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A woman watches a broadcast of Fox News at an election night watch party organized by group 'Villagers for Trump,' in The Villages, Fla., on Nov. 3, 2020.

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

Fox News hesitated before calling Pennsylvania for Joe Biden and acknowledging him as president-elect of the United States. Well, they would.

That predictability is why Fox News will matter enormously in the next while. While Donald Trump and Fox might seem locked in a toxic on/off relationship, he takes his lead from the channel and the pundits offer him succour. If Fox News says fight on to the bitter end, he will do that. If Fox supports the idea of Trump holding public rallies to incite skepticism about the election result, Trump will probably do exactly that.

The Pennsylvania call on Saturday annoyed many Trump supporters. Almost as much as Fox calling Arizona for Biden on election night annoyed the Trump White House. According to multiple reports, Jared Kushner called Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and demanded a retraction. Murdoch declined, but a Fox News election-data specialist was hauled on air to explain. The Arizona decision stood.

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There followed days of daytime Fox News tiptoeing around a full-out Trump defeat. And prime-time Fox stars bellowing at “the media” for calling the election result too soon, while attacking the veracity of the reported result. Last Thursday evening, Sean Hannity declared on air, “Americans will never be able to believe in the integrity and legitimacy of these [election] results.”

On Sunday, Donald Trump put 10 Fox News segments on Twitter. That’s a romance that’s on, not off. Those segments all carried the same theme: Trump has no plans to concede while there are legal battles over alleged voter fraud. They included Senator Ted Cruz insisting that Trump “still has a path to victory” and his prediction that the whiz-bang Trump legal team could battle all the way to the Supreme Court.

Right now, in the matter of alleged fraud, Fox New is going all Agatha Christie: It’s a mystery and we wait and wait until someone steps forward and names the guilty man. Or men, or women. Or Slim Shady and his hoodlum friends in Michigan. Possibly a communist cabal at Twitter.

Yes, it would all be risible if it wasn’t a hair-raisingly dangerous time in U.S. politics. And Fox News knows it. There have been reports that there is a tug-of-war inside the Murdoch media empire about how to cover Trump’s defeat. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and New York Post acknowledged the Biden victory without hesitation. The Journal has encouraged Trump to concede.

Anyone with any knowledge of Fox News must know that those outlets don’t matter. Fox News didn’t get where it is today by relying on evidence-based information, whether about alleged election fraud or anything else. Besides, there are 71 million Trump voters who need their fix and Fox will provide it, along with ceaseless and lucrative MyPillow commercials and aged former NFL stars peddling private medical care.

It’s opinion that matters. A lot of what’s bellowed on Fox News is mere whimsy made orotund by more shouting and repetition. It might amount to flapdoodle but Fox News is very good at making it keenly real. As much as it trades in selling the eyeballs of viewers aged 65 and older to Big Pharma and MyPillow, it really trades in fear. It sells fear of change, fear of immigrants and fear of government interference to its viewers. If it decides to sell fear of a Biden administration in the next weeks, watch out.

What’s crucial now is what Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham say in prime time this week and beyond. They all have formidable influence on Trump and Trump voters. If resentment of a Biden victory is cooked up with a dash of paranoia and a call to rebel, an appalling vista is presented. And if no rebellion exists, Fox News will invent one. It’s what they do.

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Of course, that might fail as a strategy. Fox News failed to sell the idea that Joe Biden is “gaga” (Ingraham’s term) to enough people. It failed to truly demonize Kamala Harris. If it fails to incite a rebellion it will move on to keeping Trumpism alive. That phenomenon shows no sign of fading toward senescence. As Ingraham said the other night, “President Trump is a political hero to millions of Americans. Win or lose, Trump will be GOP kingmaker for many years.”

True, and with or without Trump involved in politics, Fox News will sell nostalgia for Trump-era politics. Nothing is over in U.S politics until Fox News says it’s over.

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