Trey Gowdy, a former Republican congressman turned Fox News contributor, joins the ranks of the network’s hosts on Sunday night with the debut of his creatively named weekly program, Sunday Night in America with Trey Gowdy.
Fox looms large in the career ambitions of Republican politicians thanks to its large audience of GOP primary voters and its prominent, kingmaking hosts. It has been a launching pad for the party’s rising stars over the years, from Sen. Marco Rubio and former House Speaker Paul Ryan to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. And those who leave office or lose elections, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to Rep. Liz Cheney, have sought out a Fox landing spot as a way to collect a steady paycheck, stay in the network’s spotlight, and plan their next move.
But even with the network’s historic intertwining with Republican politics in mind, Gowdy’s rise is remarkable.
As a South Carolina congressman during President Barack Obama’s tenure, Gowdy gained prominence by stoking Fox’s obsession with the 2012 Benghazi attacks, ultimately becoming chairman of a select committee that House Republicans formed at the network’s urging to investigate them.
After his Fox-fueled committee failed to find much new information (but succeeded in the GOP goal of defeating Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid), he turned to defending President Donald Trump in Congress and in Fox appearances, before leaving office to do the same thing on the network’s payroll.
And now he has his own show, a platform he can use to promote his ideas and make money while he waits to see if a return to politics is worthwhile.
Fox launched Gowdy to prominence as Benghazi prosecutor
Fox spent years obsessively trying to turn the deadly 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, into a political scandal for Obama and Clinton. Gowdy became one of the network's go-to congressional guests to discuss the attacks, using his regular appearances to push the same dishonest claims about the administration’s response to the attacks that Fox’s hosts championed.
Then in the spring of 2014, Fox seized on a newly released email from an Obama national security aide, distorting it to falsely suggest that the administration had lied about the attacks for political gain. The network’s commentators began demanding yet another congressional probe of the administration’s response based on this manufactured scandal, and then-House Speaker John Boehner obliged, with House Republicans voting to form a select committee to investigate the attacks.
Appointed to chair the committee was none other than Fox’s Benghazi favorite, Gowdy. He used the role to hold a series of high-profile hearings on the network’s preferred topic -- and garner more Fox airtime.
Gowdy’s committee shed little new light on the already extensively investigated attacks and found no new evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton, who had been secretary of state at the time. But it did achieve what both Fox hosts and Republican leaders had admitted was its real goal -- damaging Clinton’s political strength as she ran for president, particularly through its focus on her much-maligned use of a private email server.
The overwhelming press fixation on Clinton’s emails, particularly in the waning days of the campaign, ultimately helped ensure Trump’s 2016 victory.
Gowdy cuts political career short for Fox gig
Gowdy didn’t have to wait long to reap his rewards for helping to elect Trump.
He took over the chair of the House Oversight Committee in 2017, using that post largely to conduct oversight of Obama’s administration while defending Trump’s. But in late January 2018, he announced that would not seek another term in office and was returning to practicing law in South Carolina. A few days later, Fox announced that it had hired him as a contributor. He joined former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, his predecessor as Oversight Committee chair, who had similarly left office for a slot at the network in 2017.
Gowdy’s role, according to Fox’s press release announcing his new job, was offering “political and legal analysis.” In practice, that meant that when he appeared on Fox to defend Trump and his allies from investigations into their various scandals, his paycheck came from the network instead of Congress.
That brand of commentary apparently captured Trump's attention. Fox briefly cut ties with Gowdy in October 2019 amid reports that he had been hired as an outside legal counsel to the then-president, who was fighting his first impeachment (the arrangement quickly fell apart and Gowdy rejoined the network that December).
Gowdy was apparently not ready for Primetime. But Fox is happy to give him a chance on Sunday Night.