Fox News is Out on Marco Rubio: 5 Quick Thoughts on Why This Doesn’t Matter

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Per Gabriel Sherman with New York Magazine, Fox News is out on Marco Rubio.

According to three Fox sources, Fox chief Roger Ailes has told people he’s lost confidence in Rubio’s ability to win. “We’re finished with Rubio,” Ailes recently told a Fox host. “We can’t do the Rubio thing anymore.”

My initial take:

And five more thoughts:

  1. This isn’t that big of a blow. Marco Rubio was never going to win the primary because of media support. One could argue he never was (and never will) win the primary, period. But mainstream (and even “conservative”) media was doing an atrocious job of consolidating around conservative agenda from the get-go. I don’t know how the back-channeling of this stuff works but up until very recently major networks were so ineffective at forcing consolidation and conservative viability that they were hosting J.V. debates before “real” debates. Fox News wasn’t going to save Marco Rubio. Or Ted Cruz. Or John Kasich. Or any of more than a dozen other names.
  2. Television media might be less influential than we think — in general. From an investment perspective, the “cutting the cord” discussion is something my office has been discussing a lot. We’re trying to understand what a future of media looks like when Netflix, Hulu and Amazon tag-team with premium stand-alone subscriptions like WatchESPN and HBO Now to render traditional cable/satellite packages completely irrelevant. That time is coming. It’s already arrived for young people. We’re having those discussions in no small part because the value of television networks and their programming seem to be declining in the eyes of viewers (see TV subscription data). I think a major contributing factor to that decline is political polarization. That is to say, people tend to consume media in-line with their political viewpoints and very little else. If I love Fox News, I probably don’t watch much CNN. I think that polarization is extending further and further and as a result “conservative” media on TV is no longer “conservative enough” to many who can consume content that directly mirrors their own convictions through specialized blogs, podcasts and social media. So, I don’t know that Fox News passing on Rubio costs him very much.
  3. Late deciders might not be a factor. Rubio has done very well among late deciders, but as we move further into primary season there are going to be fewer and fewer “late deciders.” Dr. Ben Carson has half-heartedly taken a step back but he’s still going to get votes. And those strictly adhering to Carson probably aren’t watching a whole lot of media coverage to begin with. Either that, or they’re defiantly insisting on voting for a nonviable candidate. Kasich supporters can still point to Ohio and may be slightly more in-tune. After all, there never was a “Kasich Phenomenon” like what we saw with Carson in October/November of last year. He’s never been the trendy pick. If you like Kasich you like him for his track record and you’re likely well-informed — if a bit naive. If you’re informed, you don’t need Fox News to find an alternative candidate. I think turnout is more important to every candidate (including the front runner) than media coverage at this point because there are fewer unknowns (other than what Trump might actually stand for). I would think a strong ground game in closed primaries/caucuses would serve Rubio better than favorable media coverage.
  4. Anyone but Trump remains the strategy. Rubio’s best shot at the nomination is a brokered/contested convention. I’d argue the same thing for any candidate who’s last name doesn’t rhyme with rump. Rubio’s camp sent out an email today saying “I’m not quitting,” and I truly believe that he should keep trucking if for no reason other than his ability to attract votes away from Trump and potentially win Florida (he’s trailing but the only threat to Trump there). Sure, there’s a chance that Rubio bowing out wouldn’t render more votes and delegate for Trump and that they’d all go to Cruz, but a slew of Rubio supporters (myself included) seem to favor him for his ability to unite the party and serve as an attractive option in the general election. If one buys that the Republican party must survive and win in November, then one could feasibly view Trump (who has grown turnout and is the clear front-runner), as a better option than Cruz even if you previously supported Rubio. After all, Cruz’s reputation isn’t necessarily one of the “uniter.” That’s not to say Cruz’s non-unifying reputation is accurate or appropriate, but “appropriate” isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe the GOP race thus far and Trump is rarely accurate on anything yet leads in the polls. So, ultimately Rubio (and Cruz and perhaps Kasich) need to keep running. As I pointed out somewhat facetiously yesterday, this thing isn’t over and votes away from Trump still matter. Thus, I don’t think it matters that Fox doesn’t think Rubio can win. I don’t think he’s going for a delegate win. I think everyone is going for a Trump loss/stalemate, but they can’t say that aloud.
  5. Fox News has kind of sucked. For me, the most obnoxious facet of Trump’s status as the party’s leader is that he typifies (to an extreme) every negative stereotype of a Republican. He’s loud-mouthed, seemingly uninformed and prone to bigotry, trash talk and delusional thinking. So I can’t separate Fox News, the mainstream leader in conservative broadcasting, from his prominence. I’m not saying that Fox News should have changed Donald Trump and admittedly I’m not quite sure precisely what they should have done differently in covering him. But Fox News is not faultless in this debacle. Donald Trump should have been exposed as a goofball much earlier and more brashly. The biggest complaint about Rubio’s (and to a lesser extent Cruz’s) recent attacks of Trump is that they came too late. The second biggest complaint about these attacks is that such methods are “below” the standards for candidates like Rubio and Cruz. I agree with both arguments, but the reality is that conservative media failed to expose Trump as uninformed and corrupt for the better part of nine months. It shouldn’t be Rubio or Cruz’s job to broadcast the lunacy of Trump; it should be the job of broadcasters. After all, scams like Trump University, etc. are news not politics. But television networks failed to effectively tell that story. Much of the shortcoming there falls on Fox News. Further, it’s insane to me that conservative Fox News is only now deciding to deem someone nonviable and that they’ve settled on Rubio. As a reminder, Fox News put George Pataki (who?) on stage at an August debate. Chris Christie, Trump’s new stoic hypeman, was still debating with the J.V. squad and awaiting a promotion during the November Fox Business debate. Eleven (11!) GOP candidates were still debating on Fox Business Channel’s January debate. Trump, the chosen one himself, skipped the last Fox News debate. That same night saw Jim Gilmore, who has fewer than 4,500 followers on Twitter, eating at the kids’ table with other presidential hopefuls before the grownups came in. It’s laughable that Fox News considers itself the arbiter of viability.
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