Until this week, however, the Republican front-runner has seemed to genuinely value maintaining a friendly rapport with two of the biggest stars in cable news, in particular: MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly. He’s been a frequent guest on both of their programs — while feuding with their bosses, at times — and he has praised the two TV hosts for treating him fairly, despite some tough questions and sharp critiques.
Trump’s interactions with Scarborough and O’Reilly suggested an acknowledgment that even a self-styled outsider who defies political convention needs to stay on good terms with at least a couple of media types. The billionaire real estate magnate has delighted his acolytes by waging war on most of the media, yet he appeared to believe it was important for these two prominent pundits to take him seriously — and, at minimum, not demonize him like so many others.
But in a matter of days, Trump appears to have damaged both relationships to a point where it is unclear whether he can still count on the kind of cordial coverage he has enjoyed throughout the campaign season. If he cares about preserving positive relations with Scarborough and O’Reilly, he sure isn’t acting like it.
The week began with Scarborough’s debut as a Washington Post contributor — a column in which he ripped Trump for failing in a Sunday interview on CNN to disavow former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. On “Morning Joe” Monday, he declared Trump’s lack of conviction to be “disqualifying.”
Scarborough had previously been accused by some media contemporaries of being too cozy with Trump. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt even suggested that Trump might ask Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, to be his running mate. And a voicemail recording from 2012 that Gawker published on Friday — which has not been authenticated — only reinforced the notion that the two were quite buddy-buddy.
But Trump’s initial reluctance to alienate KKK sympathizers (he has since rejected Duke and the Klan repeatedly) crossed a line that Scarborough could not overlook, defend or minimize. His definitive ruling? Trump is not qualified to be president.
Then on Thursday, following a debate in Detroit, Trump brooded through an interview with O’Reilly and complained that the host has “become very negative” in his recent commentary on Trump. O’Reilly seemed taken aback and asked for an explanation, but Trump told him to talk to his psychiatrist and refused to provide examples of remarks that bothered him.
To be clear: Neither Scarborough nor O’Reilly has been a cheerleader for Trump. Scarborough memorably cut off Trump and took an unscheduled commercial break when he didn’t like the direction of a live interview in December, and O’Reilly was a vocal critic of Trump’s decision to boycott a previous Fox News debate and his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.
Still, even Trump’s most animated exchanges with with Scarborough and O’Reilly have had a somewhat playful quality to them. The candidate and the TV hosts have looked more like sparring partners than true adversaries.
But not right now. Right now, the animosity looks real. If things stay like this, Trump will have taken his scorched-earth media strategy to a new level.