How Trump could win his war with Fox News

Once again, Donald Trump has torn up the rulebook for a presidential run.  As of this morning, he will not be attending Thursday’s presidential debate on Fox News, unhappy with Megyn Kelly as a moderator, and infuriated at a rather juvenile press release from FNC:

“We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president,” Fox News said in the statement, adding this gem: “A nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”

Here he is, on Bret Baier’s Special Report show, critical of the press release, but leaving the door slightly ajar over whether or not he will attend the debate:

 

An old aphorism from newspaper days is to “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” meaning that once roused, a major media outlet will relentlessly pursue the fool who picked a fight. But Trump pays a little attention to this as he does to other rules, such as never criticize a war hero like John McCain.

Right now, Trump’s plan is to host an event in Iowa raising money for wounded warriors.

Roger Ailes cannot back down from the moderators for a couple of reasons. Surrender of control of choice of staff would discredit any media outlet, and FNC, although dominant in cable news, is still regarded as illegitimate in parts of the leftist media bubble. Buckling in to Trump would feed ammunition to its enemies. As an FNC spokesman put it last night:

Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly. In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees. Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News & FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.

But equally important, caving in to Trump would severely demoralize Fox News staff, some of whom might resign in protest.  Ailes is well known as a stand-up guy who will back his employees -- something that inspires loyalty, and makes it easier to recruit top-level personnel from other news outlets.  Megyn Kelly is a rising star, and would almost certainly resign if she were pulled from the debate.

Trump is receiving mixed reviews for his pullout. Some, like Russ Vaughn, see him as weak, afraid to face tough questions from Megyn K. But others, like the Morning Joe crew at MSNBC, are chortling over Fox’s PR statement that Trump objected to. Of course, after the CNBC debate, The RNC banned NBC from conducting a presidential debate, so MSNBC is also out of the running.

Ned Barnett raises an interesting backstory:

When Sarah Palin joined Team Trump last week, not a lot was made of the fact that she’d been fired from Fox News not long before.  Few mentioned it, and fewer mentioned that this endorsement might have had something to do with Trump’s then-simmering feud with Fox News, personified by Megyn Kelly.  Since she lost the 2008 election, Palin has had an on-again/off-again relationship with Fox News. She had served twice as a paid commentator, and twice she had been let go. 

Then she crossed a line. The one-time Tea Party darling went public about her break-up with Fox … on a competing cable network.  This was justifiably anathema to Ailes.  On-air talent does occasionally shift between Fox and CNN or MSNBC -- then sometimes the talent comes back again.  But Sarah’s public pout put the kibosh on any chance of a prodigal daughter homecoming party at Fox.
When Palin came out for Trump, the Donald might have thought this would re-ignite his fight with Fox, but instead it passed without a ripple of controversy.

Which may have been what provoked Donald Trump into very publicly pulling out of the upcoming Republican Debate, moderated by the aforementioned Megyn Kelly, a person whom Trump has targeted for his periodic vitriol.

Predictably, Trump blames his unexpected withdrawal from the debate on Megyn Kelly. However, having observed Trump closely, I’m not so sure. Other, less obvious, reasons seem to be at play here.

The withdrawal from the debate is Act Three of Donald vs. Fox. 

Act One was his first-debate food-fight, which he kept up so long it forced Roger Ailes to break things up.  To a point, Trump got what he wanted -- attention at the highest level of news media, with the Godfather of conservative news coverage.

In Act Two he brought the ex-Fox commentator out of retirement and put her into his campaign. But that didn’t so much backfire as prove DOA -- dead on arrival.  Nobody at Fox seemed to care. 

Which made the Third Act, pulling out of the debate, inevitable. Trump thrives on public attention, and on winning.  He thinks this move will be seen as a win. It might be, but in a larger sense, I think he’s wrong. In part, because this feud with Fox News isn’t the real reason he’s pulled out.  I’m wondering he’s made a real mistake, for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe it is a mistake, but I am pretty certain Trump and his supporters will make the point that he is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He has been emphasizing how he will stand up to China, for example. This can be used to reinforce that he is a tough guy who will take no guff. Given a GOP base disgusted with what it sees at its own leadership’s failures to stand up to Democrats and the media, this refusal to play ball on FNC’s terms could be seen as courageous.

I also see room for compromise.  Whoever wrote the offensive press release could become a sacrificial lamb. For one thing, the schoolyard taunting tone of it is out of character for the network that hosts Bret Baier. For another, the author is anonymous.

Ailes or his surrogate potentially could withdraw the press release, stating that it ws not authorized by senior management and regretting its tone. The anonymous author could be “reprimanded” at least for public consumption. Fox could even agree to write a check for a wounded warrior charity to make up for Trump’s absence, should he demand it make up the difference.

We’ll see. This could end up a stalemate, something that might hurt Fox News more than Trump. But how will Iowans react? Time will tell. 

Once again, Donald Trump has torn up the rulebook for a presidential run.  As of this morning, he will not be attending Thursday’s presidential debate on Fox News, unhappy with Megyn Kelly as a moderator, and infuriated at a rather juvenile press release from FNC:

“We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president,” Fox News said in the statement, adding this gem: “A nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”

Here he is, on Bret Baier’s Special Report show, critical of the press release, but leaving the door slightly ajar over whether or not he will attend the debate:

 

An old aphorism from newspaper days is to “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” meaning that once roused, a major media outlet will relentlessly pursue the fool who picked a fight. But Trump pays a little attention to this as he does to other rules, such as never criticize a war hero like John McCain.

Right now, Trump’s plan is to host an event in Iowa raising money for wounded warriors.

Roger Ailes cannot back down from the moderators for a couple of reasons. Surrender of control of choice of staff would discredit any media outlet, and FNC, although dominant in cable news, is still regarded as illegitimate in parts of the leftist media bubble. Buckling in to Trump would feed ammunition to its enemies. As an FNC spokesman put it last night:

Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly. In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees. Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News & FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.

But equally important, caving in to Trump would severely demoralize Fox News staff, some of whom might resign in protest.  Ailes is well known as a stand-up guy who will back his employees -- something that inspires loyalty, and makes it easier to recruit top-level personnel from other news outlets.  Megyn Kelly is a rising star, and would almost certainly resign if she were pulled from the debate.

Trump is receiving mixed reviews for his pullout. Some, like Russ Vaughn, see him as weak, afraid to face tough questions from Megyn K. But others, like the Morning Joe crew at MSNBC, are chortling over Fox’s PR statement that Trump objected to. Of course, after the CNBC debate, The RNC banned NBC from conducting a presidential debate, so MSNBC is also out of the running.

Ned Barnett raises an interesting backstory:

When Sarah Palin joined Team Trump last week, not a lot was made of the fact that she’d been fired from Fox News not long before.  Few mentioned it, and fewer mentioned that this endorsement might have had something to do with Trump’s then-simmering feud with Fox News, personified by Megyn Kelly.  Since she lost the 2008 election, Palin has had an on-again/off-again relationship with Fox News. She had served twice as a paid commentator, and twice she had been let go. 

Then she crossed a line. The one-time Tea Party darling went public about her break-up with Fox … on a competing cable network.  This was justifiably anathema to Ailes.  On-air talent does occasionally shift between Fox and CNN or MSNBC -- then sometimes the talent comes back again.  But Sarah’s public pout put the kibosh on any chance of a prodigal daughter homecoming party at Fox.
When Palin came out for Trump, the Donald might have thought this would re-ignite his fight with Fox, but instead it passed without a ripple of controversy.

Which may have been what provoked Donald Trump into very publicly pulling out of the upcoming Republican Debate, moderated by the aforementioned Megyn Kelly, a person whom Trump has targeted for his periodic vitriol.

Predictably, Trump blames his unexpected withdrawal from the debate on Megyn Kelly. However, having observed Trump closely, I’m not so sure. Other, less obvious, reasons seem to be at play here.

The withdrawal from the debate is Act Three of Donald vs. Fox. 

Act One was his first-debate food-fight, which he kept up so long it forced Roger Ailes to break things up.  To a point, Trump got what he wanted -- attention at the highest level of news media, with the Godfather of conservative news coverage.

In Act Two he brought the ex-Fox commentator out of retirement and put her into his campaign. But that didn’t so much backfire as prove DOA -- dead on arrival.  Nobody at Fox seemed to care. 

Which made the Third Act, pulling out of the debate, inevitable. Trump thrives on public attention, and on winning.  He thinks this move will be seen as a win. It might be, but in a larger sense, I think he’s wrong. In part, because this feud with Fox News isn’t the real reason he’s pulled out.  I’m wondering he’s made a real mistake, for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe it is a mistake, but I am pretty certain Trump and his supporters will make the point that he is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He has been emphasizing how he will stand up to China, for example. This can be used to reinforce that he is a tough guy who will take no guff. Given a GOP base disgusted with what it sees at its own leadership’s failures to stand up to Democrats and the media, this refusal to play ball on FNC’s terms could be seen as courageous.

I also see room for compromise.  Whoever wrote the offensive press release could become a sacrificial lamb. For one thing, the schoolyard taunting tone of it is out of character for the network that hosts Bret Baier. For another, the author is anonymous.

Ailes or his surrogate potentially could withdraw the press release, stating that it ws not authorized by senior management and regretting its tone. The anonymous author could be “reprimanded” at least for public consumption. Fox could even agree to write a check for a wounded warrior charity to make up for Trump’s absence, should he demand it make up the difference.

We’ll see. This could end up a stalemate, something that might hurt Fox News more than Trump. But how will Iowans react? Time will tell.