President Donald Trump’s first national TV interview in more than two months aired on Fox & Friends this morning, and it was basically like watching him talk alone in a room about so many of the people and entities he believes are treating him unfairly.
Trump spoke with Fox News contributor (and former Republican Senate candidate) Pete Hegseth yesterday for the taped interview. Hegseth last interviewed Trump in June, when he asked him about the “failing” New York Times and “deep state” conspiracies against the president. Trump had granted only one on-camera national TV interview since -- a kooky, fawning sit-down with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson in July. But apparently this week he was ready to cradle himself in the warm embrace of Hegseth’s softball questions -- seemingly sourced from the president’s own unhinged Twitter account -- once again.
The topics of the Fox & Friends interview -- which was ostensibly about a newly unveiled vague tax proposal -- closely mirrored the president’s Twitter feed: NFL players, flag respectability politics, rehashing another failed Republican attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act, and figuring out who or what could be blamed for that failure. The two men did not find time to discuss the humanitarian crisis 3.4 million American citizens are currently facing in Puerto Rico (or, if they did, Fox didn't think it was worth airing).
- “You have certainly started a national conversation this week, Mr. President, on the NFL. You say, ‘The NFL situation is a very important situation.’ Your critics say it’s been a distraction, but you say it’s critical. You talk about words like patriotism and citizenship. Why is this such an important issue for you?”
- “Mr. President, we’re here in Indiana -- you’re going to launch your tax reform plan in front of this crowd. Who is your tax plan intended to help?” (In his response, Trump told Hegseth that the tax proposal was primarily for the “working people.” The plan actually has “explicit and substantial rewards for wealthy people and corporations” and “scant detail about how working people would benefit,” according to The New York Times. Hegseth said nothing.)
- “Do you still have confidence in [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell?” (This question was posed during a back-and-forth about the Republicans’ failure to vote on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, an exchange in which Trump was allowed to repeatedly lie that a senator is “in the hospital,” but was not asked about the specifics of any proposed health care policy changes. The friends at Fox & Friends acknowledged the lie an hour after the interview aired.)
- “When you start negotiating with Democrats, do you feel like you can trust Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi?” (In his introduction to the interview segment, Hegseth mimicked the president’s language, referring to the minority leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives simply as “Chuck and Nancy.”)
Last time Trump and Hegseth sat down together, the conversation was similarly focused on all the various figures and forces that could be working against the president -- namely, the “failing” New York Times, President Barack Obama, an insufficiently loyal Republican party, “fake news media” writ large, and possible “deep state leaks.”
Some choice questions from the June 25 interview:
- “Who’s been your biggest opponent? Has it been Democrats resisting? Has it been fake news media? Has it been deep state leaks?”
- “How frustrating is it to have former President Obama there, out there leading the resistance?”
- “Are Republican senators doing enough to have your back to get that health care bill through?”
- “I opened up the failing New York Times and The Washington Post this morning -- no mention at all of this bill that you are signing today. For veterans who are so passionate about this, it’s such an historic bill. Are they going to cover this? And if they don't, why don't they cover it the way they cover every breathless scandal in the media today?”
Hegseth is smart (well ...) to cut out the middle step and just go directly to Twitter for his question ideas. After all, Trump’s Twitter feed is a clear and unadulterated window into his stream of consciousness, the perfect resource for a show that’s designed to speak directly to the president every morning.
It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that Trump starts his days glued to Fox News, tweeting about specific segments regularly, and treating some Fox figures -- like the dangerously dim lightbulbs co-hosting Fox & Friends every morning or network embarrassment Sean Hannity -- as friends and advisers.
Since his inauguration, Trump has granted more exclusive interviews to Fox News and Fox Business (13, in total) than all other networks combined, and he’s (maybe) set to add another interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier to the list. Trump has spoken to Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt (three interviews since January!) more than he has spoken to literally anyone at CNN or to interviewers at NBC, ABC, and CBS combined. Hegseth is now close behind, with two interviews under his belt.
That’s because Fox News is not just Trump’s safe space or sounding board, but a well-lit stage that encourages his complete escape from reality, building a world in which he is doing his very best as a powerful and successful president even with so much of the world eager to see him fail. He’s essentially playing pretend in front of a gullible audience to make himself feel better; it would almost be sad if it weren’t so clearly destructive for the country, or so terrifying (if not surprising) that Fox is content to let it happen.