NEW YORK – In the first television interviews of his post-presidency, Donald Trump repeated his false claims that the election was stolen from him 10 times — each instance unprompted and unchallenged.
Trump emerged this week for interviews with Fox News Channel, Newsmax and One America News Network tied to the death of Rush Limbaugh.
Each network actively appeals to Trump's base conservative audience. And the way the interviews were conducted illustrates how difficult it may be to change the minds of supporters who believe the former president's unfounded narrative.
Nearly a month after he left office, Trump drove his point home on each network:
— "The election was stolen," he told OANN's White House correspondent Jenn Pellegrino. “We were robbed. It was a rigged election.”
— "We did win the election, as far as I'm concerned. It was disgraceful what happened," he said to Greg Kelly on Newsmax.
— "You would have had riots going all over the place if that happened to a Democrat," he said when interviewed by Harris Faulkner and Bill Hemmer on Fox News Channel.
At no point did an interviewer interrupt Trump to correct or challenge the claims. He brought up the election grievances six times with Kelly, twice with Pellegrino and twice with the Fox team. The subject didn't come up in a later interview with Fox's Sean Hannity.
No interviewer introduced the topic. Except for Kelly, each questioner stuck strictly to the subject of Trump's relationship with Limbaugh.
“We probably have 100 questions for you, but so many of these are not appropriate for this venue, so we'll keep it on this topic for now,” Hemmer said.
Hemmer arguably teased the subject, though, when he asked Trump if he had spoken to Limbaugh post-election.
“Rush thought we won, and so do I,” Trump said.
So, in fact, do many of his supporters. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll taken between Jan. 28 and Feb. 1 found that 65% of Republicans say that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president last November.
When Trump supporter Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, started making election fraud claims in a Newsmax interview on Feb. 2, anchor Bob Sellers interrupted him to read a statement saying that “election results in every state were certified and Newsmax accepts the results as legitimate and final. The courts have also accepted that view.”
When Lindell pressed his claims, Sellers walked off the set.
But a day later, Sellers apologized, saying “there is no question I could have handled the end of the interview differently.” Kelly read no statement about certified election results after Trump's claims.
Asked about the exchange, Newsmax spokesman Brian Peterson said, “while we believe the former president is entitled to his own opinion on the matter, Newsmax has accepted the election result as final and legal.”
Only on Fox News was Trump even called a “former president” on air during his appearances. Kelly referred to “President Trump” and “Joe Biden.”
“A lot of people are in awe of you, and I am one of those people,” Kelly told Trump.
Television ratings from last week's impeachment trial starkly indicate the extent to which Trump supporters resist news that shakes their world view. Trump fans weren't much interested in the trial, anyway, but during coverage of the second day of the impeachment managers' argument to convict Trump, Fox News Channel's audience was only 815,000, the Nielsen company said.
The next day, when Trump's lawyers offered their defense, Fox's audience more than doubled to 2.21 million, Nielsen said.
CNN and MSNBC, which appeal to more liberal audiences, had differences, too, but not to that extent. MSNBC had 3 million viewers for the second day of prosecution, and 2.67 million for Trump's defense. CNN's audience went from 2.87 million to 2.54 million.
Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, in a statement this week explaining his vote in favor of Trump's conviction, spoke about the need for Americans to accept the truth.
“There is one untruth that divides that nation today like none other,” he said. “It is that the election was stolen, that there was a massive conspiracy, more secret and widespread than any in human history, so brilliant in execution that no evidence can be found of it and no observer among the tens of thousands in our intelligence agencies will speak of it.”
Now, post-impeachment, it falls on everyone to affirm Biden's election, he said.
“The division in America will only begin to heal in the light of this truth,” Romney said.