After shutting down the government to placate his allies at Fox News, President Donald Trump spent the holidays stuck in the White House, tweeting in response to the network’s programming.
2018 was a tug of war for the president’s attention between his right-wing media allies, who wanted him to use a government shutdown as leverage to extract concessions on immigration policy, and Republican congressional leaders, who wanted to fund the government.
Time after time, the same pattern unfolded: Congressional leaders would negotiate a spending bill and move it through the legislative process, Fox commentators would declare the bill a betrayal of the president’s base because it didn’t fulfill his immigration priorities, Trump would tweet something suggesting he agreed with the commentators, and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would press him to back the legislation again.
But as I warned in September, this cycle could not continue forever -- it was inevitable that the president would give in to his closest, most devoted allies at some point.
In December, after the White House signaled that it would back off its demand for $5 billion to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border as its price to keep the federal government funded until the next year, the network’s airwaves were filled with right-wing media figures urging Trump to reconsider. They warned the president that giving in would fracture his relationship with his closest supporters and let the Democrats win.
Trump usually spends the holidays at his Mar-A-Lago resort, where he golfs, schmoozes, and attends a lavish New Year’s Eve party for club members willing to shell out $1,000 apiece. When his shutdown made that politically untenable, he canceled his planned 16-day vacation and stayed in Washington. But as The Washington Post reported, he didn’t spend the time burning up the phones trying to negotiate a solution with congressional leaders, or trying to sell his position to the press or the public. Instead, “he has filled the silence with a rash of tweets that have blamed Democrats for the shutdown and cast illegal immigration as a threat to the country.”
Put another way, the president spent the holidays as he has spent so many days of his presidency: watching Fox coverage and tweeting about what he saw. By my count, roughly 20 of his tweets since December 21 came in response to the network’s programming -- and there were almost certainly more.
Sometimes, Trump’s Fox live-tweeting has kept him on topic, attacking the purported scourge of illegal immigration and the Democrats who refuse to support his border wall. But cable news coverage is built on covering a host of different stories, and letting the network dictate his tweets has at times led him far afield from the issues central to the shutdown. Trump tweeted about commentators who praised his foreign policy and his stewardship of the economy. When the network fearmongered about a new caravan of migrants, he did too. The president tweeted the network’s conspiracy theories and myths about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. And he shilled for the new book from Fox-commentator-turned-White-House-aide-turned-Fox-commentator Sebastian Gorka after Gorka appeared on the network to peddle it.
While negotiations with Democrats will be crucial in bringing the shutdown to a close, the decisive factor could be the advice and feedback Trump gets from his most trusted adviser: his television.