The aura of invincibility that Roger Ailes quickly tried to create at Fox News last week after news broke about Rupert Murdoch's executive succession plans has now evaporated. The implications may be long lasting, not only for the cable channel, but also for the Republican Party.
Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, Ailes has ruled the Fox News fiefdom within Murdoch's sprawling 21stCentury Fox media empire and built it into a hugely influential moneymaker. The Ailes programming fingerprint has always been omnipresent at Fox.
But now as Murdoch signals his eventual withdrawal from corporate leadership and hands the reigns over his sons, James and Lachlan, Ailes is suddenly left without his key ally and now faces a somewhat uncertain future. (Fox's contract with Ailes, who is 75, expires next year.) The Fox boss now has to report to Murdoch's children, both of whom he has sparred with in the past and who have reportedly signaled their distaste for Ailes' brand of toxic programming. In previous corporate scuffles, Ailes always emerged victorious because he had Rupert's final support.
"For Ailes, it was a stinging smack-down and effectively a demotion," wrote Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman in New York. "Roger Ailes Burned By Murdoch Sons In Fox News Power Shift," read the Talking Points Memo headline. (Also note that Ailes is losing another longtime corporate ally, Chase Carey, who's resigning as chief operating officer.)
For the Republican Party, the swirling questions inside Fox News mean this campaign season might be the last one Ailes pilots as the head of Fox News, or at least as the head of Fox News as we currently recognize it. (If the Murdoch sons eventually set out to alter the network, will Ailes have the power to stop them?)
Having seamlessly turned Fox News into the marketing and 'policy' wing of the Republican Party, the current campaign season could mark the end of an era if Ailes' internal power is eroded. Some inside the Republican Party and conservative movement might actually be wondering if that's a good thing.
How fitting is it that the same week Ailes struggles to maintain his power base, Donald Trump's looming presidential campaign emerges into full view? A longtime Fox favorite, Trump, who personifies the often tasteless brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes helped hallmark, is poised to unleash a presidential push that could do deep damage to the Republican Party.
If forced to pick a Republican candidate to endorse, Trump likely would not be Ailes' choice. (The Fox boss prefers to side with possible winners.) But the content of Trump's message is undeniably Ailes-esque. Trump's a cartoonish nativist birther who thinks climate change is a hoax. He's loud, offensive and ill informed, which means Trump functions as the Fox News id. He's the guttural roar of Fox's aging, white audience.