The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Some of Fox News’s Trump supporters now declare his political career is ‘done’

The president’s role in and reaction to the assault on the Capitol has soured Stuart Varney, Brit Hume and others who once favored him

President Trump on the South Lawn of the White House last month. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

Over the last four years, President Trump has relied on Fox News as a bastion of support and encouragement — even as he occasionally faced tougher assessments from news-side anchors like Shepard Smith or Chris Wallace.

Days after Joe Biden’s election victory, two of Trump’s Fox friends said he should run again in 2024. “Of course he should run in 2024,” Pete Hegseth said. “This is not the last you heard of President Trump,” declared Geraldo Rivera.

But for some of the president’s fans on Fox, the events of Wednesday afternoon seem to have changed the calculation. Boosters like business host Stuart Varney, who once claimed that Trump has never lied, said the pro-Trump mobbing of the U.S. Capitol that left four people dead signaled the end of his political viability.

“He cannot come back from this,” Varney told viewers on Thursday. “I think President Trump, Donald J. Trump, is done, politically.”

When Varney’s guest, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, argued that “we have to get through this moment before we understand what the political consequences are,” Varney replied, “I think the political consequences are beginning to unfold. I think the president is tarred with the brush of Wednesday, January the 6th. … I think the support for the president, within the Republican Party and the administration, is crumbling.” (Several members of Trump’s administration have resigned in protest, while others weigh their options.)

Varney’s past fondness for the president has been reciprocated. “I like your show a lot,” Trump told him after an interview in October. “I like you a lot.” Varney expressed his doubts about the president even before the usually Trump-sympathetic Wall Street Journal editorial board published a scathing piece Thursday evening calling for his resignation. “This week has probably finished him as a serious political figure,” the board wrote.

It also came before Trump broke his silence of the past 24 hours with a videotaped speech released on social media Thursday night, in which he appeased some frustrated allies by belatedly acknowledging that Biden will soon take over as president. Trump’s speech, though, ended with an ambiguous promise to his “wonderful supporters” that seemed to leave the door open to a future in politics: “Our incredible journey is only just beginning.”

Also speaking out on Fox on Thursday was libertarian Fox News personality Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, appearing on the show “Outnumbered,” where she criticized Trump’s rally speech preceding the charge on the Capitol, which she said was “rambling” and “full of self-pity.”

“I have to say: After the losses in Georgia, after his speech yesterday … he can no longer be the leader of this movement,” she said. “I think it is unacceptable for members of his party to say that he should run again in 2024.”

Looking ahead to the next election, she said, “Who is going to emerge as the phoenix from these ashes? These painful ashes? That remains to be seen, but it cannot be this president.”

Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren, an extremely vocal and loyal supporter of the president, said she disagreed with Montgomery’s assessment but demurred when anchor Harris Faulkner asked if she thinks Trump should run again in 2024.

“I don’t know if that’s the best idea given all of this, but I do think that we are going to need a leader that is Trump-like,” she said. “I think we’re going to need someone who is unapologetically and unabashedly conservative, America-first, patriotic, whoever that may be. I hope that they rise from the ashes and take on this challenge, because we certainly need a leader, many leaders right now.”

Right-wing media outlets spent significant time on Jan. 6 suggesting that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol weren't actually Trump supporters. (Video: The Washington Post)

On Wednesday night, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume also predicted Trump’s political demise during a conversation with anchor Bret Baier.

Referencing Trump’s less hardcore supporters as “everyday Republicans,” Hume said, “I think those people now almost certainly have deserted him” in the wake of the violence.

“Trump’s post-election conduct, I think, has split him off from about half, maybe more than that, of his voting base,” Hume added. “If the election was held tonight he’d lose by far more than he lost the last time. And I don’t think they’ll be around for any effort by Trump to be elected again four years from now.”

“Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade also questioned what the future of Trump’s political movement will be. “Where does this movement go from here, if this is the calling card they’re leaving us with?” he asked on Thursday morning.

Broadly speaking, Trump’s backers among Fox News’s corps of opinion hosts have condemned Wednesday’s violence but have either attempted to shift the blame away from Trump and his supporters to outside “agitators,” a claim for which no evidence has been presented, or to provide cover for the behavior of the pro-Trump rioters. Hegseth, who has endorsed a Trump 2024 candidacy, repeated this argument on Thursday morning: “These are not conspiracy theorists motivated just by lies,” he said. “They love freedom and they love free markets, and they see exactly what the anti-American Left has done to America.”

When asked by “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt whether Trump “has a shot” if he runs again in 2024, Hegseth replied assuredly, “Of course he does. Will he? I don’t know. But the movement that he’s created is not over.”