The Democrats who go on these specials risk little when they do, but Fox is the real winner.
While it seems strange to consider a Democratic presidential candidate on any tangentially related Fox News program, the recent Fox-hosted town halls featuring prominent Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigeig have incited a surprisingly low level of backlash, and I see no real downside for either party from this setup. If I put on my political philosopher’s hat, imagine whatever you want, these primetime events on a national cable network are free publicity for those candidates who decide to partake. However, there is the caveat that what is said at these town halls has no particular importance. The odds of a candidate or host fundamentally changing their position on a certain topic are astronomically low — each candidate will still be a Democrat and the hosts will still be Republicans.
First, let’s take a look at why Fox would host any of these events, extending their hand to individuals that their audience sees as direct rivals to their political party. The answer’s pretty easy: it’s an opportunity to take free potshots at prominent Democrats, and their loyal Republican audience loves to see their political enemies seemingly destroyed by their favorite Fox host through the power of facts and logic. Even if the barbs don’t land or produce no reaction, it’s easy television that immediately produces a high viewer count, which means they can charge more for ad slots and that means more money comes into the network’s bank account. Even if they don’t necessarily own the libs, they don’t have to. Individuals watching for such a purpose sit in anticipation, waiting for the one question that reveals a weakness in the opponent’s armor, then they hope their beloved anchor has noticed the same weakness. If that moment passes, they simply wait, eagerly sifting through the candidate’s words, looking for the next opportunity. It’s easy television for easy money.
In addition to those viewers, there is a non-negligible portion of the audience, whom I shall term as rage viewers, that cannot believe their favorite news network or politician could possibly entertain the idea of meeting with the enemy. Oddly enough, it seems our president exists in this camp. These rage viewers watch the show to pick apart tiny idiosyncrasies, ranging from the production value, to when someone says a word wrong, to any little gaff that emerges from live television. Then, they post to their favorite message board or social media how X thing happened and how immature the network/candidate is for allowing it to happen. However, that’s still money for the network; they’re still a viewer, and rage viewership brings in the same amount of dough as happy viewership.
As for the Democratic candidates that take part in these town halls, what do they have to lose? Modern political credibility is a term that has no meaning due to its definition becoming so broad that no one can totally fulfill it, and how can one lose credibility when they try to cross the political divide? That idea illustrates the most interesting facet of this non-controversy — people are upset that a Democratic candidate is trying to heal the divide that has turned this country into a reality TV show. In a situation in which someone lambasts one of these candidates, spitting some vitriolic statement about their supposed betrayal, the candidate can easily turn the conversation by saying the offender is betraying the unity of the United States or some other quip about political unity in times of turmoil or something else vaguely sentimental.
In this modern political landscape that is oftentimes dependent on soundbites and the charisma of the politician, farming these easy opportunities to seem witty is a savvy course of action. Another important aspect of these appearances is how it’s just free exposure on an internationally recognized news network. Solo primetime events on such a platform, with such an avid audience, don’t exactly appear every day, and the question becomes “Why not?” If they simply make fun of you for however long, your base in the Democratic party will close ranks and claim Fox News has confirmed their worst fears, that they exist to mock the more quote unquote competent candidates, which changes nothing. Of course, one has to expect Fox to take some potshots, but the overall tone of the town hall cannot be overtly hostile because that would lessen the likelihood of another Democratic candidate agreeing to participate.
The only loser in this situation is the individual that doesn’t play the game, which happens to be Elizabeth Warren, who decided that it was contrary to her ethical obligations to appear on a “hate-for-profit racket” news network. Make of that information what you will, but if I were a Democratic candidate, I’d take the free exposure. What’s the worst they could do? Make fun of me? The modern political landscape is so full of vitriol that if you can’t take the heat, it’s a good idea to stay out of the kitchen.