President Donald Trump usually turns to Fox News and the Fox Business Network when he wants to hear pundits defend his policies and behavior, but he probably would not have liked what he saw on Monday following his joint press conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Directly after the press conference, Fox Business host Neil Cavuto, who also hosts a daily show on Fox News, called Trump’s performance “disgusting.” Referring to Trump’s refusal to side with US intelligence agencies and his own Department of Justice over allegations that Putin ordered a Russian interference scheme in the 2016 elections, Cavuto said Trump “is essentially letting the guy get away with this and not even offering a mild criticism. That sets us back a lot.”
“Putin won,” said Cavuto’s guest, Mark Weinberg, a former Reagan administration official. “Trump missed the opportunity to call [Russia] out in no uncertain terms. He dodged every opportunity to do it, and he missed a chance he won’t get again.”
Lawmakers and pundits were left reeling by the joint appearance Monday, in which Trump also indicated that the U.S. was to blame for tensions between the two nations and suggested the countries work together on cybersecurity, even after special counsel Robert Mueller’s team indicted 12 Russians last week for their roles in hacking Democratic computer systems in 2016.
On CNN, the reactions to Trump’s remarks were stark. “You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader, that I have ever seen,” anchor Anderson Cooper said immediately after the press conference ended. Co-host John King referred to the meeting as a “surrender summit.”
But while the tone was more muted on Fox News — some hosts and analysts seemed to be striving for a balance between outright slamming the Republican president and offering any sort of fulsome defense — the dearth of pundits defending Trump’s performance was notable.
Coming directly out of the press conference, anchor Bill Hemmer called the event “a fascinating 40 minutes,” before kicking it to Bret Baier, who said, “That was quite something. Almost surreal as the president was litigating the election of 2016.”
There was plenty of criticism, too. Abby Huntsman, who hosts the weekend edition of Fox & Friends — a show that Trump frequently watches, tweeting out preferred bits — and is the daughter of Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, tweeted, “No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus.”
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissell was asked on Fox’s air a few minutes after the press conference for her take on the headline out of the event.
“I think, unfortunately, it is that President Putin scored a great propaganda victory by standing up with President Trump on that stage,” she replied.
Opening his 3 p.m. newscast, anchor Shepard Smith, known as the Fox News host most likely to push back against Trump, did not mince words. “Shameful, disgraceful, treasonous: Three of the descriptions of what President Donald Trump did today in Helsinki,” Smith said. “Asked whether he believes American intelligence or the Russian thug standing next to him, President Trump declined to stand up for his own people and instead embraced Vladimir Putin. “
The real test, though, of how Trump’s performance plays with the Fox News audience could be the interviews he taped following the press conference with primetime opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. While Fox News hosts like Smith do sometimes criticize Trump, the channel’s evening opinion personalities rarely offer any dissent. When ardent Trump supporter Laura Ingraham recently dinged the president for taking too long to fire EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, it made news simply because she so rarely criticizes him.
Meanwhile, Putin sat down with Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday and likely a much tougher interviewer, for an interview set to air at 6 p.m. Monday. Hannity’s interview with Trump airs Monday at 9 p.m. during his show, while Carlson’s is scheduled for Tuesday.