Aug 21, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Fox News restricts Trump team's access to debate "spin room"

Former President Trump in a red cap that says "Make America Great Again."

Former President Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., last week. Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fox News hit back at former President Trump late Monday after he declined to appear at the GOP presidential debate the network will host Wednesday in Milwaukee.

Driving the news: Fox restricted access to the post-debate "spin room" at Fiserv Forum to aides of candidates who are participating in the debate, according to a network memo obtained by Axios.

  • Trump senior aides who had indicated they'd be in the spin room — where campaigns tout their candidate and rip their foes — now will be able to enter only if they're guests of media organizations, per the memo.

Why it matters: It's the latest tussle in the long-running, love-hate relationship between Trump and Fox — a dynamic that has become increasingly tense as the Republican frontrunner has bashed the conservative network for not being sufficiently deferential.

  • Trump said Sunday he wouldn't participate in any GOP primary debates regardless of the host because of his large lead in polls — but he expressed particular wariness of Fox News hosting the first debate.

Zoom in: Trump didn't just snub Fox — he essentially is counter-programming Wednesday's debate by sitting for an interview with Tucker Carlson, the former Fox commentator who was ousted by the network last spring.

  • Carlson left Fox shortly after the network paid $787 million to Dominion Voting Systems, which accused the network of amplifying some of Trump's false claims about the 2020 election.

Between the lines: Fox generally gave favorable coverage to Trump when he was president, but more recently he has been especially frustrated by the morning show "Fox & Friends," accusing it of favoring his chief GOP rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

  • "Why doesn't Fox and Friends show all of the Polls where I am beating Biden, by a lot. They just won't do it!" Trump posted on Truth Social last week.
  • "They purposely show the absolutely worst pictures of me, especially the big 'orange' one with my chin pulled way back. They think they are getting away with something, they're not. …And then they want me to debate!"

Despite his complaints Trump still has appeared on Fox, often with friendly hosts such as Sean Hannity. But he recently sat down with Bret Baier for a tougher interview.

  • The network, which counts Trump voters among its core viewers, made several efforts to persuade Trump to show up to the debate.
  • At one point, senior network officials went to Trump's golf club at Bedminster, N.J., to pitch him on participating.
  • A Trump campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Fox's debate restrictions.

Zoom out: Some at Fox — including News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch — are wary of Trump but the network also doesn't want to overtly antagonize the former president or his supporters.

  • Fox News remains the dominant news channel on the right, but Trump has promoted further-right alternatives such as Newsmax and OANN, which are more likely to give voice to his talking points without criticism.

Trump is betting that he won't be penalized significantly by GOP voters for skipping the first debate, even as polls indicate his own supporters want him on the stage.

  • Although Trump's ceding the stage to eight rivals for the GOP nomination, his team believes his absence likely will overshadow any of the Republicans at the debate.

What's next: Even if a candidate has a breakthrough moment Wednesday, Trump will dominate headlines Thursday, when he surrenders to authorities in Georgia to face charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

  • The next GOP presidential debate is scheduled for Sept. 27 at the September at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. It will be hosted by the Fox Business channel.
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