What Is George Will Doing At Fox News?

Here's a quick synopsis of George Will's last five columns for the Washington Post: bemoaning the politicization of the Federal Reserve Board; tracing the history of isolationism; counseling Republicans to let Obamacare stumble on its own; inveighing against college football's corruption and lawlessness; and examining the legacy of the Bay of Pigs invasion. In those five columns, Will cited a proposed constitutional amendment from 1938, used the phrases “semantic infiltration” and “perverse fecundity,” and quoted Ernest Hemingway and H.L. Mencken. He has degrees from Oxford and got his Ph.D from Princeton.

All this to say that George Will is a brainy fellow who enjoys a broad array of scholarly pursuits and has a long-running reputation as a public intellectual. And that's why it's kind of baffling that he's joining Fox News.

To be clear, Will's conservative politics and his counterfactual denialism of climate change fit the Murdoch network hand-in-glove. And he's an old, white conservative man joining what is basically the ongoing televised celebration of old, white conservative men. But the barking partisanship of Fox News and its crude appeals to cultural resentment don't mesh with Will's style of commentary and analysis. You look at George Will, in all his carefully cultivated patrician nerdiness, and the Fox News environment just seems wrong for him. He revels in elitism, whereas Fox News sops to Tea Party anger. Being associated with that does nothing for the George Will “brand,” if that's the right word for it. In fact, it probably hurts it.

Will spent the past three decades as an analyst for ABC News, and according to news reports he left the network in part because This Week, on which he appeared regularly, is now filmed in New York instead of Washington, DC. It's not certain how Fox will use Will -- Huffington Post reports that he is “set to contribute to programs across the channel” -- though it seems likely that he'll follow the example of his Washington Post (and now Fox News) colleague Charles Krauthammer and appear mainly on programs like Special Report and Fox News Sunday, which tend more staid than the primetime shouting matches. Of course, Krauthammer (who does have more of a partisan edge to him) has appeared on Hannity's and O'Reilly's programs over the years, so anything is possible. But can you really imagine George Will on the set of Hannity, referencing the Battle of Agincourt or quoting Kenesaw Mountain Landis in between Sarah Palin's “you betcha”-spiked word salads?

To that point, what does Fox News think they're getting out of George Will? Yes he's conservative and yes he'll throw a few harsh ten-dollar words at Barack Obama or whichever Democrat happens to be in the news, but they already have a deep bench of pundits who fit that description. He's not the most exciting television personality, though ABC's George Stephanopoulos praised his departing colleague as “brilliant” and “a consummate gentleman,” so he'll be hugely popular among the Beltway types and establishment Republicans who have a weakness for measured tones and gravitas.

However, Fox News' simpatico relationship with the Tea Party has led it to be at times openly contemptuous of those same establishment Republicans and conservatives. Back when Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney for president, Will derided Trump on ABC, in typical George Will style, as a “bloviating ignoramus” whose endorsement would only harm the Republican candidate. Fox News' pundits and talkers sided with Trump over Will. 

“You know what Donald Trump represents?” asked Eric Bolling on the May 29, 2012 edition of The Five. “He represents a new Republican -- a new GOP, a new conservative, where it's not old, established George Will, boring out of their mind. Bore out of your mind listening to him in Washington.” Bolling's co-host Andrea Tantaros chimed in: “He seems so snobby, George Will, when he said that. That just seems like a cliquey, snobby, elitist comment he made.”

And now this cliquey, snobby elitist is, for some reason, their colleague.