It is difficult to fully understand the Trump presidency without first understanding Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business powerhouse host and one of the main precursors to Trumpism.
It’s not just that President Donald Trump loves Dobbs’ show and his on-air style. It’s not just that the president asks West Wing aides and confidants if they’ve seen specific, recent segments of Dobbs’ program, or that Trump calls the cable-news personality semi-regularly to gossip or solicit counsel, or that he’s boosted Dobbs on his Twitter account. It’s not just that the president has sat for a friendly interview with Dobbs or that he is on a first-name basis with “Lou.”
Indeed, much of this can describe Trump’s relationships with various other television personalities. What sets Dobbs apart is the degree to which the president views him as a populist political godfather, the #MAGA Socrates to Trump’s Plato.
As such, Dobbs doesn’t get to just interview and socialize with the president; he is involved in some of the administration’s more sensitive discussions. During the first year of the Trump era, the president has patched in Dobbs via speakerphone to multiple meetings in the Oval Office so that he could offer his two cents, according to three sources familiar with these conversations. Trump will ask Dobbs for his opinion before and after his senior aides or Cabinet members have spoken. Occasionally, he will cut off an official so the Fox Business host can jump in.
Dobbs, these sources all independently recounted, has been patched in to senior-level meetings on issues such as trade and tax policy—meetings that featured officials such as senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, former top economic adviser Gary Cohn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, trade adviser Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
During the more intense days of the tax-bill push, Trump made sure to have his White House personal secretary get Dobbs on the line. And toward the conclusion of one memorable meeting, when the line was disconnected and Dobbs said farewell, Trump looked up, smiled, and simply told the room, “Love Lou.”
“He cherishes Lou,” a senior White House official told The Daily Beast. And the feeling is, evidently, quite mutual.
For anyone who has watched Dobbs’ transformation over the past several years, and his jump from CNN to Fox Business, it’s no mystery why he and the 45th president of the United States get along so well.
Over the past decade and a half, Dobbs has transformed himself from a Wall Street ally with a skepticism of immigration into a full-on conservative nationalist-populist and culture warrior.
A former colleague told The Daily Beast that before he departed CNN, Dobbs had staffers pull reels of then Fox News star Bill O’Reilly’s show. Dobbs studied the tapes and began to borrow some of the Fox anchor’s on-screen mannerisms, becoming more confrontational with guests with whom he disagreed. Another former colleague said when Dobbs began hosting a radio show in 2007, he studiously listened to successful conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck for pointers and ideas.
In the intervening years, Dobbs became one of the most prominent figures in the Fox family as it has embraced Trump’s economic and immigration agenda. And he has been given the green light to pump out as much pro-Trump agitprop as possible in large part because he’s so successful. One former higher-up who still occasionally talks to Dobbs said the veteran anchor gets little direction from executives at Fox Business, who aren’t inclined to mess with his format because of the show’s strong ratings. Dobbs has been the top-rated business network host for almost two years.
“Nobody with… leverage is left at Fox,” another former exec told The Daily Beast, when asked why Dobbs is allowed to serve as a booster for Trump so openly. “And if they are, they’re either looking to leave or lazy. Or they believe in the cause.”
Fox Business, the White House press shop, and Dobbs did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
For Dobbs, however, Trump is a revelation as much as a cause. For years, Dobbs has staked out a position for himself as one of cable news’ most strident and devoted immigrant-bashers, as well as, more recently, a staunch crusader against what he lambastes as multiculturalism’s excesses in American life—to the point where he has repeatedly attacked St. Patrick’s Day and other “ethnic holidays.”
Much like the sitting president, Dobbs has also long railed against the forces of political correctness and was similarly an early mainstream promoter of racist Obama birther conspiracy theories. Also like the president, Dobbs earned himself the political backing of Trump’s one-time White House chief strategist and campaign chief. According to two sources familiar with their past discussions, in 2010 Bannon tried, but ultimately failed, to convince Dobbs to run for president as a right-wing populist firebrand.
“Dobbs is pretty strong on immigration enforcement issues... so better that the president listen to him than his son-in-law or his daughter,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and a leading activist for a stricter immigration system in the U.S., told The Daily Beast. “Dobbs has been talking about immigration for years. He has a certain body of knowledge that other advisers, even people working in the administration, don’t have.”
Krikorian added, “Dobbs tapped into a pool of dissatisfaction [among] the public that already existed. And Trump tapped into it.”
Though Trump regularly calls Dobbs to riff on immigration and other issues, some of the president’s earliest political supporters have hopes that the Fox host will play an even larger role in the second year of the administration. That is especially true for those pushing a more nativist immigration policy, who see Dobbs as potentially a useful cog in keeping Trump on his America First track.
“I wish the president watched no TV, except Lou Dobbs,” Ann Coulter—a conservative columnist who has over the past year expressed her sense of betrayal at President Trump’s actions versus candidate Trump’s assurances—wrote to The Daily Beast in an email.
Coulter had recently appeared on Dobbs’ show to discuss her horror at how the Trump era has played out so far. “I don’t know what happened. But that’s a different president. I haven’t changed. He has,” she insisted.
Dobbs was quick to stick up for the president he informally advises and the man he has known for years. Nothing here, to Trump’s “Lou,” was President Trump’s fault, as he pushed back on Coulter’s broadside.
“Affirmation complexes are never attractive and unfortunately I believe there is some truth to the fact that there are those in the White House who would like to guide him toward this liberal fantasy that is a nightmare for America and has proved to be such for our middle class, which has been dwindling for the past 20 years,” Dobbs replied. “Under this president, they’re starting to grow and money is starting to come in and we’re starting to see housing prices rise.”
—with additional reporting by Andrew Kirell