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.

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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 TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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 HannityREAD: Hannity, Manafort messages released by judge Manafort, Hannity talk Trump, Mueller in previously undisclosed messages Hannity promises Trump would 'bomb the hell out of' Iran following downing of US drone 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 SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced 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 KlobucharRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Sanders unveils student debt plan amid rivalry with Warren MORE is confirmed for her own Fox News town hall in Wisconsin and South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced MORE is confirmed for one in New Hampshire. Senators Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Juan Williams: Warren on the rise 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown MORE and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced Press: Democrats form circular firing squad MORE and Representatives Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanRules for first Democratic primary debates announced What do millennials want? 2020 Democrat: 'My DM's are open and I actually read & respond' MORE and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellRules for first Democratic primary debates announced What do millennials want? 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown 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. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Ghosts of 2016 primary haunt Democrats Is America headed toward war? 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.