In the weeks leading up to his announcement that he’d snub Wednesday’s Fox News GOP presidential debate, Donald Trump was relishing the idea of punishing the Murdoch family. The ex-president’s plans to ditch and counter-program the debate is in part retribution for the Fox-controlling clan’s backing of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s leading rival in the 2024 primary, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter and another person close to the former president tell Rolling Stone.
“Maybe they should have been loyal,” Trump has privately sniped — about Fox, and Rupert Murdoch, specifically — earlier this month, suggesting that the Murdochs and Fox News executives forgot that their viewers are Trump devotees, according to one of the people with direct knowledge.
In discussions with his political advisers and during sit-down meals with allies at his Bedminster club this month, Trump has repeatedly mocked Fox brass and on-air talent for supposedly “begging” him to participate in the televised debate, and sneered that the network has no “leverage” to force him to do anything while his polling lead is so commanding, the two sources say. In these private conversations, the heavily indicted 2024 Republican frontrunner has relayed to confidants the alleged details of conversations he’s had with Fox News leadership and star hosts.
In doing so, Trump has at times performed teasing impressions of Fox personnel trying to entice him to commit to the debate, replete with his standard emphasis on these executives and personalities calling him “sir” over and over again.
As The New York Times reported, host Bret Baier and execs Jay Wallace and Suzanne Scott have personally appealed to Trump as part of the network’s apparently failed mission to get Trump on their August debate stage in Wisconsin.
There are multiple reasons why Trump and senior aides plan to ditch this week’s Fox News debate, the first of the GOP presidential primary season. For one thing, Trump and his team want to deprive his conservative opponents of the attention, bump in ratings and earned media that they would likely get if Trump were on that stage with them at this early point in the primary. In Trump’s own words: “Why should I give it to them?”
But the former president has made it clear when talking to those close to him that he believes whacking Fox in such a public manner also serves to discipline the Murdoch media empire. One of Trump’s biggest gripes lately has been over the Murdoch-media decision to vociferously pump up DeSantis as “DeFuture” who could snatch the crown from Trump in 2024.
According to the person close to Trump and one of the people with knowledge of the matter, Trump has talked in the past week about how he hopes a noticeable ratings slump for this week’s debate will teach Fox a lesson about not giving him what he wants. The former president also predicts that, because he is so severely beating his Republican competition in the polls, Rupert Murdoch will have no choice but to crawl back to Trump soon.
Indeed, this is precisely the scenario that the Murdoch family have for months feared would happen as they grew deeply disappointed with the Florida governor’s performance on the national stage this year. Trump may very well end up getting his way, despite the Murdochs’ best efforts to prop up DeSantis 2024 as a means to turning the page on the scandal-and-melodrama-prone Trump.
To be sure, Fox is still very Trumpy in much of its coverage and agenda. Despite Murdochs and others at Fox News desperately wanting to move on from the ex-president to a supposedly less embarrassing alternative like DeSantis, the Fox line-ups remain chock-full of Trump boosters and MAGAfied conservatives, as well as hosts who double as close informal advisers to Trump. And despite the former president’s routine of publicly lashing and wailing about Fox News, he usually understands that the channel is a valuable and influential resource for him that he can’t break up with entirely.
In an appearance on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show on Tuesday, Fox host Bret Baier struck a note of optimism about what he predicted would be the former president’s eventual participation in a debate, if not the Wednesday night event.
“I think he has to do a debate,” Baier said. “He skipped the 2016 Iowa debate with us and he ended up losing the Iowa caucuses. I’m not saying there’s a direct connection but people do like to see engagement. He’s very good at it and I assume he’s going to eventually do one debate.”
And yet, his urge to whip Fox is still strong.
For months leading up to the debate, Trump refused to commit to participation in the event and objected to the GOP’s requirement that all debate participants commit to supporting the party’s eventual nominee. As the debate crept closer, Trump repeatedly claimed the debate was an unnecessary event for him and ridiculed the participants.
“Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for Vice President!” the former president quipped about his rivals in a Truth Social post. “I am leading the runner up, whoever that may now be, by more than 50 Points. Reagan didn’t do it, and neither did others. People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate?” he wondered in another post.
Trump retains a vast lead in national polls over his primary opponents. In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Trump is up over 41 points above Gov. DeSantis, who is currently averaging 14.6 points, and towers above the other GOP hopefuls. Biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy currently averages around seven points in polls followed by former Vice President Mike Pence, former governors Nikki Haley and Chris Christie, and Sen. Tim Scott, none of whom have garnered more than four percent in polling averages.
Along the way, Trump dropped hints about the plans for counter-programming the debate — by sitting down with Tucker Carlson, the former top host at Fox News who earlier this year was abruptly ousted. (Carlson has of course had his own bitter feuds with senior Fox personnel.) “Interesting? So many people have suggested this!” Trump posted in late July after a user suggested he “Do a one on one with Tucker the night of the Fox Debate.”
As it were, the start of the planning for this particular Trump-Tucker interview pre-dated that Truth Social post by quite some time. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the planning and back-and-forth conversations — on undermining the Fox News debate — between Trumpland and Team Carlson began well over a month ago.
“It’s Trump and Tucker double-cucking Fox. It’s not the main reason this is happening, but it’s certainly the cherry on top for both of them,” says a source familiar with the planning.
Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/gop-debate-donald-trump-ron-desantis-tucker-carlson-1234810533/