For the last two months, Donald Trump has lived in the protective cocoon of Fox News.
Trump appears particularly frequently with Hannity, who has made clear he is “not a journalist” but a man who is utterly devoted to electing Trump president. Hannity is best understood not as a member of the media but as an adjunct of the Trump campaign itself.
It’s hard to describe what Hannity does as an “interview.” He mostly lavishes praise on Trump and then asks him to react. A few examples:
I’m sure you wish you were wrong, Mr. Trump, but you were right. What did you see that maybe others didn’t see about what was happening in Brussels and Belgium?
I’m hearing a very different side of you. I’ve known you for over 15 years now. And I sense a real pain in there about how bad things are. Do you think maybe you communicate that enough to people, that you — that this is a — that your campaign is about people?
If you win Florida and Ohio, you are well on your way to the nomination to be the Republican nominee for president. How would that make you feel?
This is how Trump wants to be treated. So he keeps coming back.
The byproduct of living in Hannity’s bubble, however, is that it has insulated him from basic questions any reasonable journalist would ask.
For example, Trump frequently claims that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning and this shows he has better judgment than Hillary Clinton.
Except he did not oppose the war. Asked by Howard Stern in September, 2002 if he supported invading Iraq, Trump said, “Yeah, I guess so.”
So Trump was not prepared at all when Lester Holt gently, but firmly, held him to account on his support on the Iraq War during the first presidential debate on Monday night.
HOLT: Mr. Trump, a lot of these are judgment questions. You had supported the war in Iraq before the invasion. What makes your…
TRUMP: I did not support the war in Iraq.
HOLT: In 2002…
TRUMP: That is a mainstream media nonsense put out by her, because she — frankly, I think the best person in her campaign is mainstream media.
HOLT: My question is, since you supported it…
TRUMP: Just — would you like to hear…
HOLT: … why is your — why is your judgment…
TRUMP: Wait a minute. I was against the war in Iraq. Just so you put it out.
HOLT: The record shows otherwise, but why — why was…
TRUMP: The record does not show that.
HOLT: Why was — is your judgment any…
TRUMP: The record shows that I’m right. When I did an interview with Howard Stern, very lightly, first time anyone’s asked me that, I said, very lightly, I don’t know, maybe, who knows?
Trump was backed into a corner. Holt was familiar with the facts and was not willing to let Trump get away with lying. This isn’t something that happened on Fox News. What could Trump do?
Then, Trump had the answer.
Why won’t someone just call Sean Hannity?
He pleaded on three separate occasions for someone, anyone, to call Sean Hannity.
TRUMP: I then spoke to Sean Hannity, which everybody refuses to call Sean Hannity. I had numerous conversations with Sean Hannity at Fox. And Sean Hannity said — and he called me the other day — and I spoke to him about it — he said you were totally against the war, because he was for the war.
HOLT: Why is your judgment better than…
TRUMP: And when he — excuse me. And that was before the war started. Sean Hannity said very strongly to me and other people — he’s willing to say it, but nobody wants to call him. I was against the war. He said, you used to have fights with me, because Sean was in favor of the war.
And I understand that side, also, not very much, because we should have never been there. But nobody called Sean Hannity. And then they did an article in a major magazine, shortly after the war started. I think in ’04. But they did an article which had me totally against the war in Iraq.
And one of your compatriots said, you know, whether it was before or right after, Trump was definitely — because if you read this article, there’s no doubt. But if somebody — and I’ll ask the press — if somebody would call up Sean Hannity, this was before the war started. He and I used to have arguments about the war. I said, it’s a terrible and a stupid thing. It’s going to destabilize the Middle East. And that’s exactly what it’s done. It’s been a disaster.
It’s worth watching the video of this to see just how angry Trump is that people won’t call Sean Hannity:
Trump’s argument here is that he had private conversations with Sean Hannity — which Hannity would confirm — during which he actually opposed the Iraq War before it started.
Trump believes these assurances from Hannity, provided 14 years later, should negate his public, recorded support for the war.
Holt would not call Sean Hannity.
But after the debate, others would. At The Ringer, three former staff members for Obama —Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, and Jon Lovett — got Hannity’s number and called him up.
Hannity answered but hung up when they started asking about his conversations with Trump about Iraq.
— The Ringer (@ringer) September 27, 2016
New York Times reporter Robert Draper has talked to Sean Hannity. Obviously, Hannity has no evidence that his conversations with Trump about Iraq ever occurred.
I actually talked to Sean Hannity about Iraq. He said no transcripts or audio to confirm Trump's claim.
— Robert Draper (@DraperRobert) September 27, 2016
After the debate, Trump appeared rattled. He quietly admitted to his son, Donald Jr., that Clinton — who skillfully deflected difficult issues like her private email server — had done a “good job.”
"Yeah, she did a good job." pic.twitter.com/XZHN25I6Xo
— Jory Rand (@ABC7Jory) September 27, 2016
After the debate, Trump seemed less interested in “spinning” than finding his safe place. As soon as he left the stage, less than 15 minutes after the debate ended, Trump found Sean Hannity.
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who was in the middle of her post-debate analysis when Hannity started talking to Trump, introduced the interview this way: “We’ve got Trump, speaking to our own Sean Hannity. We’ll see whether he talks to the journalists in this room after that interview.”
He was immediately at ease. Trump talked with Hannity about how dishonest Clinton is and how much he opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.
“You know how many times we had conversations about that?” Hannity asked.
“Numerous times,” Trump replied.
“You did tell me over and over again I was wrong,” Hannity pronounced triumphantly.
The problem for Trump is, while a few million people watch Hannity each night, it tends to be an old, white audience.
Tens of million of people, including those he needs to persuade to become the next president, were watching the debate. It’s expected to be the largest presidential debate audience in history.
The people who watched the debate, according to a poll taken by CNN, overwhelmingly thought Clinton won.
Another poll, conducted by PPP, also found Hillary won, though by a somewhat smaller margin.
Trump, however, created his own reality. He publicized unscientific online polls, including one published on Breitbart.com, which is essentially an arm of his campaign.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2016
If you are confused, call Sean Hannity.
He was on Fox News, railing again anyone who wouldn’t admit Trump won the debate.