Trump’s Final Foxwashing

Christian Lorentzen

Acquiescence, co-option, appeasement? It’s hard to tell what’s been going on between Donald Trump and the American right since he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Tuesday saw Trump’s final Foxwashing, the end of the feud between the candidate and Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly. The war between Fox and Trump – in the first GOP debate, she asked him about calling women ‘fat pigs’; he later implied to an interviewer that she’d been menstruating, and retweeted his followers’ sexist comments about her – had never been more than partial. He skipped the January Fox News debate in Iowa because of Kelly’s presence, but returned to another to tell her she was ‘looking well’, and he’s consistently received friendly treatment from such presenters as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, and been indulged on the morning show Fox & Friends to the point of spreading the National Enquirer fiction that Ted Cruz’s father was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Tuesday’s interview, which aired on Fox’s national broadcast network rather than its more rabid misinfotainment cable channel, revealed that the Trump-Kelly feud had all along been an exercise in mutually assured celebrity enhancement. As Gabriel Sherman has reported, the call to make up with Trump came down from Rupert Murdoch, who’d also given the order for the confrontation in the first debate. ‘He doesn’t like people to be snobs and treat Trump like a clown,’ a source told Sherman. Kelly treated him this week like an occasionally vengeful but ultimately benign demigod. ‘You are so powerful,’ she said, asking whether his style wasn’t a bit too bullying, setting a bad example for the nation’s children. Had he ever been emotionally wounded? ‘When I’m wounded,’ he replied, ‘I go after people hard and I try to unwound myself.’

His proposed mass deportations of undocumented migrants and ban on Muslims entering the United States didn’t come up. Hillary Clinton didn’t come up. From the start Kelly treated Trump more like a president-elect than a presumptive nominee. They laughed, they joked, Kelly said she’d given Trump her mobile number and he promised not to use it for ‘evil’. ‘I do feel like America first,’ Trump said at one point –a non-sequitur – and Kelly wasn’t about to ask if he was aware of the phrase’s connection to the anti-Semitic, Nazi-sympathising movement, led by Charles Lindbergh, to stay out of the Second World War. Her last question was: ‘If you don’t become president, would this all have been for nothing or would you have changed America?’

‘If I don’t go all the way and I don’t win,’ Trump said, ‘I will consider it a total waste of time, energy and money’ (and not just for him! you want to scream), but before that he mentioned a ‘great writer’ who’d called him and congratulated him for doing something that had never been done before. Who could it have been? Chances are it wasn’t Philip Roth.

In the more or less liberal quarters of the US press there has been a failure to predict Trump’s march to the nomination and a general dumbfoundedness now that it’s happened. Even Fox News wasn’t entirely behind him. No longer. Trump has always had gusts from the shadow world of AM talk radio at his back: a zone largely ignored by journalists and given over to ranting about immigration, phantom domestic terrorism threats, and the real enemy within –political correctness, especially in universities. Are Trump voters idiots? Racists? Or just opposed to mass immigration?

The rest of the week for Trump was a typical mix of accommodation to GOP norms and the standard freak show. He released a list of judges he might appoint to replace the late Antonin Scalia, and his awkward way of reading out the names on Hannity’s Fox News show was a sign that the list was boilerplate sourced from right-wing think tanks. Chris Collins, a Buffalo congressman and Trump surrogate, said that Trump’s border wall would be ‘virtual’ and his mass deportations ‘rhetorical’. This echoed his earlier line, later rolled back, that his tax plan was just a ‘suggestion’. Trump is used to having his suggestions turned down. Buzzfeed reported that NBC in 2005 nixed his pitch for a race war version of The Apprentice. ‘Whether people like that idea or not, it is somewhat reflective of our very vicious world,’ he said at the time.

Unlike Richard Nixon, Donald Trump doesn’t drink. As he told Kelly, his older brother died in his forties of alcoholism, and he’s never had a glass of alcohol. Politico noticed that his teetotalling has taken hold among the Trump Youth. According to their (admittedly uncheckable) online message board sampling, many of his supporters have kicked booze, marijuana, even heroin with Trump’s inspiration. Others have just discovered more ‘energy’:

30 years old here and have been following politics since I was 12. For the first time in my life I feel like I'm supporting a GOD DAMN AMERICAN PATRIOT for President.

I'm so fucking sick of political correctness that has stifled this country. I've supported Donald since the beginning, but it was only 2 weeks ago that I took off the child gloves and started putting the LOW ENERGY LIBERAL LOSERS in their place. I was at a friends birthday party last week and finally stood up to the idiots spewing their propaganda. Classic Trump is racist bs that none of them could back up. I verbally destroyed a wanna be commie to the point where she was in tears and people wanted me leave. It was a truly great night.

A national self-help programme of clean-living and unwounding yourself on ‘commies’. Kelly too is becoming a self-help guru. At the end of her show she announced her new book, Settle for More:

my life motto, ever since I was an unhappy lawyer years ago. The book shows how I did just that—with some tears and laughs along the way. And yes, for the first time I will speak openly about my year with Donald Trump. You can pre-order it now wherever books are sold. It hits stores November 15th.

Seven days after the election – can’t wait!


  • 21 May 2016 at 1:01pm
    Graucho says:
    Trump is a New Yorker through and through. This is about winning and that's it. He will say and do anything to that end, if he gets into the White House don't be surprised if the policy slate gets wiped clean. His success, like UKIP and Bernie Sanders, is an unintended consequence of globalisation. His message was I'm going to stop the big guys exporting your jobs and I'm going to stop illegal immigrants depressing your wages. This resonated with blue collar America which is hurting. Political correctness is all very nice, but it doesn't pay the rent or feed the kids. As for Ms. Kelly, "There's nothing sooner dry than women's tears", if there's a buck in it she'll find it in her heart to forgive him.

    • 21 May 2016 at 2:48pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Graucho
      Kelly is clearly cynical, but there's no need to frame that observation in terms of her gender. Rather a Trumpish comment.

    • 21 May 2016 at 2:52pm
      Joshua K says: @ Graucho
      Haha, you're spot on about Kelly. Trump, though, is anything but a typical new yorker (most people I've ever known are new yorkers). He's first and foremost a golden-spoon Republican plutocrat and has reverted already to espousing the traditional pro-billionaire economic platform. It won't necessarily hurt him now because millions have already bought into him and will stick by him regardless. He's also fortunate in going head-to-head with a charmless, pro-billionaire New Democrat.

    • 21 May 2016 at 8:02pm
      Graucho says: @ Joshua K
      Lived in New York when Steinbrenner owned the Yankees, so recognised the competitive streak in the candidate. No intention of ascribing his other characteristics to New Yorkers who are way more cultured, refined, considerate and likeable.

    • 22 May 2016 at 5:50pm
      gkchesterton says: @ Graucho
      There's no greater sin than being uncultured.

  • 21 May 2016 at 6:23pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Right now it seems that it is impossible to predict what Trump will actually do (or propose) if he becomes president of the USA. He’s certainly “the wild card” of American politics, and it seems as if he has no firm ideas himself about how to proceed if elected. He can surround himself with what he perceives as “talent, the smart guys and gals, winners!”, but this means little, since he will never let them overrule a decision based on his instincts as a wheeler-dealer or on a few, simple, fixed ideas. He implies to his supporters that he will be governing through a series of spectacular “executive decrees,” a hollow promise given how laws are passed or abolished or treaties arranged or abandoned. Congress could prove to be as inert and log-jammed as it is during Obama’s tenure. He’s a billionaire, but he’s not a member of the “patriciate” of old and new money constantly “validating” their status and power through the conspicuous consumption of art (including patronage) and the other accoutrements of the fabulously wealthy or their sterling self-righteousness as donors to charitable causes – he just doesn’t fit into that well-worn mold. He spends on himself on a large scale, but his taste runs to the garish and glitzy (the kind of thing that makes our large faux aristocracy cringe). “Typical New Yorker” becomes meaningless when you try to parse his beliefs and actions from any point of view: socio-economic (class), cultural, or political. His campaign appears to have started as an effort to assuage a wounded ego and to have aimed merely for an increase in his celebrity status, and he may be as mystified as anybody else about why is the prospective nominee. He didn’t know he was a populist until he tried on the outfit and found that it worked. He’s certainly dangerous, but he could prove to be impotent and bottled up. As much as his buffoonish behavior, ridiculous pronouncements and inconsistencies (he does have a “public record” of earlier pronouncements that he now imagines he never made) make people edgy, it’s the larger uncertainty surrounding him that has us all very nervous. He’s like the guy at the bar who mouths off about everything while displaying his own ignorance and constantly says, “Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.” You’d have to be very intoxicated yourself – or generally pissed off – to trust that guy, and it seems that we’ve got tens of millions of voters in one of those two conditions. If Trump is what they want and get, I think they’re going to be very disappointed. As to the American media, regardless of editorial orientation, they've got what they want - a never-ending story, good copy.

  • 25 May 2016 at 11:47am
    Louis Amis says:
    I’m pretty sure the “great writer” who called Trump to “congratulate” him was either Jason Horowitz or David Sanger, both of the New York Times.

    Trump told the anecdote in greater detail in a speech in South Carolina on December 30th last year:

    ‘I received a call from one of the biggest reporters, who happens to be liberal, but that’s OK. (inaudible) a couple of them, right? But, a guy who’s really respected, recently, and he said, “How does it feel?” I said, “How does what feel?” He said, “What you have done has never been done in the history of politics in the United States.” […] But this reporter, who is a great intellect, actually, and a very smart guy, very good guy. He said — he said, “What you’ve done has never been done before in the history of this country.” […] But he said to me, the reporter, he said, “never been done before.” I said, “Well, you know, it’s fine, but if I don’t win, it’s just a waste of time.” He goes, “No, no, no. What you’ve done is incredible.” He said, “Even if you don’t win, what you’ve done is incredible; you’ve totally changed the landscape of politics.”’

    In a February town-hall-style event with Anderson Cooper, again in S. Carolina, Trump said:

    ‘I got a very big call recently from a very great reporter, actually, at the New York Times, and they wanted to do a major piece on my sister [federal appellate judge, Maryanne Trump Barry] […] it was a very nice piece’.

    – It was Horowitz who wrote that piece.

    At another Republican town-hall with Cooper in late March, Trump referred to a controversial interview he’d recently given to Sanger and Maggie Haberman: ‘Okay, I did two basic and very large interviews recently. I did the New York Times, which treated me unbelievably fairly. And there was a front-page story on Sunday or - I think, and it was a great story. […] I spoke to them a long time. David, he's a very talented writer actually. And they treated me very fairly.’

    Trump seems to be impressed by Sanger, by the veteran reporter’s gravitas. He has dropped his name elsewhere. (In the transcript of their interview, Trump addressed “David” by name 23 times, but “Maggie” only three times.) Horowitz may have been the one who actually “congratulated” Trump, if that’s an accurate characterisation of the call. Trump may be (willfully) confusing the two men. Of course, Trump’s definition of a “great writer” is just any writer who is a) “really respected” (i.e. commercially successful), and b) in turn, respects Trump (i.e. writes about Trump in a tone that is neutral-or-better).

  • 27 May 2016 at 8:00pm
    harpla says:
    I expect Trump to operate much as Palin did in Alaska- when governing becomes too boring, tedious, or difficult to win big with, Trump will move on to other things. Like his campaign, the day to day reality of a presidency is something Trump hasn't likely thought deeply about.

  • 28 May 2016 at 11:35am
    ikp says:
    I love it that the 30 year-old trump supporter thinks 'kid gloves' means 'child gloves'. How grown-up he feels now he's got them off!

    • 2 June 2016 at 12:54pm
      semitone says: @ ikp
      Trump's fingers are too short for anything other than a child's gloves.

Read more