Friday morning brought a new instance of a rare phenomenon: A televised interview with President Trump. You may not be surprised to learn that the outlet lucky enough to land the interview was the one to which Trump devotes a decent part of his week, Fox News, and you may further be unsurprised by the show on which the interview aired: “Fox and Friends,” Trump's morning go-to.
You may however be surprised to learn that the interview was conducted by someone who was rumored to be under consideration for a role in the Trump administration — and that the interview was conducted as part of a Trump campaign rally.
This sounds like an exaggeration. It is not.
Fox host Pete Hegseth interviewed Trump for 10 minutes while standing in front of the rally crowd, as you can see in the network's video. Both his questions and Trump's lengthy responses were piped through the arena's sound system, allowing the audience to react to the exchange as it was happening.
Trump has conducted interviews with Fox News staffers in front of a friendly audience before. But when he did so last October, sitting down with Sean Hannity in Pennsylvania, it was on Hannity's show — ostensibly an “opinion” program — and the audience was there as part of a sort-of town-hall format event. (Originally the interview was supposed to include questions from the audience, but that was scrapped.) The interview in Montana was something different.
"The energy when he walked out into this interview was like the energy right at first when he walks out right at first at the beginning of one of his rallies,” Hegseth said to his colleagues, introducing the interview. Well, sure. It was the beginning of one of his rallies.
This isn't the first time Hegseth has interviewed the president. He did so last September as well, offering questions that were less softball than teeball. Standing in front of thousands of Trump supporters, Hegseth's queries did not get any more pointed.
There were six, as follows.
You’re here in Billings. There’s a big hurricane going on in Washington, D.C. What is your message to the good people of Montana? The “hurricane” is, of course, the week's revelations from Bob Woodward's new book and the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times. Hegseth's question about those developments? What is Trump's message to his supporters? As though Trump's message to Montanans about how he was doing wasn't going to come up during the speech Trump gave a few minutes later.
"I mean the level of love in this country is beyond belief — outside of that little area — but the level of hatred there is also beyond belief,” Trump said of Washington.
"Yes!” Hegseth said, half under his breath.
Folks here may have seen an anonymous column written in the New York Times. And I think this audience would say that an attack on you is an attack on the people that voted for you. Are you any closer to knowing who did it and what should be done if you find out who did it? The article suggested that Trump was unfit for office and that a number of people within his administration were actively seeking to stymie his dangerous impulses. Hegseth's question about all of this was, in short, did you get the guy?
In his response, Trump accused the Times of treason.
Another issue this crowd is often fired up about is the wall. You may — Washington hasn’t been so good at that. There’s another budget showdown coming up. Well Congress hasn’t been very good at funding that wall — you’ve got a budget showdown coming out this month. Would you shut down the government if wall funding isn’t included? This was a better question than the first two, since it actually raised a question about how Trump would respond to the ongoing budget discussion.
Trump's response was that he would “shut down government over border security in a second” but that Republicans didn't want a shutdown because of the midterms — but that he thought they'd do well in the midterms anyway.
Mr. President, tonight is the first NFL game. They don’t have as many viewers as they used to. From Colin Kaepernick, to the NFL, to now Nike — who’s going to win this cultural showdown of standing for the anthem?
"We are,” Trump replied. “We are going to win."
One more quick question back to Washington: Rudy Giuliani just told the AP that you will not be answering any questions written or in person to the so-called special counsel. Can you confirm that? This one, Trump didn't answer at all. He riffed on how there was “no collusion,” then how getting along with other countries like China and Russia would be great, then how North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised him, then how the “fake news media” wouldn't cover that and then how “the level of unfairness and bias in the press is actually incredible."
He said this during an interview with Fox News being conducted by Hegseth, a man who, at one time, was rumored to be in the running to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last question, you’re here in Montana for a reason. I have a feeling you would like to get rid of one Jon Tester and replace him with somebody else. The VA is a personal passion of mine. What happened with Ronny Jackson was a shame. Is that going to be a focus of your remarks? Jackson, you may remember, was floated as a possible VA head earlier this year until stories emerged about questionable behavior he had engaged in while serving as White House physician. Those stories were promoted, in part, by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), whose Republican opponent was the person Trump was in Montana to support. (Tester would “follow Schumer, he’ll follow Pelosi, he’ll follow Maxine Waters,” Trump told Hegseth, suggesting that the senator would for some reason follow the lead of a California politician who serves in the House.)
Hegseth's prompting, though, paid off. Trump did bring up Jackson during the rally. The audience, though, unlike Hegseth, wasn't terribly energized by the discussion. So Trump pivoted to talking about someone both he and they did like: Sean Hannity.