Trump’s push to undo election result divides his media allies
By John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum
The final stretch of President Donald Trump’s term kicked off Monday with the Republican Party in disarray — and the president’s media allies similarly divided over how to handle the crisis brought on by his fantasies of a “rigged” election.
On the Monday episode of the usually Trump-friendly Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends,” host Brian Kilmeade challenged Trump’s lawyers to produce any evidence of fraud. He also warned that pro-Trump protests planned for this week in Washington were “the type of anarchy that doesn’t work for anybody, Republicans or Democrats, in the big picture.” His co-host Steve Doocy noted: “So far, we haven’t seen the evidence.”
On the same program, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who has said she will object when Congress certifies the Electoral College vote Wednesday, discussed the bombshell recording of a Saturday phone call in which Trump tried to browbeat Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, into changing the state’s vote count.
“Brian, one of the things, I think, that everyone has said is that this call was not a helpful call,” Blackburn said. (On another Fox News program, Republican strategist Karl Rove called Trump’s phone call “unseemly.”)
Complicating matters for pundits on the right: Embracing Trump’s claims of a stolen election may suppress Republican turnout in Tuesday’s runoff elections in Georgia, which will determine control of the U.S. Senate.
But Fox News also offered starkly different opinions on the president from those expressed by Rove and the “Fox & Friends” hosts. On Sunday night, right-wing firebrand Mark Levin told viewers of his Fox News prime-time program: “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are being destroyed by the Democratic Party and the media, and they want to destroy what is left of it.”
Levin tossed in a warning to Republican leaders who are not onboard with Trump’s efforts, mentioning the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, by name and adding, “The Republican leadership in the Senate has been utterly pathetic.”
Like the breakaway Republican senators who have endorsed Trump’s effort to subvert the election, Levin has stayed in lock step with Trump’s increasingly far-fetched claims of fraud.
At 9 p.m. on Fox News, Sean Hannity’s program presented viewers with numerous false statements concerning the 2020 election when it broadcast, unfiltered, Trump’s rally for Georgia’s Republican Senate candidates. But the prime-time venue provided by Hannity was not enough for those in the audience who were mindful of the reluctance of some Fox News personalities to support the president’s fraud claims. His mention of the network, nearly an hour into his speech, drew boos from the crowd.
Monday’s commentary on MSNBC and CNN was, unsurprisingly, rather different.
John Heilemann, an MSNBC analyst, compared Trump to a mob boss. On CNN, anchor Jake Tapper described Trump’s call to Georgia officials as “pushing them, threatening them and suggesting they might be charged criminally if they don’t ‘find enough votes’ for Trump to change the results of the election in Georgia.” He added, “Too many members of the ruling Republican Party are clearly attempting to undermine the American experiment, to undermine democracy.”
And when Fox News was showing the Trump rally in the 9 p.m. hour, CNN host Chris Cuomo was leading a discussion of the slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccines.
Newsmax, the conservative network that has tried to outflank Fox News on the right by cheering on Trump’s conspiracy theories, gave time to several guests Monday who vigorously backed the president’s baseless claims, including Rep. Jody B. Hice of Georgia and a Trump campaign adviser, Steve Cortes.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., told Newsmax viewers that there was “massive voter fraud” and declared that President-elect Joe Biden would “not be a legitimate president.” He also complained that the judicial system — which on state and federal levels has issued one opinion after another ruling against Trump’s claims of fraud — was an “abject failure.” Bob Sellers, the Newsmax anchor interviewing Brooks, did not push back on his claims.
Newsmax’s White House correspondent, Emerald Robinson, claimed Monday afternoon that Trump hadn’t been trying to strong-arm Raffensperger into overturning the results of the election in Georgia during the phone call, but had instead been using it as a sort of fact-finding mission.
“You can hear how passionately the president believes that he won the state,” Robinson said.
Still, Newsmax is not shielding viewers from the inevitability of Biden’s inauguration, although many voters may object to its framing. In one segment on the network, anchor John Bachman explained that Biden’s plans for Inauguration Day would be pared down because of the pandemic; right-wing commentator Dan O’Donnell, one of Bachman’s guests, baselessly wondered if the smaller inaugural could result from Biden’s “diminished mental ability.”
“That’s a fair question to ask,” Bachman said.