Jim Jordan is a constant Fox News presence. Is that enough?
Next week, the candidates to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as speaker of the House were slated to hold a debate before a crucial audience: the viewers of Fox News.
Fox News insisted this was not a debate. It was just going to be House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) sitting down with Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who has not announced a speaker bid, for a discussion about the role, moderated by anchor Bret Baier. Who, Fox News noted, also moderated the Republican presidential primary debate in August.
The ultimate election of the next speaker will come down to the members of the House Republican caucus, of course, which means one might justifiably shrug at the idea of the candidates for the role auditioning on Fox News. Except that many Republican House members are highly attuned to the whims and anger of the Republican base, which overlaps with the Fox News audience. Those whims often originate from or are heightened by Fox News programs.
Fox News might justifiably think it has a king-making role in this whole speaker thing. Not because it hosted a presidential primary debate. Rarely has anything made less of a difference in American politics. But instead, it is done so before, by providing a platform for people to be plucked from obscurity or by ensuring that favored Republicans get lots of time to pitch their candidacies and fundraising sites.
It is therefore important to note there is already a candidate for the position of speaker who has an advantage with the network. Jordan has been a regular on the channel for years, making frequent appearances on Fox News programs, particularly in the heavily watched primetime hours. An analysis from Media Matters puts him at 268 primetime appearances on the network since August 2017, nearly half of his 565 total appearances.
Over the past three years, he is consistently been more of a presence on Fox News than was McCarthy, despite McCarthy being the leader of the Republican caucus. An analysis of Internet Archive data by the Stanford Cable Television News Analyzer shows that Jordan was seen on Fox News more often than McCarthy in 13 of the past 24 months.
Jordan is not some random backbencher. He was the top Republican on and is now chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. But his embrace by Fox News is unusual. Compare that with Scalise, who holds a more senior position in the Republican caucus. According to Media Matters, Jordan has been on prime time almost as much as Scalise has been on Fox News at all. That also shows in the Stanford data.
In recent months, Jordan has been outshined by House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.). Comer has a willingness to embrace and elevate a wide range of dubious or overstated allegations about President Biden that has earned him lots of appearances. Over the past year, he had 40 percent more airtime on Fox News than Jordan.
But Comer is not running for speaker. McCarthy also provided a boost to Jordan on his way out the door, tapping him and Comer as two leads on the impeachment inquiry that targets Biden. It means Comer and Jordan often tag-team on Fox News, offering slightly different false presentations of rhetoric against Biden.
Fox News host Sean Hannity got ahead of the pack and endorsed Jordan. It makes sense, as Jordan has appeared on his show countless times. Hannity is also enmeshed in the circle of allies former president Donald Trump, who after characteristically flirting with somehow becoming speaker himself, also endorsed Jordan. (Talk about people with influence over the Fox News audience!)
This whole thing sets up an interesting parallel. McCarthy was ousted from his position because, after months of battling the right-wing fringe of his party that supports Trump, they forced a vote on his removal. The vote to replace him next week could come down to the candidate with the backing of Fox News and Trump world and the one, presumably Scalise, who has the backing of Republican legislators who might be less swayed by what Hannity wants.
On Friday afternoon, word came that Fox News may be canceling the planned interview, perhaps bowing to suggestions that they were applying unfair or inappropriate influence on the decision. The candidates made noises about the importance of appealing to their peers and so on. So Jordan will just have to appear on other Fox News shows, then, as he usually does.