Rep. Jim Banks tries to grow the Senate’s Fox News Caucus
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) announced on Tuesday that he is running for U.S. Senate in 2024, seeking the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN). His election would add to the Senate’s Fox News Caucus of members favored by the right-wing network.
Fox News’ prime-time hosts are influential albeit flawed GOP kingmakers. Their endorsements and on-air support carried four first-time Senate candidates to their party’s nomination during the 2022 election cycle. But while those nominees’ affinities for Fox’s strange fixations were crucial to winning their Republican primaries, they hurt them in the general election: Former NFL player Herschel Walker, TV quack doctor Mehmet Oz, and venture capital executive Blake Masters lost winnable races in the swing states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, respectively, while Ohio’s J.D. Vance won but significantly underperformed in a redder state.
Banks, if elected, would join Vance as a senator who owes his ascension to Fox and its biggest stars. Initially a Trump-skeptical member described as “serious but not particularly flamboyant,” the fourth-term congressman became one of several House Republicans who use Fox to bolster their political standing.
Banks has made at least 114 weekday appearances on Fox since January 2018, and he is a fixture on Laura Ingraham’s prime-time show, where his 49 appearances make him her fourth most-frequent House guest over that period. For his willingness to parrot the network’s slashing culture war rhetoric, Banks became a Fox favorite — Tucker Carlson, whose adult son is Banks’ communications director, has praised the congressman as “a sincere and principled conservative.”
Banks has worked to turn the culture war obsessions common to the shows of Ingraham and Carlson into the GOP’s agenda. Banks authored and circulated a memo following the 2020 election that urged Republicans to rebrand as the “Party of the Working Class” by adopting Fox-friendly focuses on issue areas such as “anti-wokeness” and the Democratic Party’s purported “coziness with China.” The memo, which notably did not mention core economic issues like taxes, spending, deficits, or debt, drew praise from Carlson for demonstrating that Republicans are “the party of the American middle class.”
Banks’ announcement video suggests a similar focus for his Senate campaign, featuring the sort of culture war rhetoric and topics familiar to any consumer of right-wing media. After highlighting the candidate’s “working-class home” and service in the U.S. military, it seamlessly transitions from images of the GOP congressman “defending America then” in Afghanistan to “defending America now” on Ingraham’s Fox show.
Banks declares that “radical socialist Democrats are trying to change America, but I won’t let them,” before highlighting his work “on the front lines” on issues like “protecting girls sports” and trying “to stop critical race theory and anti-Americanism from being taught in our schools and pushed on our troops.”
Banks clearly wants the GOP primary to revolve around such issues. He drew an implicit contrast with potential opponent Mitch Daniels, a former budget director in President George W. Bush’s administration who served two terms as Indiana’s governor and called for “a truce on the so-called social issues” during a brief run for president in 2012.
“I’ll never be calling for a truce on social issues or cultural issues,” Banks told Politico for an article about his campaign’s launch.
But in a sign of just how thin Banks’ Fox-style populism really is, he eschewed mention of economic concerns like taxes and the social safety net in his announcement video. He did, however, tell Politico that he will be “leading the charge” to use a catastrophic breach of the nation’s debt limit as leverage to secure unnamed spending cuts — a right-wing media priority.
For a sense of what kind of policies Banks might support, journalists should look to his record — he supported the Trump tax cuts and the legislation to kick tens of millions of Americans off health insurance by repealing Obamacare — as well as his allies. The Club for Growth has threatened to spend up to $10 million against Daniels; the right-wing economic organization supports cutting taxes for the rich while increasing them for the poor and middle class by implementing a flat or national sales tax system; “dramatically reduc[ing] discretionary spending”; and repealing Obamacare, cutting Medicaid and Medicare, and privatizing Social Security. The group has already fired off an attack ad that hits the former governor for raising taxes and helping Bush pass the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.
That’s the modern Fox-fueled GOP platform that Banks promotes: culture war attacks hiding the party’s plutocratic interests.