Donald Trump with the logos of Fox News and Breitbart, with Social Security and Medicare cards in the background

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Trump's disastrous CNBC interview where he signaled openness to cutting Social Security shows the perils of the MAGA media bubble

Fox News buried Trump's bombshell proposal to cut entitlement programs, while he retreated to a friendly interview with Breitbart to clean up the mess

Former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blundered into admitting that he's willing to entertain cuts to Social Security and Medicare in a March 11 CNBC interview. In the wake of that interview and its ensuing fallout, Trump retreated to his familiar MAGA media bubble to try to clean up his mess in a friendly interview with the far-right outlet Breitbart, and Fox News covered for him by ignoring his comments entirely and instead relegating minimal coverage to its much less-watched sister network, Fox Business.

In contrast to Trump's MAGA media allies in cable news, MSNBC gave substantial coverage to Trump's comments. CNN aired comparatively less coverage than MSNBC, but at least one segment put Trump's remarks into context with his past efforts as president to cut entitlements.

  • Trump suggested he's open to cutting Social Security and proposed cuts to funding and benefits during his presidency

    • CNN: “Former President Donald Trump on Monday suggested he was open to making cuts to Social Security and Medicare after opposing touching the entitlement programs and attacking his GOP presidential primary rivals over the issue.” On CNBC's Squawk Box, Trump said, “There is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements in terms of cutting and in terms of also the theft and the bad management of entitlements,” after he was asked about handling Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. [CNN, 3/11/24; CNBC, 3/11/24]
    • In 2020, Trump proposed permanently eliminating the payroll tax that funds Social Security. In August 2020, The Washington Post reported that “President Trump pledged on Saturday to pursue a permanent cut to the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare if he wins reelection in November.” This followed an executive order that allowed workers to “postpone their payroll tax payments into next year but doesn’t absolve their bills outright.” The Post noted that “Trump would be embarking on a fraught process that could have catastrophic fiscal effects on programs including Social Security.” [The Washington Post, 8/8/20]
    • Despite his campaign rhetoric, Trump proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare in every budget proposal during his presidency. The Washington Post reported in 2023 that Trump planned to present himself during the 2024 campaign as a champion for Social Security and Medicare, unlike his Republican rivals. The Post noted, though: “His avowed stance, however, is at odds with Trump’s own record as president: Each of his White House budget proposals included cuts to Social Security and Medicare programs.” [The Washington Post, 2/9/23]
  • Fox News ignored Trump's openness to cutting Social Security and Medicare, and Fox Business had minimal coverage

  • A chart showing zero coverage from Fox News, 9 minutes of coverage from CNN, and 21 minutes of coverage from MSNBC of Trump's comments on Social Security and Medicare from his CNBC interview.
  • According to a Media Matters review of SnapStream transcripts, Fox News failed entirely to cover Trump's comments through 10 a.m. today. 

    Fox Business, which according to monthly data in February had a drastically smaller audience than Fox News, covered Trump's comments instead. And in one of these segments, his former campaign manager and strategic adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared for cleanup duty, stating: “President Trump has made very clear he is not for cutting Social Security and Medicare, but that you can do certain things to these entitlements, as he expressed yesterday, to root out the fraud and waste. Maybe raise the age since we are living longer, thank God, and the like.” (To be clear, raising the retirement age is a benefit cut.)

  • Video file

    Citation From the March 12, 2024, edition of Fox Business' The Bottom Line

  • MSNBC devoted the most coverage to Trump's willingness to cut entitlements

  • Seven different MSNBC programs covered Trump's comments, with some of them including coverage over multiple days, for a total of 21 minutes of coverage.

    MSNBC host Rachel Maddow noted that the Trump campaign “went into damage control mode, claiming those comments were not really about cutting the entitlements — it was just about cutting waste and stuff.” But she further pointed out that “those questions are swirling in part because people who would likely staff a second Trump administration, they’re all being very open about the fact that they really want to cut Social Security and Medicare,” pointing to recent public comments by former Trump economic adviser Steve Moore demonizing the AARP.

  • Video file

    Citation From the March 11, 2024, edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show

  • Maddow then hosted presidential historian Michael Beschloss, who explained that Trump’s comments were fully in keeping with Republican policy goals over the decades.

  • Video file

    Citation From the March 11, 2024, edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS (HISTORIAN): And the Republicans have always talked about cutting all these government programs, beginning with Social Security. That's what Barry Goldwater said, it should be made voluntary. George W. Bush said let's privatize it. Ronald Reagan in his first debate with Jimmy Carter, 1980, Jimmy Carter said you know, if we elect you, if our people elect you, Gov. Reagan, you're going to try to cut Medicare. And Reagan said, “Oh, there you go again,” saying not in a million years. And as it turns out, Reagan, once he became president, tried to cut Medicare by $20 billion.

  • MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell debunked the Trump campaign’s claims that he would only cut waste in these programs, by pointing out that Medicare’s administrative costs are only 2%,“making Medicare simply the most efficient health insurance program in the world,” and that nobody had found waste in these programs when Trump was previously in office. 

    “What Donald Trump said about cutting those programs today was very, very clear,” O’Donnell said. “But of course Donald Trump’s presidential campaign knows that it was a very stupid thing to say politically, and so the campaign is now trying to pretend that Donald Trump meant something else.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the March 11, 2024, edition of MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

  • CNN covered Trump's comments far less than MSNBC, but noted his previous attempts to cut Social Security and Medicare

  • Although only five CNN programs covered Trump's CNBC interview for a total of 9 minutes, CNN Newsnight with Abby Phillip offered detailed context for the former president’s comments, explaining that “Trump's budgets in office did not want to leave Social Security and Medicare alone.” 

    “In 2020, his budget spelled out in black and white that he wanted to spend trillions of dollars less on both programs,” she added. “That today was not an aberration. It's a pattern for Trump and his campaign of talking out of both sides of their mouth on this issue.”

    Phillip then interviewed former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who called Trump's willingness to cut Social Security “a huge deal” and also pointed to the Trump presidency's budget proposals that included cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

  • Video file

    Citation From the March 11, 2024, edition of CNN's CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

  • Other CNN coverage also noted the significance of Trump's comments. Anchor Kasie Hunt referred to the comments as “this bombshell in an interview,” and CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Jessica Dean both stated that Trump's openness to cutting entitlements is “significant.”

  • Trump has always relied on the MAGA media bubble to keep him safe

  • Trump has long relied on his MAGA media bubble, dating back to his first run for president, throughout his presidency, and now again as he runs for president a third time after being defeated in 2020.

    And after Trump briefly emerged from his bubble to speak with conservative CNBC host Joe Kernan, in an interview that according to CNN “allowed the twice-impeached, four-time indicted, insurrection-inciting former president a safe harbor to make a number of outrageous and false comments without scrutiny,” Trump is now racing back to his bubble. (Trump's media bubble has also long supported cutting Social Security.)

    In the fallout of his comments, Trump retreated to Breitbart for “a 90-minute exclusive interview” in which he stated, “I will never do anything that will jeopardize or hurt Social Security or Medicare. … We're not going to do anything to hurt them.” 

    Outside of the MAGA media bubble, however, mainstream outlets covering Trump’s CNBC comments correctly noted that pledge is undermined by budget proposals throughout his presidency which included cuts to both programs.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for any of the terms “entitlement,” “social security,” “medicare,” “medicaid,” or “CNBC” within close proximity of either of the terms “Trump” or “former President” from March 11, 2024, when Donald Trump advocated for funding cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, through 10 a.m. ET March 14, 2024. 

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when Trump's comments on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of Trump's comments. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed Trump's comments with one another.

    We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned Trump's comments without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Trump's comments scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.