Fox News’s singular ability to speak to Donald Trump is well-documented. Look no further than the president’s Sunday morning immigrant rant on Twitter, apparently inspired by a Fox News segment.
But according to recent reports, Fox personalities aren’t just talking to Trump through his television screen — on multiple occasions, he’s called them up during White House meetings to ask their opinions on policy.
Trump’s penchant for calling up people to chat is well-known. Chris Ruddy, CEO of the conservative site Newsmax, is often on his list. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough has talked about Trump’s calls. Trump even called Roseanne Barr about her show’s ratings.
Trump also reportedly chats with Fox Business’s Lou Dobbs, one of his favored hosts, on a “semi-regular” basis. But the Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani and Asawin Suebsaeng report that Trump’s reliance on Dobbs goes way beyond one-on-one phone calls and jubilant Twitter shoutouts:
As such, Dobbs doesn’t get to just interview and socialize with the president; he is involved in some of the administration’s more sensitive discussions. During the first year of the Trump era, the president has patched in Dobbs via speakerphone to multiple meetings in the Oval Office so that he could offer his two cents, according to three sources familiar with these conversations. Trump will ask Dobbs for his opinion before and after his senior aides or Cabinet members have spoken. Occasionally, he will cut off an official so the Fox Business host can jump in.
According to the Daily Beast, Dobbs has been patched into high-level meetings on trade and tax policy that featured some of Trump’s top advisers. The relationship between the TV host and the president is particularly notable because of Dobbs’s nationalistic views and hardline stances on immigration — meaning as long as he’s whispering in Trump’s ear, or weighing in on policy, it’s likely Trump’s positions will similarly fall in line.
Dobbs isn’t the only Fox personality put on speaker during high-level meetings. Trump also phoned frequent Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth to talk about Veterans Affairs legislation while in a meeting with his then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, Axios reported in earlier in March.
Hegseth — whom Trump has also called privately for advice — was reportedly in the running to replace Shulkin, though Trump decided to go with his personal White House physician instead.
It all sounds like a bizarre, modern-day version of Trump idol Andrew Jackson’s so-called “kitchen cabinet,” the term the press used for Jackson’s coterie of informal advisers after his regular Cabinet imploded amid scandal and infighting — except this one is made up of cable news talking heads. (Even Jackson sought counsel from some newspaper guys who wrote very nice things about him.)
It’s all part of the feedback loop formed by Trump and Fox News. Trump hears or responds to a segment on Fox News, absorbs it, and makes pronouncements that have serious policy implications. Fox’s programs recycle that back, often without comment or question, reporting Trump’s statements as truth and fact.
Increasingly, Fox’s personalities have the power to push their own agendas, as the Daily Beast’s reporting reveals. Supporters of Trump’s nationalistic agenda told the Daily Beast they hope Dobbs exerts more influence over Trump in his second term, especially on immigration issues.
Beyond that, cable pundits are moving from the kitchen cabinet to the actual Cabinet: In March, Trump tapped Larry Kudlow, a CNBC commentator, to serve as the head of the National Economic Council and plucked John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations who is on the fringes of conservative foreign policy, from Fox News to serve as national security adviser.