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 TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push 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 Hannity Winter is here: How 'Game of Thrones' took over American politics MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults 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 SandersIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge 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 KlobucharHarris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers GOP senators split over antitrust remedies for big tech Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel MORE is confirmed for her own Fox News town hall in Wisconsin and South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers 2020 Democratic presidential candidates rally in support of abortion rights MORE is confirmed for one in New Hampshire. Senators Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGOP faces new challenge in 2020 abortion fight 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker vows to form White House office on abortion rights 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge MORE and Representatives Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanGOP faces new challenge in 2020 abortion fight 2020 Democratic presidential candidates rally in support of abortion rights The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget MORE and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits CNN announces four more town halls featuring 2020 Dems 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. IsraelIsrael needs bipartisan support For now, Democrats need to investigate but not impeach Why Dems need to go on Fox News 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.