Why Dems need to go on Fox News

Why Dems need to go on Fox News
© Greg Nash

Several years ago, I was invited to meet with senior Fox News executives at their headquarters in Manhattan. At the time, I chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the executives wanted me to encourage more Democrats to appear on their network programs.

“Why should I advocate for them to go to their own firing squads?” I asked. I was not trying to be snarky. I was reflecting the broad sentiment that for Democrats, Fox News was foolhardy. The topic of that meeting has now permeated the Democratic presidential campaign for 2020.


There is now a debate on debates of whether Democrats should engage each other on a Fox News stage. The Democratic National Committee has recently ruled that out, citing the “inappropriate relationship between President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE, his administration and Fox News.” That may be a fair point. But is it a winning campaign strategy? As it turns out, there can be upside for Democrats to appear on Fox News, if managed correctly.

To be clear, Democrats going on the primetime programs anchored by Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityFederal appeals court revives Seth Rich's family's lawsuit against Fox News Politicon announces lineup including Comey, Hannity, Priebus Ed Henry returns to 'Fox & Friends' in teary interview after recovering from donating part of his liver MORE do so at their own peril. He has a snarling dislike of Democrats and an evident inability to see them as fellow Americans with different views than his own. He is the spewing tribal chieftain, only his warpaint is applied in a makeup chair to accentuate his television visage.

Still, as Senator Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul MORE recently showed us, Fox News, if not always friendly, can be fruitful. In a field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates, with more still not having yet formed exploratory committees or announcing their candidacies, Sanders seized Fox News as a way to distinguish himself from the pack. His town hall in Pennsylvania, billed as focusing on jobs and the economy, brought in 2.5 million viewers. It was the most viewers of any 2020 presidential forum on cable news yet.

Sanders articulated his case in what would usually be prejudged as hostile territory and even received applause from the audience when he spoke about universal health care. The strategy of appearing on a Fox News forum was validated even further when Trump took to Twitter to register his displeasure with the network serving as a platform for Democrats.

At present, Senator Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE is confirmed for her own Fox News town hall in Wisconsin and South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Poll: Biden leads Democratic field by 10 points in Florida CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall MORE is confirmed for one in New Hampshire. Senators Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall MORE and Representatives Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Five top 2020 Democrats haven't committed to MSNBC climate forum Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum MORE and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate 5 takeaways from fiery Democratic debate MORE are also reportedly considering joining in for their own Fox News forums on the trail.

The political fact is that Fox News has volume, particularly in swing districts that matter in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, and others. Significant numbers of Democrats and unaffiliated voters regularly tune in to the network.

A Democratic candidate able to connect with those voters can do well at the polls. Democrats should run under the assumption that the 2020 election will be a very close race, one in which every vote counts, especially in the places where Fox News is the dominant media outlet.

Ignoring Fox News may feel like payback. But the point of a campaign is not payback. It is winning the votes wherever you can pick them up.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelIs war with Iran on the horizon? 3D-printable guns will require us to rethink our approach on gun safety The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Democrats set for Lone Star showdown MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.