Bernie Sanders just got some of his best campaign press ever — on Fox News.
Sanders held a town hall on Fox News Monday evening, breaking with the Democratic National Committee to appear on the conservative network. The DNC has refused to partner with Fox News on debates, declaring the network unable to give Democratic 2020 candidates fair coverage.
But the audience at Sanders’ Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, town hall seemed enthused by a lot of what the Vermont Democratic Socialist had to say.
Indeed, the audience even appeared to surprise Fox News host Bret Baier, frequently erupting into applause for Sanders and his ideas. Fox News described the crowd as a “mixed audience:” The conservative news channel selected attendees through outreach to political and local groups and by mining requests to attend.
In the town hall’s most striking moment, Baier, perhaps inadvertently, revealed just how popular Sanders’ policy ideas were with Fox’s hand-picked crowd. Baier asked the audience to raise their hands if they get their insurance through their employer or a private insurer.
“And of those, how many of you are willing to transition to what the senator says, a government-run system?” Baier said, a reference to Medicare for All, Sanders’ plan to provide health insurance to every American through a government program.
Most of the audience raised their hands and cheered.
Medicare for All — which was reintroduced in the Senate last week — would functionally abolish the private-insurance industry by outlawing private insurers from offering coverage that Medicare for All provides, which is extensive.
The crowd’s enthusiastic response was one of many moments of triumph for Sanders during the evening’s town hall. It was such a positive moment for Sanders that even President Trump noticed, speculating Tuesday morning that the audience was stacked in Sanders’ favor.
In another standout moment, the audience jeered Baier when he criticized Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism as a result of her criticism of the Israeli government. Over the weekend, right-wing politicians and media pundits attacked Omar over her use of the words “some people did something” to describe the New York City terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Trump tweeted a video that juxtaposed Omar’s words with footage of 9/11, which Omar said led to a spike in direct threats on her life.
“Hold it, hold it, hold it,” Sanders said when asked about his “staunch” support of Omar. “I’ve talked to Ilhan about twice in my life. I respect her, but this is what I do support: I support a Muslim member of Congress not to be attacked every single day in outrageous, racist remarks.”
Sanders, who is Jewish, went on to say it's not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel’s government.
"I will do everything in my power, and I hope that every member of Congress will fight not only anti-Semitism, but racism and anti-Muslim activity so that we create a nondiscriminatory society," Sanders said. "But it is not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel. That is not anti-Semitic."
During the town hall, Sanders led a call-and-response and rattled off numerous of his agenda items. The audience cheered when asked if they agreed with Sanders’ proposals.
Sanders’ campaign staff — including his campaign manager Faiz Shakir and press secretary Briahna Joy Gray — both hailed the town hall as a triumph for Sanders.
Sanders’ success on Fox News is particularly notable because the Democratic National Committee said in March that it would not partner with the network to host any Democratic primary debates after a New Yorker report detailed how the network not only supported then-candidate Trump but sought to suppress negative coverage of him during the 2016 campaign.
“The network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” DNC head Tom Perez said in March.
But if Sanders’ town hall is any indication, there’s still some opportunity for Democrats to have a positive experience on Fox News.
Cover: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is greeted by audience members before a Fox News town-hall style event, Monday, April 15, 2019, in Bethlehem, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)