fleecing rank-and-file conservatives to get rich, Trump becoming the nominee (presuming that happens) changes the calculation, making attacking him no longer worthwhile. Those who have criticized him up to now will have to justify their change in tone, but with the specter of a Hillary Clinton presidency looming, it won’t be that difficult.
That applies even to those who have been most vociferous in their criticisms of Trump. He has been attacked in the strongest possible terms by numerous outlets of the conservative media, like National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. That can partially be explained by the fact that they appeal to an elite conservative audience, the kind of people who are horrified by Trump and his supporters and would like to get back to a time when the rabble were brought along with more subtle appeals and genteel Republican officials focused on the truly important work of cutting capital gains taxes. While they might be hesitant to sing Trump’s praises too loudly given what they’ve said up to now, they’ll likely just ignore him (for the most part) and spend the summer and fall telling their readers why Hillary Clinton was spat from the very fires of hell to complete Barack Obama’s work of destroying America.
Fox News, on the other hand, as a television rather than print outlet, has a less upscale audience, one that will want to hear not just about Clinton’s villainy, but also why Trump is a terrific guy who’s going to make America great. After all, if you’ve spent years watching Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, you’ve heard Trump’s arguments a thousand times: America is in decline, immigrants are destroying everything, black people need to shut up and pull up their pants, the white man can’t catch a break.
You can already watch fawning interviews of Trump on the network, but in the end, everyone — including Megyn Kelly — is going to have to get on board Trump’s train. When he’s the nominee, that’s what will be in the best interests of the network itself and the Republican Party, and Roger Ailes’ genius has always been his ability to serve both at the same time. And if Kelly doesn’t like it, she’ll have to get a job somewhere else.