Want the shorthand explanation for the can't-look-away firefight between Donald Trump and Fox News, which was recently escalated with new bouts of name-calling? Simple: A bully is being bullied in full view.
And in this frenemy showdown, Trump's the bully and Fox News is the one being bullied.
For Fox News, the de facto marketing arm of the RNC, to be openly feuding with the Republican front-runner just months before the party's convention represents a breathtaking breakdown within the conservative movement.
Then again, Trump has become the human wrecking ball of politics. He seems to demolish everything around him with his wild and unpredictable attacks. (Evidence of the GOP's possible electoral ruin under Trump continues to mount.)
And that's really the most stunning part of this conservative meltdown: Trump has completely seized control of the Republican Party's White House run, and the normally disciplined conservative press, led by Fox News, has no idea how to deal with him because they have no idea what Trump's strategy is, who his true allies are, or when he'll turn his attack glance their way. (Remember the post-debate interview when Trump suddenly turned on Bill O'Reilly and told him to check in with his psychiatrist?)
After years of working hand-in-glove with the Republican Party on messaging, Trump has torn up the informal pact that said Fox gets to make the rules. Trump has done away with the idea that Fox gets to decide who the stars of the conservative movement are, pick the right-wing targets of attacks, and lay out the GOP's agenda from year to year.
It's a conservative train wreck. Or clusterfuck, as I dubbed the feud in January.
What's fueling the fight? Trump's not taking any orders from Roger Ailes, let alone Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. (Why would an egomaniac like Trump care what some cable hosts think?) So he continues to mark off his territory in a very public power struggle. For Trump, if that means berating Megyn Kelly on Twitter, then so be it.
Today it's a completely dysfunctional relationship. One day Fox wants to defend Trump because they're enticed by his authoritarian streak. Then days later they're portraying him as a stalker with a "sick obsession" for Kelly. Fox simply isn't used to sharing power. Fox is accustomed to having its collective ring kissed by elected Republicans and eager conservative writers who are thrilled to have nothing between them and a live Fox News camera.
Now distracted and despondent by the Trump circus, and utterly unsure of its place in the unfolding GOP campaign universe, Fox finds itself stumbling and bumbling; one moment supporting Trump and the next moment angrily lashing out.
[Eric] Bolling himself is an unabashed Trump fan. The self-described "friend of [the] Trump family" has been described by his own colleagues as a Trump "apologist" who "Trumpsplains" the candidate's various offenses. Bolling's special guest for the network's New Year's Eve was none other than The Donald; and his interviews with the GOP frontrunner are games of slow-pitch softball.
And that's another reason why Fox's sharp-elbowed public statement on Trump last week arrived with contradictions:
Donald Trump's vitriolic attacks against Megyn Kelly and his extreme, sick obsession with her is beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate who wants to occupy the highest office in the land.
Trump's obsessed with a Fox News anchor? This from a cable channel that remains utterly obsessed with Trump himself. In the last 30 days, Fox News has mentioned "Trump" on the air more than 25,000 times, according to GDELT Project using data from the Internet Archive's Television News Archive. And of course, last year alone Fox showered Trump's run with nearly $30 million in free TV time.
Meanwhile, Fox suggests it's taking a stand against Trump's "sexist verbal assaults" on Kelly, which the cable channel insists has no place in American politics.
Somebody go tell Sandra Fluke. Because four years ago when Fluke testified before Congress about the impact of new health care regulations on expanding contraception coverage, Fox's buddy Rush Limbaugh denigrated Fluke as a whore for days on his nationally syndicated program and Fox News, for partisan reasons, stood by Limbaugh at the time.
Last week, it was Breitbart taking its lumps because of the right-wing media site's too-cozy relationship with Trump. Now Fox News finds itself in an ugly brawl with the Republican front-runner as Ailes' cable channel loses its political footing.
Conservatives are eating their own. And Election Day is still eight months away.