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Since then-President Trump's election defeat Nov. 3, the mantra for Newsmax opinion host Greg Kelly on his nightly program has been, "It's not over."
Kelly became TV's most unabashed Trump supporter as he defended the ousted president's unfounded claims of voter fraud that fueled a mob assault on the Capitol. His rants found an audience, some nights approaching 1 million viewers, enough to make him an irritant to Fox News, the established choice for conservative viewers.
“Sometimes the bank robber gets away with it,” Kelly said in a recent opening on his program. “Joe Biden stole this election. You know it. I know it. Tens of millions of Americans agree with us.”
But on Wednesday, it really was over. The country watched as President Biden was sworn in outside the Capitol where two weeks earlier pro-Trump rioters had attempted to stop the certification of the electoral college vote.
How conservative networks fare in the post-Trump era will be one of the burning media questions of the next year. Fox News is already feeling the effects of conservatives voters' despair as some of its audience has abandoned watching news altogether.
Newsmax, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has seen its audience grow thanks to Trump, who turned on Fox News in the final months of the 2020 campaign. Trump directed his fans to Newsmax and One America News, a right-wing network based in San Diego, because Fox News journalists and pollsters provided an accurate narrative of the presidential race even as its conservative commentators tore down Biden and indulged in the incumbent's voter fraud theories.
Fox News executives have privately said Newsmax is having a minimal effect on the network's ratings. After Fox News finished 2020 as the most-watched cable network, more news viewers have turned to CNN and MSNBC for coverage of the Biden transition, while some of the conservative audience Fox depends on has tuned out.
So how did Newsmax cover the day that most of its viewers dreaded? During the inauguration ceremonies, the upstart network was mostly respectful, even as right-leaning guests turned up throughout the day to recite the talking points that are regularly used against Biden — that he'll be soft on China, will be manipulated by the left wing of the Democratic Party and that his call for unity will ring hollow unless he calls off the Senate trial after Trump was impeached for the second time.
"He could have really unified the country and called off the impeachment," Kelly told viewers in his negative critique of Biden's speech.
Other hosts and commentators said the 74 million Trump voters — a group often referred to on Newsmax — will still feel alienated under the new president.
“He did absolutely nothing to calm their fears about frankly the oppression and discrimination that conservatives and people who espouse traditional American values are subject to in this country today,” said Tom Basile, host of "America Right Now."
There were also repeated charges that the mainstream media are treating Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris gently after being pit bulls in going after Trump — a common theme on Fox News programs.
"The media fawns over him while I pray for him, and he will need our prayers because today he starts off misguided to say the least," said host Grant Stinchfield.
As the day went on, Newsmax coverage became more critical. Greg Hartley, a body-language expert, came on to analyze Biden's speech.
"He feels like no energy for a guy who becomes president," Hartley said. "His energies were low…. His body language does not command — he doesn’t control the space that he’s in.”
There were also encomiums for the policy achievements of the outgoing administration and nostalgic musings over Trump's ability to draw an audience, a contrast to the relief expressed by commentators on CNN, MSNBC and the broadcast news divisions that his term is over. (Even Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said Biden's speech was the best inauguration address he's heard).
Newsmax anchor Shaun Kraisman noted that Trump's showmanship got more people interested in politics and said it was unlikely that the Biden administration will be the same kind of attraction.
“Those who watched it from an entertainment perspective — that’s over,” Kraisman said.
Kraisman suggested that many Newsmax viewers were not going to be tuning in for its inauguration coverage, an unusual acknowledgement for a news anchor to offer to an audience.
“A lot of our normal viewers have personally reached out and said they are not interested in watching this play out today," Kraisman said.
One America News, which has been relentless in its support for Trump, apparently had those disaffected viewers in mind. The network did not carry the inauguration proceedings live, instead running a recorded tribute to Trump and his legacy.
OAN, which is not large enough to have its audience measured by Nielsen, covered the inauguration on its evening talk shows.
"Joe Biden is inaugurated even as evidence of voter fraud continues to emerge," read the ticker at the bottom of the OAN screen. Program host Stephanie Hamill described the day's events as "America's highly militarized inauguration," a dig at the National Guard's protection of the Capitol in response to the Jan. 6 riots and threats of more violence.
On Newsmax, hosts are already hopeful of a Trump comeback. "Wake Up America" host Rob Finnerty played the famous clip of Richard Nixon, after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial race, telling reporters, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."
"He swore after that that he would never run for office again," Finnerty said. "Six years after that he was president. As they say, anything can happen."
Kelly is longing for a Trump revival as well. "I miss him already," the host said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.