President Donald Trump was cut off from several of his closest advisers for the first 10 days of his partial government shutdown. That’s because when the shutdown began on December 22, Fox News’ prime-time lineup, the hosts of Fox & Friends, and Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs had already gone on vacation for the holidays.
When many of them returned on Wednesday from their extended hiatus, they told the president he was doing the right thing, urged him to stick to his guns, and warned of dire consequences if he gave in to Democrats and reopened the government without getting funding for his wall.
“Make no mistake, this battle is important,” Sean Hannity claimed on his first Fox broadcast of the new year. “The president must stay strong on his promise -- get that wall fully built.”
“If this takes 150 days, I think the Republican Party needs to stand united with the president,” he later told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The senator, a close ally of the president, responded by saying that if Trump “gives in now, that's the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president. That's probably the end of his presidency.”
Over the caption “President Stands Strong,” Dobbs kicked off his show by praising Trump for having “stood tall in his demands for border security, his America First agenda” and castigating “these Dems and the RINOs [Republican in name only] who refuse to defend the nation and secure that southern border.” Later in the show, Ed Rollins, a regular Dobbs guest and the head of a pro-Trump super PAC, argued that Trump must “stand tough here” because “if he doesn't get the wall this time, he’s never going to get the wall.”
The hosts of Fox & Friends blamed Democrats for the shutdown, claiming that they are unwilling to negotiate even though the wall is necessary to prevent migrants from storming the border. In contrast, as Ainsley Earhardt put it, Trump “is saying that your safety and your security as an American -- he said you deserve to be able to go to sleep at night and not have to worry about being killed by an illegal immigrant.”
As ludicrous as it may sound, Fox’s collection of right-wing Trump propagandists is going to play a key role in the politics of the shutdown and will impact when the government reopens. Trump consumes hours of Fox’s programming each day, relishing the talking heads' praise for his actions and at times changing course in response to their criticisms. Dobbs and Hannity speak with the president regularly, and he starts most mornings by tweeting about what he sees on Fox & Friends. He listens to them because they are among his most loyal supporters. In fact, he shut down the government over the wall because the network’s commentators demanded it. Any tentative deal that he makes with Democrats to reopen it could be derailed with a few harsh words from a Fox host.
Trump’s reliance on Fox for advice and validation will only increase as he continues to shed White House staff and cabinet advisers. That’s a major problem for good governance. People like Dobbs and Hannity are accountable only to their Fox bosses -- who refuse to rein them in -- and to their hard-right audience. It is in their interest to be as extreme as possible, demanding total victory and scoffing at compromise. And we are moving ever closer to a dynamic in which they have veto power over the government’s actions.