The unraveling of the Trump-Fox alliance?

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Since the days of his campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2016, President Trump has had a close relationship with Fox News. Reporters have noted a pattern between what Trump is tweeting about and what Fox News is reporting. The President has often called into Fox News shows for interviews, far more so than he has with any other network. Prominent Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro have been considered close counselors to Trump.

Furthermore, there has been a revolving door between the Trump Administration and Fox News. Close Trump aides and officials such as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hope Hicks and Kayleigh McEnany have done stints both in the Trump Administration and at Fox News over the last four years.

Yet in the waning days of the 2020 presidential election, this relationship became strained. Early signs of discord appeared in Trump’s persistent derision for Fox News polls showing him trailing Biden. Tensions continued to grow after Trump campaign officials’ criticized Fox News journalist Chris Wallace’s performance as a moderator for the first presidential debate.

The partial rupture truly burst into the public on election night and in the aftermath of the election.

Trump’s anger at Fox News erupted on election night when the network became one of the first to call the battleground state of Arizona for the Biden-Harris ticket. The call infuriated the President and his campaign team, leading several individuals to contact officials at Fox to pressure the network to retract its decision. Instead Fox put the head of their decision desk, Arnon Mishkin, on-air to explain the call.

In the wake of that call, many Republicans denounced Fox News and announced their switch to smaller right-wing news networks. This fury has not dissipated in the aftermath, as networks, including Fox News, have called the election for the Biden-Harris ticket and states have certified results.

Though Fox has still given significant favorable coverage to Trump, especially its opinion stars, Republican anger has only continued to mount. This anger is egged on by President Trump, who has taken to Twitter to disparage the network and urge his followers to abandon it in favor of the more stridently right-wing One American News Network and Newsmax.

Given that Fox News and Trump share much of the same base, there has been considerable speculation about what effect Trump’s disparagement may have on Fox’s ratings. Though it is still too early to know for certain, there does seem to be some movement in Fox’s viewership.

Several Newsmax shows, such as Sean Spicer’s, are up between 500 and 1000 percent from their pre-election viewership averages. Though, even with these spikes, Spicer was up to roughly 600,000 viewers – indicating that there is still quite a ways to go to challenge Fox’s dominance on the right. For comparison, Fox News had an average of four million weekday primetime viewers in the third quarter of 2020.

Ultimately, it is too soon to project the future of the Trump-Fox relationship and its impact on Fox’s viewership. Much of the future could depend on the President’s plans as it has been speculated that he may start a media network to compete with Fox.

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