On Sean Hannity's Fox News show, it's still Trump, Trump, Trump

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During the four years of Donald Trump's presidency, the 9 p.m. hour on Fox News hosted by Sean Hannity was the go-to spot for tame interviews with the administration's key players and top cheerleaders, including many sit-downs with Trump himself.

The man in the White House has changed, but the bookings on "Hannity" have not. In the 7½ months since Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, Hannity's show has begun to resemble a sort of Trump administration-in-exile, featuring regular interviews with former administration officials, members of Trump's family and occasionally the former president. The perennial topics: how the Biden administration is messing up, and how Trump would do things better.

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Of the approximately 160 episodes of "Hannity" that have aired since Jan. 20, more than 60 percent have included at least one former Trump administration official, and often more, according to a Washington Post tally. Nearly 30 percent of those episodes featured a member of the Trump family. A Trump appears on "Hannity" every night for some consecutive stretches: Lara Trump was on the show Friday, Aug. 13, and returned the following Monday. Trump himself appeared the next night, and Donald Trump Jr. the night after that. And on two occasions since Biden's inauguration, the "Hannity" set was packed with four former Trump aides on the same night.

The sheer volume of Trump content suggests that Hannity, who was noticeably downcast after Trump's electoral loss in November, has increasingly aligned himself with the former president, who is teasing the possibility that he'll run again in 2024. It also suggests that the host views Trump and his associates as the future of the Republican Party, in contrast to some colleagues at Fox who have argued that the party should move on to less-divisive candidates.

Lara Trump is one of Hannity's favorite guests, accounting for 25 of 47 appearances by Trump family members since he left office. On Tuesday night, Hannity prompted her to talk up her father-in-law's mental abilities ("He does not need notes," she affirmed) and to blast Biden ("Let's take this guy out," she said. "He can't run the country. He's an embarrassment.")

Like many of the former administration officials who appear on Hannity's show, Lara Trump is on the Fox News payroll, having signed a contract as a paid commentator in March in a deal that helped cement the close bond between the former president's entourage and the cable news network. Trump's former press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, also has a contributor contract with Fox. She has made 26 appearances on "Hannity" since January.

But "Hannity" seems to welcome former Trump aides regardless of their current affiliations. Stephen Miller, who was Trump's longest-serving White House aide, has made 21 appearances over Hannity's last 163 episodes. So has Richard Grenell, Trump's former acting director of national intelligence. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has made 17. And Trump himself has sat for six interviews with Hannity since leaving office.

"It very much is like a nightly kind of missive from the Trump campaign," said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University. "That show reminds me of a rally every night at 9."

On Wednesday's episode, Hannity handed the floor to the former president's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and asked him to weigh in on the chaotic evacuation of U.S. troops and allies from Afghanistan. "What would your dad do?" he asked.

"Sean, the only thing these animals respect and understand is strength, and Joe Biden exudes nothing but weakness," Trump Jr. said, referring to the Taliban and terrorist groups. "Donald Trump exuded strength. . . . Donald Trump also had the brainpower to actually negotiate like a real businessman, not a bureaucrat politician with no real-world experience."

Sometimes, Hannity gushes about Trump before his guests can.

"Your dad has more energy than a thousand men that I know," the host told the former president's son Eric Trump on Aug. 30. "We need Donald Trump today more than we've ever needed him before," replied Eric, who like his brother Trump Jr. has been on "Hannity" eight times since Inauguration Day.

And just as when Trump was in office, Hannity's guests face sympathetic questioning. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo (yet another paid Fox News contributor) appeared on "Hannity" for the 10th time since Biden's inauguration on Tuesday night. The topic was once again last month's troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which the U.S. committed to when Trump was president, in an agreement with the Taliban that Pompeo helped forge.

But Hannity assured his audience that the Trump team would have avoided the violence and confusion that plagued the evacuation mission under Biden.

"Mr. Secretary, you never would have allowed it to get to this point," Hannity told Pompeo before asking him any questions. All his guest had to do was agree. 

"We would have made very clear that if you touch an American, threaten an American, you don't allow an American to get on an airplane and get home, we're going to make your life miserable," Pompeo said. "Instead, it seems like legal niceties, statements, news releases - this is the stuff of American power under President Biden."

Fox News representatives did not respond to a request for comment on Hannity's booking decisions, or on the network's practice of hiring former Trump administration officials as paid analysts.

Nikki Usher, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Media, said the buffet of Trump officials had multiple purposes. They help Hannity hold the interest of his conservative viewers, and help Trump's team test out political messages in front of a large, devoted audience.

"You're not just seeding attention for a potential Trump run, but you're also helping make and solidify the political careers of everyone who comes on," Usher said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these political figures go and run for senator and governor."

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