It’s Donald Trump’s world, and Roger Ailes is just living in it.
That’s the message the real estate mogul sent the Fox News chairman on Monday when he ended his ceasefire with the de facto king of conservative media. Trump’s latest round of rhetorical shots fired at network star Megyn Kelly — and Ailes’ bold, forceful response — sets up the real 2016 campaign: Trump vs. Ailes.
“It’s always hard to get inside the head of Donald Trump,” veteran reporter Mark Feldstein told TheWrap, adding that in many ways, Trump’s taken a page out of the Murdoch-Ailes playbook.
“Fox’s whole approach is ‘we’re the grievance-filled underdog against the establishment’; Trump is using Jiu-Jitsu to try and turn thing against the very network that invented it.”
While the media and political pundits collectively predict Trump’s war against Fox is suicidal for his White House hopes, it actually might win him the nomination.
“He’s not doing this blindly; he knows what he’s doing and there’s a calculus behind everything he’s done and every time he says something that’s more and more wild, everyone predicts that’s the end of him, but he only grows stronger,” Feldstein added.
The latest Trump-Fox fight might be his play for the angry, alienated white male vote, who not so subconsciously, like Trump taking it to a female anchor for, as he put it, “unfair” treatment.
Trump might be going after a particular slice of the electorate, but going against the voice of the GOP is much bigger than just angry, white men — it’s a shotgun pass for the growing hang-the-establishment Republican vote, whom Trump is betting will view Fox News as a member of the club.
And it might work.
The Trump supporter is the Fox News viewer on steroids– fed up with the GOP congress and not-conservative-enough Republican presidential contenders. With this in mind, and sensing that Rupert Murdoch and Ailes have no interest in his candidacy being anything more than a short-term ratings boon, Trump’s made the calculated decision to fight the machine; one that aside from a brief romance with the Tea Party, is the establishment.
Just look down Fox’s roster and you get cardboard cutout Republicans: Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, former W. press secretary Dana Perino, Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carson, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and on and on we go. Oh, let’s not forget, presidential contenders Mike Huckabee and John Kasich used to host programs in “Fair and Balanced” land.
Hell, Fox News even dubbed Trump a one-man Tea Party machine (the network declined to comment for this story).
Christopher Hahn, a radio host and former aide to Senator Chuck Schumer, believes Trump’s anti-Fox strategy will backfire.
“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel or pixels by the freight car load,” he told TheWrap. “He’s picking a fight with a multimedia giant. You can never win that fight.”
But Trump has won every fight so far: against illegal immigrants, against war hero John McCain, against Megyn Kelly, and of course, against Jeb Bush and the rest of the Republican field who were supposed to make noise for the nomination.
And in the full-on war between Trump and Fox News, the Donald’s fate rests with Ailes.
If the current frontrunner boycotted Fox, its audience would shrink when Trump loyalists stop watching. Will Ailes, a legendary ratings hound, still stand with his star Kelly, or crawl back to Trump in order to squeeze every last ounce out of the Donald orange?
“In a way you can ask the same question about both Trump and Fox: Which really matters more–their business interests or political advancement?” Feldstein said.
The more Trump injects Fox into the 2016 arena, the more it legitimizes the network as a political player rather than just a “marginal network of crazy ideologues,” he concluded.
While we wait to see which set of ideologues wins the war, Trump remains in the driver seat.
With Ailes locked in the trunk.