The irony that the most powerful unelected figure in the Republican Party was eliminated, professionally speaking, on the very day that reality-show candidate Donald Trump triumphantly accepted the party’s nomination for president was lost on no one at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
As the news rippled across the outdoor news platforms and bars near the Quicken Loans Arena, media figures paid obeisance to the man whose power in the halls of conservatism was considered unimpeachable until just days ago.
“His influence is enormous,” Carl Bernstein, the legendary investigative journalist and CNN commentator, told TheWrap.
Ailes is a “nefarious genius” who “single-handedly, using sleight of hand and the phrase ‘fair and balanced’… [created] as important an instrument as has existed in setting the agenda for the country,” Bernstein said.
But the sense that the forces unleashed by Ailes in creating the Fox News empire and Republican king-making machine had finally overtaken him was unavoidable.
“His influence on the American public through the television screen has created the divide we see today,” said Harry Hamlin, the activist and actor attending the convention with The Creative Coalition.
The actor told TheWrap: “I do think that a major contribution to the divide that we see today has come from the extreme positions taken by Fox News. I’m not sure there can be any argument against that. Any sane person would know that when you have an instrument as powerful as television, you have a point of view as strong as the point of view espoused by Fox News, delivered to the eyeballs of country, that is going to have an influence. That is indisputable.”
The news of Ailes’ ouster came barely four hours before Donald Trump was set to take the stage and formally accept the nomination for the highest office in the land.
It was a stunningly unlikely outcome that the Fox News chief had done much in his power to prevent. Now that same kingmaker — remember those behind-the-scenes calls between Ailes and the George W. Bush campaign during the contested election of 2000 — faced a very public firing squad.
Just a few months ago, Trump and Ailes held high-level Kremlin-style diplomatic talks, trying to broker peace between two competing power nexuses.
Trump battled publicly with Ailes and the Fox News Channel, complaining that the network was targeting him unfairly in comparison to other Republican candidates. He denied the news channel access to him and his campaign, even as his interviews drove unprecedented ratings at rival network CNN.
For his part, Ailes seemed frustrated at his inability to impact the surging popularity of the reality-show billionaire candidate. Trump refused to play by Ailes playbook, speaking directly to voters through his Twitter feed.
The animosity emerged most palpably at the Republican debate last August, when network anchor Megyn Kelly posed a series of pointed questions at Trump — scripted by Ailes, according to some reports — about the candidate’s past derogatory comments toward women.
In his pique, Trump overstepped the next day and in an interview accused Kelly of being menstrual, setting the stages for his very public feud with Fox News, Ailes and Kelly. (Trump denied he was referring to her menstrual cycle.)
In hindsight, it is the more ironic that Ailes defended Kelly and even taunted Trump in press releases before losing his job on Thursday for alleged sexual harassment of women at his network.
Many found an historic symmetry in Ailes’ ouster and Trump’s triumph, given that Ailes had essentially created the modern Republican Party and built conservative brands out of on-air talent such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and most recently Megyn Kelly. He also offered powerful and lucrative commentator perches to ex-candidates like Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.
And now he finds himself out the door, settling for a consulting gig at 21st Century Fox and a severance package reported to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
“Roger Ailes is a television genius who created Fox News, and I’m sure they are very upset that he has to go,” Huffington Post editor at large Michealangelo Signorile told TheWrap. “He’s demanding his ransom because he earned it. I think the bigger challenge is: Who’s going to take over at Fox? Who’s going to continue that? It’s going to be difficult.”