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 TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' 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 HannityGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' White House to cancel subscriptions to New York Times, Washington Post after Trump remarks 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 SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — ObamaCare premiums dropping for 2020 | Warren, Buttigieg shift stances on 'Medicare for All' | Drug companies spend big on lobbying Mellman: Trumping peace and prosperity Tlaib to join Sanders at campaign rally in Detroit 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer Senate Republicans block two election security bills Warren overtakes Sanders in new poll MORE is confirmed for her own Fox News town hall in Wisconsin and South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — ObamaCare premiums dropping for 2020 | Warren, Buttigieg shift stances on 'Medicare for All' | Drug companies spend big on lobbying Poll: Biden holds 2 point lead over Sanders nationally Saagar Enjeti: Warren, Buttigieg don't stand a chance against Trump MORE is confirmed for one in New Hampshire. Senators Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick MORE and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerProgressive commentator: Voters becoming weary of Warren policy proposals Saagar Enjeti: Warren, Buttigieg don't stand a chance against Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump faces backlash for comparing impeachment to 'lynching' MORE and Representatives Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart The Hill's 12:30 Report: Hunter Biden speaks out amid Ukraine controversy MORE and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellBill Press: Mulvaney proves need for daily briefings Mulvaney admission deals blow to White House impeachment defense Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense 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 camp faces new challenges The Hill's Morning Report - Dem debate contenders take aim at Warren The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Syria fallout 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.