President Obama has mocked Republican presidential candidates as media wimps who “can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators,” so perhaps he feels a need to face down a bogeyman of his own: Fox News Channel.
Fox isn’t the only news outlet Obama tends to avoid — he hasn’t sat for an extensive interview with The Washington Post in seven years — but it’s near the top of the list. Five months into his presidency, he memorably asserted that the top-rated cable news channel “is entirely devoted to attacking my administration,” adding that “you’d be hard-pressed, if you watched the entire day, to find a positive story about me.”
After persistent lobbying by Chris Wallace, however, Obama has agreed to his first Fox interview since February 2014 (above); the conversation will air this weekend on “Fox News Sunday.”
What should we expect?
Lots of questions about Hillary Clinton
Wallace has interviewed every 2016 presidential candidate except one: Hillary Clinton. And he has made no secret of his belief that the Democratic front-runner ought to appear on his show, given that she said in a January debate that she "will go anywhere to meet with anyone at any time to find common ground."
Expect Wallace to ask Obama to lean on his former secretary of state for an interview. The host said as much this week when he told the Erik Wemple Blog that "we have repeatedly — every weekend — asked for an interview, and she has repeatedly turned us down, and I would just say that we may have something to say about that on Sunday."
Remember, Wallace kept a running clock on Obama's avoidance of "Fox News Sunday" during the 2008 campaign. The host can be relentless.
Also look for Wallace to hunt for evidence of the president's preference in the Democratic primary. As Clinton and Bernie Sanders tussled this week over which of them is, or is not, qualified to be in the Oval Office, the White House defended Clinton's preparedness without doing the same for Sanders. Obama is publicly neutral, but even Sanders conceded in an interview published by the Hollywood Reporter this week that the president is probably closer to Clinton.
And we have to assume the two story lines that dog Clinton more than any others — Benghazi and her emails — will come up, too. Benghazi is particularly interesting, in the context of an interview with Obama. An in-depth New York Times report in February portrayed Clinton as the one who "put the ambivalent president over the line" in 2011, when the United States decided to bomb forces loyal to Libya's then-leader, Moammar Gaddafi. Does that square with Obama's version of events? I imagine Wallace will try to find out.
Obama's pitch to Republicans on filling the Supreme Court vacancy
Based on what he told Wemple, Wallace seems to be under the impression that Obama consented to this interview because he sees it as a chance to make the case for why Republicans should at least consider his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. It's a smart play — and a big reason that Obama, Clinton and other prominent Democrats ought to do Fox interviews more often. If your argument is strong, don't be afraid to make it on the channel that's a favorite of conservatives.
With a GOP audience in mind, Obama might try a slightly different appeal than he has in the past. "I have fulfilled my constitutional duty," he said on the day he nominated Garland. "Now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs." That's an argument based on principle — and it doesn't seem to be working.
It might be time to try politics. Something like this: Look, you don't love Garland, but you need to get real. Your leading presidential candidate, Donald Trump, loses to Clinton by double digits in a hypothetical general election matchup right now. You're probably going to lose in November. And when you do, you'll get a Supreme Court nominee who is way more liberal than Garland. So hold your nose and confirm him now, while you still have the chance.
Not a lot of Trump talk
Just instinct here, but I don't anticipate Wallace teeing up the president to bash Trump at length. That's old and boring. We know Obama thinks Trump would be an awful president. We know all the reasons. When you finally get your once-in-a-blue-moon interview with Obama, do you waste time on a bunch of questions to which you already know the answers? I don't think so.
Cuba, Brussels, baseball and dancing
Republicans have been hammering Obama for the optics of his recent trip to Cuba, where he was photographed in front of a mural of the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and attended a baseball game with Cuban President Raúl Castro. A day after the game, he was filmed dancing the tango at a state dinner in Argentina.
The sight of the president engaging in leisure activities so soon after terrorist attacks in Brussels struck some as insensitive. Even John Kasich, the tamest of the Republican presidential candidates, has said that Obama should have cut his trip short and returned to Washington to project seriousness.
Obama will probably have to defend the decision to maintain his original schedule. And he'll surely be pressed, more broadly, on his strategy to combat "Islamist terrorism" — not that he will use that phrase, as Republicans love to point out. That might come up, too.
Obama's Masters prediction?
Sunday just happens to be the day of the final round of the Masters golf tournament. Obama's love of golf is well documented, of course. If Wallace needs a kicker question to lighten things up after a series of tough ones, a presidential prediction of the winner would probably do the trick.