The 2024 Republican presidential primary is underway -- and it is happening almost exclusively on Fox News. Ten GOP politicians who might seek the Oval Office made a combined 44 appearances on Fox’s weekday programming in January, according to a Media Matters review.
Fox still presents Republican politicians with the largest available audience of GOP primary voters, even as its ratings sagged after President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump’s reelection bid. That’s why would-be Republican presidential primary candidates are not flocking to its rivals, Newsmax TV or One America News. Instead, they are taking advantage of Fox’s platform, using softball questions from the network's right-wing hosts to talk up their accomplishments or demagogue about their grievances. This allows the potential candidates to build their personal brands -- and their connection to Fox's audience.
Fox’s position as the prime venue for Republican presidential candidates will ensure that its hosts retain at least some of the unprecedented influence on GOP politics that they had during Trump’s administration. The next Republican presidential nominee will need to “speak Fox.” Republicans who want to be taken seriously will compete to win airtime on the network -- and will likely do so by focusing their attention on its hosts’ outrages and obsessions. That's particularly concerning as the network's on-air talent try to attract viewers by airing fever swamp fantasies.
The competition for Fox's attention is already playing out. Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) made the most weekday Fox appearances of the group last month with 12, followed by Sen. Josh Hawley (MO) with eight and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) with five. Sen. Rick Scott (FL) appeared four times, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) each gave three interviews, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat for two apiece.
Different potential candidates have used Fox to burnish their reputations in different ways. Governors like Abbott, DeSantis, and Noem receive friendly venues to discuss the purported success of their states’ COVID-19 response efforts. Senators like Cotton, Rubio, Scott, and Cruz go on to criticize the Biden administration’s early moves.
Fourth Fox News appearance in two days. pic.twitter.com/Jf4KE90Nno
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 22, 2021
And Hawley shows up on Fox largely to talk about himself -- the majority of his appearances featured him whining about purported attempts to “cancel” him after his effort to use baseless claims of voter fraud to overturn presidential election results led to the Capitol riot on January 6.
Fox News covered Josh Hawley's New York Post op-ed about being “canceled” on Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, The Faulkner Focus, Outnumbered, America Reports, The Five, and Hannity, which featured an interview with Hawley himself.
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 26, 2021
Those potential candidates have avoided the tougher questions that might come from appearing on an outlet that doesn’t function as the communications arm of the GOP. None of them appeared on CNN or MSNBC last month. By contrast, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has been discussed as a more moderate candidate and who did not appear on Fox weekday programming, gave an interview to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on January 8. Similarly, Hogan and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, another Trump critic, were the only potential candidates we reviewed who appeared on a non-Fox Sunday morning political talk show last month (Rubio appeared on Fox News Sunday).
Even within the Fox bubble, the presidential hopefuls are gravitating to the “opinion side” programs, where they can field questions from fellow conservatives. The group made the most appearances on Fox & Friends and Fox News Primetime (seven apiece), followed by the network’s prime-time block of Tucker Carlson Tonight (six), Hannity (six), and The Ingraham Angle (five).
The Fox primary played a key role in shaping the Republican race in 2012 and especially 2016. Trump’s ascendance was powered by an eye-popping 49 hours of interviews on the network, more than double that of any other candidate.
With the right-wing media bubble only strengthened by the four years of the Trump administration, Fox’s influence over the GOP primary process will likely continue to increase in the years to come.
We reviewed the Media Matters database of weekday cable news segments for January appearances by various Republicans who have been discussed in media reports as potential 2024 presidential candidates: Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Greg Abbott, Josh Hawley, Kristi Noem, Larry Hogan, Marco Rubio, Mike DeWine, Mike Lee, Mike Pompeo, Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, and Tom Cotton. (Several of these individuals did not appear on CNN, Fox, or MSNBC during the month of January.)