Funt: Hannity is Trump's puppeteer
November's biggest loser might not be Donald Trump — even if he gets clobbered at the polls. The person with the most to lose is Sean Hannity, the Fox News Channel host, who isn't just hitching his wagon to Trump's campaign, he's almost single-handily building the wagon on his nightly show.
If Trump loses in November he will immediately declare the election "fixed," and will blame the media. Then he'll go back to using foreign labor to construct buildings, selling Trump-branded products manufactured overseas, and perhaps even hosting a new reality show.
The election is a no-lose proposition for Trump. Either he becomes the most powerful person in the world, or he continues as merely the most bombastic. He told CNBC the other day that if he loses, "I go back to a very good way of life."
Sean Hannity, on the other hand, might find that soon after the election he is squeezed out one of the cushiest jobs on TV.
Thanks to the embarrassment of the Trump campaign, along with the untimely departure of Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes in a sexual harassment scandal, Fox is slightly — ever so slightly — changing course. It's still a conservative bastion, but many on the channel are trying more than ever to practice legitimate journalism — among them, Megyn Kelly, Brett Baier and Shepard Smith.
Add to that list the veteran Chris Wallace, whose Sunday interviews are every bit as reasonable as "Meet the Press" or "Face the Nation," and you have a glimpse of post-Trump Fox.
Hannity would be the odd host out. In recent weeks he has doubled down on his unabashed support of Trump, functioning more as a campaign advisor than cable-TV host. Indeed, Hannity has had to finally admit on-screen that he's not a "journalist" or even a regular host. He's a Trump promoter — the only person in all of media who has been given a nightly hour to openly campaign for a single candidate.
On several occasions this summer Hannity's staff has presented elaborate opposition research on Hillary Clinton, only to have it turn up verbatim in Trump's campaign speeches. Appearing on Hannity's show, Trump proudly declared that "I use a lot of your stuff."
As I was completing this column, media writer Jim Rutenberg reported on Hannity in The New York Times. He notes: "So involved is Mr. Hannity that three separate denizens of the hall of mirrors that is Trump World told me they believed Mr. Hannity was behaving as if he wanted a role in a possible Trump administration — something he denied to me as laughable and contractually prohibitive."
Hannity went on to tell Rutenberg, "I'm not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States."
Here is an example of how Hannity's on-air sessions with Trump have become so twisted that Hannity acts more like the candidate, while Trump takes notes. This, from a "Town Hall" in Wisconsin:
HANNITY: We've got the lowest labor participation rate since the '70s.
TRUMP: Yes, right.
HANNITY: Lowest home ownership rate in 51 years, the worst recovery since the '40s. We've got 12 million more Americans on food stamps, 58-percent increase in the black community on food stamps. We've got 8 million to 10 million more people in poverty.
HANNITY: How certain does the wall get built? How certain does Obamacare get repealed?
TRUMP: You never say 100 percent, but I'm telling you pretty close to 100 percent the wall gets built.We need it.
HANNITY: And you will rebuild the military, that's a promise?
TRUMP: We have to rebuild, it's all depleted.The military is depleted.
HANNITY: And you will send education back to the states.
TRUMP: One hundred percent.
HANNITY: And you will make America energy independent.Can you do it in four years?
TRUMP: It could be done faster than that.We have regulations that are absolutely destroying our energy companies.
HANNITY: And will you appoint originalist justices like Scalia?
TRUMP: Yes, I've already announced who the 11 could be.I have 11 people from which to pick.
HANNITY: And you will repeal Obamacare and protect our Second Amendment rights.
TRUMP: You know, Obamacare is dying of its own volition.
At that point Hannity ran out of time.
While Trump's newest handler, Kellyanne Conway, scurries around the talk shows trying to clean up the words coming from Trump, Sean Hannity is unabashedly putting the words in Trump's mouth.
In the unlikely event Trump becomes president, Hannity will very likely join the administration, his Fox contract notwithstanding. If Trump loses, Hannity will find that he's been out-Foxed.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.