Since his election as president, Donald Trump has tweeted to or about Fox News nearly 130 times. The most recent example was early Monday morning, when Trump shared a comment from economist Art Laffer that had just been made on a Fox network. How do we know that was the origin of the quote? Trump made sure to tag Fox News in the tweets. He might also have tagged Fox Business, the network he was watching. Which is unusual: He’s usually watching “Fox and Friends” on weekday mornings, a show he’s mentioned or retweeted 79 times as president — once every three days or so.
What’s critical to remember, though, is that Trump’s interest in Fox News predates his presidency substantially. Since 2010, he’s tweeted about Fox News more than 1,200 times, most heavily in 2015 as he enjoyed the network’s coverage as he tried to woo Republican voters — and most often between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., when “Fox and Friends” is on.
The point, should it need clarifying: Trump’s symbiotic relationship with Fox News is not new.
More broadly, though, the point is how Trump’s interest in and attention to Fox News overlapped with his entry into politics. In 2008, Trump was a Democrat who offered kind words for his friend Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes. By 2009, he was a Republican. By 2011, he had a regular gig on “Fox and Friends” — every Monday morning from March of that year until he declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2015. That same month, Trump started accusing President Barack Obama of having been born outside of the United States.
Over the decade before he started that weekly gig, he was interviewed by CBS News and ABC News a combined 15 times, according to a search on Nexis. NBC News and MSNBC combined for another 29. Over that decade, Trump was interviewed by Fox News nearly 60 times, more than the other networks combined — including the network that hosted his television show. Fox gave him the attention he sought, and he embraced Fox News’ politics.
At New York magazine, Eric Levitz takes this point a step further. On multiple occasions, he notes, Trump has expressed regret about the details of policies he’s publicly advocated. There was his push for the American Health Care Act, which Trump later derided as “mean.” There was a report from Bloomberg in which Trump was described as “angry” after learning about how his tax plan — which he’s touted in multiple events — would affect middle-income Americans.
Trump is not a policy guy, as he himself would admit. On the campaign trail, he dismissed calls for detailed policy proposals as something the press cared about but voters didn’t. That’s largely true, certainly, but most candidates for the presidency lean toward the press’s view of the need to have formulated specific proposals for the perhaps obvious reason that those policies would need to be implemented.
As Levitz notes, Trump instead relies on others to fill in the details. It hasn’t just been on the attempted Obamacare repeal (drafted by House Republicans) or his tax plan. He’s derided decisions he himself has enacted, such as disparaging on Twitter the second draft of his immigration ban — a ban he signed. He was reportedly frustrated earlier this year about the implementation of his National Security Council, which, again, he formally enacted.
He doesn’t have any policy position on most issues besides broad generalities, so he has little choice but to leave the specifics to others. That’s reflected in The Post’s assessment of his decision-making process, which has often come down to picking from a list of options presented to him.
“No occupant of the Oval Office has ever shared the average person’s disinterest in policy, parliamentary procedure, and the rudiments of American civics to the extent that Trump does,” Levitz writes.
Levitz speculates that Trump’s been disadvantaged by having bought into the Fox News frame of the past eight years. Trump’s administration has accomplished a lot in terms of undoing his predecessor’s accomplishments, no doubt a reflection to some extent of Trump’s having heard from Fox News and other conservative media of all the ways — actual and exaggerated — those decisions were detrimental to the country. Fox News says that Obamacare is bad and that Republicans are trying to replace it, and Trump accepts that — to his eventual detriment. The overlap of Trump and Fox News is robust, but Fox News doesn’t have to actually develop or pass legislation. Its rhetoric doesn’t need to be constrained by political realities. Trump’s learning that, however indirectly.
One of the more revelatory quotes about Trump’s relationship to Fox News came from one if the networks’ hosts last month.
“[Trump] believes that television producers, especially of highly rated shows, understand what the public is interested in — what it fears, what it wants, what it loves,” Tucker Carlson told the Daily Caller (which Carlson founded). “And so TV programming in some ways is a more accurate reflection of the public mood than polling. That’s his view, he said it to me. And that’s one of the reasons he watches a lot of television. Whether that’s true or not is an entirely debatable point, but he believes if you want to know where the country is, watch TV.”
It’s certainly true that there are things Americans want that aren’t captured in polling, either because they haven’t yet realized they want them or because the pollsters haven’t yet asked about them. But this suggests that Trump sees what he watches on television as closer to reality than scientific polls that actually ask Americans how they feel.
If this is accurate, when Trump watches Fox News (as he frequently does), he internalizes that what Fox News wants is what America wants. Trump was told to change his behavior and listen to the polls or he wouldn’t win, so a key lesson he learned from last November was that his gut was a better guide than pollsters and experts.
In 2004, Pew Research noticed that there had been a shift in Fox News’ audience.
“In 1998, the Fox News audience mirrored the public in terms of both partisanship and ideology. If anything, Fox viewers were slightly more Democratic than the general public,” it reported. “Since then, the percentage of Fox News Channel viewers who identify as Republicans has increased steadily from 24% in 1998, to 29% in 2000, 34% in 2002, and 41% in 2004. Over the same time period, the percentage of Fox viewers who describe themselves as conservative has increased from 40% to 52%.”
By 2012, 60 percent of Fox News viewers described themselves as conservative. By 2016, it was the main source of news for 40 percent of Trump voters — five times as big a chunk as the next most popular media entity for those voters, CNN.
Trump, as others of his age and disposition, gravitated toward Fox News and its politics. President Trump is the Fox News president.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
This article was corrected to indicate which show Trump was watching on Monday.