As Donald Trump fights back against increasingly damaging reports of his behaviour during the Capitol riot of 6 January 2021, a Fox News host who has consistently supported him has said the former president needs to “learn to lose”.
Brian Kilmeade, one of the regular hosts of the weekday morning show Fox & Friends, appeared on his colleague Howard Kurtz’s show this weekend to discuss a new book. At the opening of their interview, Mr Kurtz asked him to give his thoughts on Mr Trump’s repeated claims that he did not lose the 2020 election.
“I think that in life, you have to learn to lose,” Mr Kilmeade opined. “Hillary Clinton has to learn that. You know, Al Gore pretty much did learn that. Stacey Abrams didn’t learn that. And if you did, in fact, get screwed out of this election, put together an A-team list of lawyers – not the ones we witnessed – and show us the districts and show us how. I have not seen any of that.”
As noted by Mr Kurtz, while Ms Clinton has spoken and written at length about external factors and forces that she argues account for her electoral college defeat, she also unambiguously conceded the 2016 election – and unlike Mr Trump, she also committed to making sure the presidency passed to him without civil unrest.
“We must accept this result and then look to the future,” she said in her speech. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don’t just respect that. We cherish it.”
Mr Kilmeade did endorse the idea that Joe Biden’s dramatic victory in the popular vote took Republicans by surprise given the low esteem in which they held him, saying “it defies logic to think that a president could win by 7 million votes who never left his basement, who couldn’t put together a clear speech, who never really engaged in a challenging interview, who really struggled through every debate, could actually win this election”.
(Mr Biden campaigned extensively while observing Covid-19 safety measures, and it was in fact Mr Trump who backed out of one of the two men’s scheduled head-to-head debates.)
Asked by Mr Kurtz if it was “anti-Trump” for the media to report the fact that there is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud in 2020, Mr Kilmeade said it wasn’t. However, he then nodded to the false conspiracy theory propagated by Tucker Carlson that the 6 January riot may have been fomented in part by outside forces seeking to make Mr Trump “look bad”.
Mr Kilmeade’s remarks come as a handful of other Republicans remain willing to speak out against what has become known as the “big lie”. Among them is Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who appeared on ABC News to scorn Mr Trump’s election “fraud” claims in even stronger terms.
“We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency,” he said. “If we simply look back and tell our people don’t vote because there’s cheating going on, then we’re going to put ourselves in a huge disadvantage.”
However, for the most part, Republican officials have toed the line on the election result and the narrative of the 6 January riot. One of Mr Rounds’s Senate colleagues, Ted Cruz, was forced into a humiliating appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight last week after using the word “terrorism” to describe the Capitol attack – something that the far-right host considers beyond the pale.
In his advice to the former president about how to shift his mindset, Mr Kilmeade offered up the example of a 19th century predecessor, Andrew Jackson, who he said lost an election despite winning the popular vote but then cut a deal to be appointed secretary of state before winning the subsequent two elections.
Mr Trump has indeed been compared to Mr Jackson since before he became president, albeit mostly unflatteringly. Jackson’s image as a populist outsider is heavily coloured by his intensely racist policies, in particular the expulsion of Native Americans from their land east of the Mississippi river. The resulting forced migration, known as the Trail of Tears, claimed thousands of lives.
From the start of his presidency, Mr Trump hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office.