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Conservative commentators cast a spell on Trump

4 min

Washington (AFP)

He holds no official government position but has been called US President Donald Trump's "shadow" chief of staff.

Fox News commentator Sean Hannity is one of several conservative media personalities who exert enormous influence over the president.

Their clout has been on display as Trump fights to make good on his signature campaign promise -- building a wall on the border with Mexico.

Having failed to secure congressional funding for the barrier, Trump's declaration of a national emergency on Friday is being viewed by many political analysts as a bid to save face with right-wing pundits.

"The president could not handle being labeled a loser by conservative commentators like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity," The New York Times said in an editorial.

"He wants to make sure that Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter and others on Fox News are happy so that they calm down, although some of them won't," said David Gergen, an advisor to four previous US presidents.

"But fundamentally this is about politics of the base, that he needs to shore up his base," Gergen said on CNN.

Hannity, 57, is perhaps the most prominent voice in Trump's ear but the president also seeks counsel -- and approval -- from several other media figures whose shows he regularly tunes into.

Coulter, a right-wing author and blogger, and Lou Dobbs, a Fox Business Network host, have been fulminating about illegal immigration for years.

Other prominent conservative media personalities pushing for tougher immigration policies include Ingraham and Tucker Carlson of Fox News and radio talk host Rush Limbaugh.

Pressure from Coulter, Dobbs, Hannity and the others has been cited as one of the driving forces behind Trump's decision to shut down the government for weeks in the fight with Congress over funding for the wall.

- 'They don't decide policy' -

Trump was directly asked by a reporter on Friday how the conservative pundits helped shape his decision to declare a national emergency.

"Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do," Trump said. "Rush Limbaugh, I think he is a great guy.

"Laura Ingraham has been great," Trump said. "Tucker Carlson has been great."

But, he added, "they don't decide policy."

Coulter has been particularly critical of Trump for failing to build the wall and she lashed out at the president for signing a government funding bill that does not include all of the $5 billion he wanted for the barrier.


Last month, Coulter called Trump a "wimp."

"Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States," she tweeted.

Trump responded to Coulter's criticism on Friday by saying that he "hardly knows" her, that she was "off the reservation" and he hasn't spoken to her in "way over a year."

"If I did speak to her she may be very nice," he said. "I have nothing against her.

"I like her for one reason," Trump added. "When they asked her right at the beginning who is going to win the election, she said Donald Trump."

Hannity, the Fox News host, is seen as the most influential among the stable of conservatives cultivated by Trump.

"He's got Hannity and Coulter all these people in his head full-time -- rent-free," CNN host Chris Cuomo said.

"He's incredibly persuasive and powerful," Cuomo said of Hannity. "I would argue he is without question the most powerful person in the media because what he says the president does.

"What he says the president does," Cuomo repeated for emphasis during an interview with Matt Gaetz, a Republican congressman from Florida who is one of Trump's biggest supporters in the House of Representatives.

"Hannity is unlike anyone else in the media now," Gaetz agreed.

"They have exchanges and robust discussions," he said of Trump and Hannity.

"I think it's good that we have a president that bounces ideas off a lot of different people," Gaetz said. "He's not just stuck in the cocoon of the West Wing.

"He seeks advice from all over the country."

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