Idaho’s far-right Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin received a boost to her primary challenge to sitting Gov. Brad Little when she met with former President Donald Trump on Monday, a sit-down that apparently happened because Trump was impressed by McGeachin’s criticism of the supposed indoctrination of schoolchildren during an interview on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.
Trump’s meeting with McGeachin demonstrates the ongoing potency of the Fox-Trump feedback loop, and the network’s supercharging of the GOP fixation on so-called “critical race theory” as an election strategy.
McGeachin and the former president discussed topics including “their united efforts to push back against the radical left's attempts to indoctrinate America's schoolchildren with some of the most toxic and anti-American theories ever conceived” at their Trump Tower meeting, according to a Wednesday release from McGeachin’s campaign. The meeting followed up on a phone call Trump placed to McGeachin to “praise her performance and thank her for her leadership on the issue” during an appearance on Carlson’s program earlier in the month, the campaign said.
To repeat: The former president of the United States is cold-calling Republican politicians when he likes something he sees them saying on his television.
Trump spent much of his presidency fixated on Fox, a reality that both the network’s on-air talent and its right-wing guests often turned to their advantage. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is among the GOP politicians to bolster their political standing by catching Trump’s attention with Fox appearances and winning him over. A Trump endorsement for McGeachin in Idaho, a state he carried twice by huge margins, could prove crucial for her election hopes.
It’s no coincidence that the segment that caught Trump’s eye focused on “critical race theory,” a term that originally referred to an academic legal framework examining the systemic impact of racism in the United States but has recently been seized by the right-wing movement as an umbrella term to demonize “various cultural insanities” and politically weaponize the racial anxiety of their voters. The subject has been endlessly denounced on Fox, creating a strong incentive for ambitious Republican politicians to take action for political gain.
That’s exactly what McGeachin did. The day after she began her gubernatorial run, she tried to put the issue front and center for primary voters by announcing a “Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education.” The group appeared for the first time in late May and held a five-hour public meeting in which “committee members rattled off allegations of indoctrination in U.S. schools, wrote down their understandings of critical race theory and listened as hard-line conservatives leveraged critiques against alleged left-leaning curricula,” according to the Idaho Statesman.
A few days later, McGeachin went on Carlson’s show to talk up the task force’s efforts.
The Fox host introduced her by saying that “very few elected officials even acknowledge” the horrors of “critical race theory,” but “one is trying to end it.” He pointedly noted that McGeachin, and not the governor, had “assembled a task force to fight the indoctrination we are seeing” (Little had actually signed a “critical race theory” bill in April, though he also wrote in a signing statement that it is important not to focus on “anecdotes and innuendo”).
McGeachin said during the segment that “critical race theory is a religion of secularism and guilt, which is an attempt to undermine and supplant our American values with fear and suspicion,” and she promised to “do whatever we need to do and be proactive here in the state of Idaho to protect our kids and to protect all of us as Americans.”
That television hit on the current right-wing media bugaboo garnered her priceless attention from the watching former president.
It’s no surprise that Trump would see McGeachin on Tucker Carlson Tonight and respond to it. Manhattan Institute senior fellow and right-wing huckster Christopher Rufo claims that Trump issued an executive order last year banning “critical race theory” in federal diversity training materials because he saw Rufo talking about the issue on that program. Likewise, Trump decided to abstain from escalating military conflict with Iran, get rid of former national security adviser John Bolton, focus (briefly) on stopping the spread of the coronavirus, and end U.S. funding for the World Health Organization amid the pandemic because of what he was hearing from the Fox host.