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 TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet 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 HannityTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Hannity selling 'priority access' to new book as Trump fundraiser 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 Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election Warren urges investment in child care workers amid pandemic Progressive candidate Bush talks about her upset primary win over Rep. Clay 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 KlobucharSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Lobbying world MORE is confirmed for her own Fox News town hall in Wisconsin and South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan dies How Republicans can embrace environmentalism and win MORE is confirmed for one in New Hampshire. Senators Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandExpanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets MORE and Representatives Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: HHS Secretary Azar says US plans to have tens of millions of vaccine doses this fall; Kremlin allegedly trying to hack vaccine research Democrats see victory in Trump culture war House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay MORE and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellSwalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen's job as Trump's fixer The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Chris Christie says Trump team wasn't aggressive enough early in COVID-19 crisis; Tensions between White House, Fauci boil over Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO 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 Campaign Report: Biden closes in on vice presidential pick The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? 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.