Is Fox News Out of Touch with Conservatives?

January 30th, 2016 4:08 PM

Amid all the sound and fury over the Trump/Fox showdown, an interesting side bar to the story developed.  (And before I start, the obvious full disclosure that I am now a CNN commentator.)

What catches the eye -- or in my case, the ear -- was listening to a caller in to the radio show hosted by Breitbart’s inimitable Steve Bannon. While waiting to go on, I heard one caller, a Trump or Cruz supporter (I forget which) began by saying that he no longer watched Fox News or Fox Business either. The gist of his call was that he believed they were no longer conservative.

Interestingly, the Breitbart caller was saying something that no less than Rush Limbaugh had observed the other day.  Said Rush:

Folks, I want to let you in on another observation of mine -- and that's all it is, is an observation.  I have found, when talking to people, including media people in the East Coast, New York -- well, all the way up and down the East Coast, but New York -- Washington, Boston, down here in south Florida and so forth, virtually everybody thinks of Fox News as a conservative network.  But you go out... As I've traveled around and go places... Like for the holidays, I see people in Missouri. For Christmas, I see people all over the place. When I golf, I see people all over the country.

And I'm here to tell you: Fox News is not considered the conservative network that it used to be.  I'm not trying to stir anything up here.  I'm saying that when you hear the media, who are all leftists, talk about Fox News, it may as well be the John Birch Society as far as they're concerned.  That's why they hate it.  It may as well be the Birchers. It may as well be whatever evil right-wing organization. That's what they think it is. 

But you go out to the heartland of this country, and it's not so much.  "I mean, what would a conservative network be doing giving time to Michael Moore?" "Why would New York Times and Washington Post reporters be on the air to give opinions on a conservative network?"

This is what people are saying out there that I hear.  Now, the identity is still pretty obviously heavily tilted to news and analysis that you don't get anywhere else, and that remains true.  I'm just telling you people's perceptions as they share them with me. I'll tell you what I think, 'cause I find it amazing.  It's just more evidence of the media being out of touch and not really knowing what people say.

Say again, there is no less than Rush Limbaugh saying that there is an “amazing” perception out there in the American heartland that Fox has become “just more evidence of the media being out of touch and not really knowing what people say.”

And over at, yes, CNN, was this piece by CNN’s Dylan Byers who was reporting from Iowa on this very subject.  The headline:

          Trump taps the right's anger against Fox

Byers spoke with Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace, Deace a supporter of Ted Cruz.

"Most of my audience has a bipolar feeling about Fox News," Steve Deace, the conservative Iowa radio host who is backing Ted Cruz, said during an interview with CNN. "They view it as the most reliable place to go for news coverage, but they have grown increasingly untrusting of it when it comes to analysis."

For Deace, Trump's supporters are ultimately "desperate people" who "will latch onto megalomaniacs who claim to have all the answers." But as a proxy for conservative sentiment in Iowa and beyond, Deace is also well aware of his constituency's dissatisfaction with the cable news network.

"I saw this beginning in 2008, I saw a lot more of it in 2012, I see even more of it now,’"Deace continued. "Their feeling is that most of the Bush establishment people they put on there -- from Brit Hume to [Charles] Krauthammer to Karl Rove -- have been in the tank all along for anybody other than Trump and Cruz.“

Yes - thankfully! - Sean Hannity is still there. But beyond Sean and a few others, from Steve Bannon’s Breitbart radio caller to Rush to Iowa’s Steve Deace, three conservative voices, one the most prominent in the land, are saying some version of the same thing. Fox News isn’t your older brother’s Fox News anymore.

If so, then the question is out there. Is Donald Trump the forerunner of conservative politicians who will in the future do the heretofore unthinkable - pick a fight with Fox News to help them win a GOP primary?

The jury is out on that. But the real question here is whether Fox News has become the media version of the 1980 Reagan-Bush ticket.

In 1980, after the conservative Reagan had defeated the Establishment’s George H.W. Bush, the GOP convention in Detroit arrived with Reagan having yet to select a running mate. For a brief moment there was a whirlwind around the idea that Reagan would pick his old political foe, ex-President Gerald Ford, another Establishment champion. The idea imploded.

Conservatives -- and Reagan himself -- were pushing Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt, a decided conservative but from the state right next to Reagan’s California, thus making a Reagan-Laxalt ticket geographically imbalanced.  Another favorite was New York’s Congressman Jack Kemp, a Reagan ideological ally. But the pressure was on for the runner up in the primaries -- the moderate Bush. Years later, ex-Reagan White House political director Ed Rollins - who opposed the Bush choice -- said of the moment he watched Reagan announce his choice of Bush to the Convention (a moment I was there for and recall vividly), would say this:

“What I didn’t realize at the time was that we’d just cut the fuse on our own (conservative) revolution. The conservatives had won, but then surrendered the future back to the eastern establishment moderates.

…a phrase popped into my mind for the first time to describe my feelings about George Bush: Trojan Horse. The enemy was in our camp.

…In the end, Ronald Reagan had won the battle and handed his sword to the losers…..By (1988)..the Reagan mantle had passed to Vice President Bush. At the very outset of the revolution, the seeds had been sown for its undoing.”

Is there a media version of this story that has or is happening to Fox News? Listen again to Steve Deace discussing what he hears from conservative Iowans: “Their feeling is that most of the Bush establishment people they put on there -- from Brit Hume to [Charles] Krauthammer to Karl Rove -- have been in the tank all along for anybody other than Trump and Cruz.”

There is a long way to go in this election year, with many twists and turns and, based on what we know already, a few roller-coaster style rides lying ahead. One of the twists and turns thus far has been this furious fight between Trump and Fox News, a fight so public, so startling, that it mirrors almost exactly the political fight that has finally erupted between the GOP Establishment and conservatives.

One hears what Deace and Rush and that Breitbart caller are saying about Fox- not to mention what Donald Trump has ben doing with Fox - and the question arises that is not unlike the thought Ed Rollins had about George H.W.Bush’s selection as Reagan’s vice president.

Have Fox executives - Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, others less known to the public -- “cut the fuse” on the conservative revolution in cable television? Has the future of conservative cable news been “surrendered back to the eastern establishment moderates” and, after two decades of conservative media success that has been winning the ratings battle “handed (their) sword to the losers” and now sown “the seeds …for its undoing”?

In essence, that is the heart of the events surrounding the Trump-Fox battle. The answer is not in the least evident. But the fact that the question is being asked at all in conservative quarters is remarkable.