The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Newsmax chief executive Chris Ruddy’s savvy play for the ear of President Trump

Newsmax chief executive Chris Ruddy, in red, is pictured after a Dec. 28 meeting at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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Three years ago, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a 3,000-word feature about Newsmax chief executive Chris Ruddy, who was brimming with optimism about the future of his conservative media company. Ruddy was about to open a large new headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., and preparing to introduce a cable channel, NewsmaxTV, that he hoped would reach 50 million homes and “take 10 to 15 percent of the Fox audience.”

Businessweek reported at the time that “is the most trafficked conservative site on the Web, with more than 11.5 million visitors in January [2014], according to ComScore.”

Needless to say, Fox News Channel has not lost audience share to NewsmaxTV, which was dropped last year by DirecTV and Dish Network. The channel reaches 40 million homes through mostly smaller cable providers.

Newsmax not only has failed to make gains on Fox News but has lost its top spot among conservative sites. According to ComScore, Newsmax traffic in January 2017 was just under 7 million. Breitbart blew it away, with 17.3 million unique visitors.

What's more, Stephen K. Bannon, a former Breitbart chairman, is now a senior adviser in President Trump's White House. Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart editor, also advises Trump, and former Breitbart writer Julia Hahn is a special assistant to the president.

All of this could maybe, possibly have something to do with Ruddy's savvy play over the past week to increase his influence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. First, Ruddy — who has known Trump for many years — slammed White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on CNN and told The Washington Post that the president ought to dump the former Republican National Committee chairman.

“It’s my view that Reince is the problem,” Ruddy told The Post. “I think on paper Reince looked good as the chief of staff — and Donald trusted him — but it’s pretty clear the guy is in way over his head. He’s not knowledgeable of how federal agencies work, how the communications operations work. He botched this whole immigration rollout. This should’ve been a win for Donald, not two or three weeks of negative publicity.”

Ruddy's criticism apparently earned him a briefing from Priebus.

A day later, Ruddy reported that he had spoken with “a number of senior people” and learned that Trump “very much likes the job Reince Priebus is doing and has no intention of replacing him.”

Over the weekend, Ruddy met Priebus and Bannon for a three-hour dinner, according to Politico.

So that's how it works, huh?

Ruddy, you might recall, is a seven-figure donor to the Clinton Foundation who defended Hillary Clinton against criticism of the foundation's work. He even told Businessweek in that 2014 article that he considered the Clintons friends and wouldn't rule out supporting Hillary Clinton for president. In the two years leading up to the last election, Ruddy sure sounded like a guy who never expected to see Trump in the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, Breitbart, the rival website that did — or, at least, acted like it did — surge past Newsmax, gained a strong foothold in the new administration. If Ruddy wants a piece of what Breitbart has, he must start by getting the White House's attention. Calling for Priebus's ouster did the trick, and now he has a seat at the (dinner) table.