Monday, August 10, 2015

Crazy like a fox

There are any number of theories on what has transpired over the last few days since the Battle Royale, the most prevalent one being that Fox sucker punched Donald Trump.  This is quite plausible since Roger Ailes has only been in the news game for ratings and he saw the rating bonanza Trump could give the first debate and how much he could milk the audience in the weeks before the debate.  So, all the lovey-dovey we saw between Fox anchors and Donald Trump leading up to the debate was no more than Fox attaching itself to Donald Trump's meteoric rise in the polls, at least one of which Fox conducts itself, so that it would draw in significantly more viewers for the debate.

After all, Trump fed right into the sentiments of a large part of the Fox audience with his bellicose rhetoric, racial and gender stereotypes.  To be fair, there were a few Fox analysts, like Charles Krauthammer and Mark Levin, who questioned Trump, but for all we know this was just part of the game.  The only one not in on it would have been Sean Hannity, which Ailes pretty much plays as the fool anyway.  Hannity lent his unabashed support for Trump like he did Cliven Bundy last year, which also briefly gave Fox a ratings bonanza in the so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" with the Bureau of Land Management.

You might say that Sean Hannity is the Fox gatekeeper of this crowd of wackos, as John McCain calls them, the fringe audience of Fox.  The pugnacious pundit relishes this role, adopting causes far to the right of the political spectrum, and as long as he draws in the ratings to support his show Roger Ailes is fine with it.  Roger is able to keep Sean on a relatively long leash, unlike Glenn Beck, who snapped at until it broke, running off  to create his own faux news network available over the Internet.

In this scenario, Ailes milked the Trump phenomenon right up to the debate.  The little fracas between Rupert Murdoch and him was probably staged as well.  We are led to believe Trump was too caught up in himself to realize he was being used.  He gladly went on Fox 31 times over a three-month period (May 1 - July 31), far more than any other presidential candidate. The next closest was Jeb Bush with 7 appearances, according to Vox.

For Trump this was all the advertising he needed.  He was literally on the network two to three times per week, with these stories picked up by other news media and spread throughout the Internet.  It was like a wildfire. we were all consumed by Trump news 24/7.  It seemed like no one was able to shy away from it, resulting in the most watched primary debate ever - an estimated 24 million viewers.

We all know Ailes is a very clever fox, but this was easily a stunt that could have backfired on him.  After all, Trump received almost universal condemnation outside of the Tea Party during this unexpected run.  In turn, he lashed out against everyone from Hispanics to women to the media establishment, Fox included.  If we are to believe this scenario, Ailes didn't sweat because he knew the spectacle was too great for anyone not to tune in.  He just sat on his proverbial porch rocker and watched it all play out like he expected it would.

He even had an ace in the hole in Megyn Kelly.  Her question on misogyny directed to Donald Trump was the biggest takeaway from the debate.  It is all every news network has talked about in the days since, made even more spectacular by Trump's apparent anger over the maliciousness of the question.  Many pundits have even proclaimed Megyn the winner of the debate, as Trump has acted exactly as she described in her very leading question.

Everyone is now expecting the polls to show a sharp drop in Trump's numbers.  You don't mess with Megyn!  But,  I'm not so sure that will be the case.  Trump is appealing directly to the angry white male voter, presumed voter anyway, and I don't think there will be much love for Megyn among this demographic, who pretty much see women in the same way context Trump does with "blood coming out of her ... wherever."  True, Trump no longer has a chance at the Republican nomination, not that he ever did, but he will remain the spoiler in this very crowded field.

Ironically, Carly Fiorina seems to have raised herself from virtual obscurity thanks to a good "Happy Hour Debate" performance that is now garnering her more attention and may vault her into the Top Ten.  Here is a businessperson with a dubious track record much like Trump.  She isn't as fabulously wealthy as he is, but she has an estimated net worth in the Mitt Romney range and was ranked by Forbes as the 51st most powerful woman in the country in 2010, at the time she ran against Barbara Boxer for the California US Senate seat.  Will Fox seize on her next?

She would be wise not to take the bait, if the predicted Fall of Trump is any indication.  She seems to be serious about her bid for the Presidency, whereas I'm still not convinced Trump ever has been.  In fact, I wonder who is using who here?

Trump has always been about projecting his brand name.  While it has taken a bit of a hit with some of his more outlandish statements on the campaign trail, he seems to be trying to project his brand to a whole new market, no longer content with the crowd that frequents his hotels and casinos and buys his brand name clothing.  It looks like he wants the redneck market, whether it be in the South, the West, the Midwest or wherever.

Lately, he has been going around with a red trucker hat with the slogan "Make America Great Again," which feeds right into the sentiments of this demographic group that sees itself as disenfranchised from the American mainstream.   These persons express a lot of pity in themselves, as if America has left them behind and there is no one to champion their cause.  They flirted with Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee but what they want is someone successful, someone who will take their complaints to the next level, and they firmly believe they have found him in Donald Trump.

Trump knew full well this is Hannity's audience, and a large part of the Fox network audience.  He had nothing else to do this summer, so "heh, why not run for President?"  I can imagine him saying "If I can scrounge up enough supporters I can get access to the Republican National Committee data base with records on 250 million voting Americans."  If you are looking to expand your brand name, this is a virtual gold mine.  So, Trump donned his red cap and went to work along the border, knowing that nothing stirs these rednecks more than immigration.  He seized on the issue like he did the birther issue four years ago, and ran with it like none of the other candidates had yet to do.  He wasn't the least bit afraid to say the most outlandish, unsupportable things, because he knew this audience wouldn't fact check him as they firmly believe Mexico is trying to take over our country.

What does it matter if he bombed at the debate?  He knew he probably would anyway.  It isn't his type of gig.  Trump never likes to get questioned.  He went too far in attacking Megyn Kelly afterward, but for all we know that may be part of his strategy.  After all, he disparaged the reigning Miss Universe when she had the audacity to criticize him for his immigration comments.  So what if he lost Univision.  You can have Fox too.  "I got all I wanted out of them anyway, just like I did Atlantic City," you can hear him saying.

I wouldn't exactly call it a Clash of Titans, but you have media moguls squaring off against an entertainment king in front of a green screen they both know very well.  They can have whatever images they want projected on them afterward.  For Roger, just like Donald, these campaigns are nothing more than political reality shows.  Donald put it even more bluntly, politics is transactional, which he said before the debate.  He has no stake in this election other than what he can get for himself.

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