ST. PETERSBURG ― Imagine getting Tomi Lahren and Diamond and Silk in the same room. Or John Rich and the “Duck Dyansty” guys, or Gregg Jarrett and Dan Bongino and the whole crew from “Fox and Friends.” Right-wing sparks would surely fly, right?
Not necessarily — at least not at Fox Nation’s Patriot Awards, which took place Wednesday at the Mahaffey Theater.
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The awards show, closed to most media but streamed live on the Fox News spinoff service, was designed to be a nonpolitical celebration of community heroes. The cast of presenters may spend their days defending President Trump and dismantling those who oppose him, but on this night, Fox aimed to keep politics out of it.
"It's beyond politics," Fox Nation personality Abby Hornacek said on the red carpet.
"Love overpowers hate," Rochelle "Silk" Richardson told Hornacek. "So bring love, more love."
So did they?
Spoiler alert for anyone waiting for the Fox News primetime broadcast of the ceremony on Nov. 24, but ... yeah, for the most part, they generally did.
While there was some political chatter and protestation off-camera, the ceremony itself proved a pretty earnest, star-spangled affair. Throughout the 90-minute event, as well as red carpet coverage streamed live on Fox Nation, no one uttered the words “Democrat” or “Republican,” “liberal” or “conservative,” “Ukraine” or “impeachment” or any other Beltway buzz phrase.
That doesn't mean the broader culture wars were off the table.
"God bless America!" host Pete Hegseth said to open the show. "Yes! You can say that here!"
Hegseth called the show “the Oscars of what really matters,” unlike all those other awards shows, featuring “self-important types giving awards to self-important types, big trophies given to actors who play heroes on TV.” The allusion to Hollywood led to a chorus of boos from the crowd.
Indeed, there weren’t a ton of non-Fox celebrities at the show. Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz and NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry presented awards. Former Pussycat Doll Kaya Jones sang the national anthem. Rich closed the show by singing God Bless America as an In Memoriam tribute to fallen veterans scrolled across a screen.
The award winners themselves were all predetermined. There was restaurant chain Mission BBQ, which asks all customers to stand every day at noon for the singing of the national anthem. There was Connecticut minor league hockey coach John Krupinsky, who went viral for saying he’d bench any players who threatened to kneel for the national anthem. There was Charlie Hecht, a 14-year-old Virginia teen who passed out flyers encouraging neighbors to hang American flags outside their homes — and announced Wednesday that his next initiative would be convincing theater chains to play the national anthem before each movie.
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And there was Tampa police Lt. Travis Maus, who’s currently serving in the Army Reserve in Iraq. Fox Nation brought out his wife and three daughters to accept the award on his behalf. When Bongino told the family he had a bonus surprise in store, one hoped it would be a pop-in from Maus himself — but alas, it was just a second trophy. Too bad. Would’ve been the show’s best moment, by far.
Fox did pay tribute to its most prominent regular viewer with a pre-taped video from Vice President Mike Pence, who touted Trump’s “historic steps to rebuild our military,” from expanding veterans affairs spending to erasing the student debt of 25,000 veterans.
“Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we’ve made a remarkable difference in the lives of our heroes,” Pence said. That led to chants of Trump! Trump! Trump! in the Mahaffey audience.
“I see we have a few fans of the duly elected president of the United States in the crowd tonight,” Hegseth said.
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But that was it — the only time Trump’s name came up during the ceremony. Other than that, it was up to Fox personalities like Brian Kilmeade to criticize a “blame-America-first society” that’s waging a “war on history,” or Lahren to extol her belief in “faith, family, freedom and America first.”
In her mid-show monologue, Lahren toed the political line by describing her American dream as "not about getting something for nothing,” but rather “getting on your knees to pray, and only to pray, and then it’s getting on your feet to work.”
“I don’t know about you, but I happen to love my country,” she said. “If you disagree, there’s about 200 other countries to choose from, so you’re more than welcome to pick one.”