Fox News faces post-midterm choice between Trump, DeSantis
Top talent on Fox News and leading figures in conservative media more generally have a choice to make in the coming months: Who would be the best Republican to support in a potential clash for the 2024 GOP nomination for president — former President Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis?
Trump is expected to announce a third run for president on Tuesday, while DeSantis this week delivered Republicans one of the most sweeping statewide victories in Florida in recent memory.
During his time in the White House, Trump could count on Fox and its top hosts for near constant coverage and partisan approval.
But there have been signs of a shift away from Trump at Fox for months, and the network’s praise of DeSantis leading up to and following his dominating reelection victory has raised questions about who it might throw its weight behind in 2024.
“When Rupert Murdoch talks, people listen. So, what happens at Fox matters a lot, especially for Republican Party politics,” said Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at The Brookings Institution. “They have a direct pipeline to the base, so how they feel about Trump, how they feel about other candidates will matter a lot.”
DeSantis’s convincing victory in Florida got heavy coverage on Fox this week, with hosts and guests citing it as a bright spot and cause for optimism for Republicans moving forward.
Separately, a number of Trump-backed candidates lost key races, stirring questions about whether it’s time for the GOP to move away from Trump.
Attacks by Trump on DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin also have not gone over well with many Republicans. Both DeSantis and Youngkin are seen as potential rivals to Trump in a 2024 contest.
“Trump may be ready to play dirty to win the GOP nomination in 2024. If he does, he will not only cement the disdain with which many in his party view him today, he will once again scorch Republican chances of defeating Democrats,” wrote columnist Liz Peek in an op-ed published on FoxNews.com this week. “Let us hope that the millions of Americans who have supported Trump in 2016 and again in 2020 begin to see that his time has passed. If they like his policies, they need to move their allegiance to Ron DeSantis, who has never lost a campaign, and who emerged the big winner in these midterms.”
Most of Fox’s hosts so far have side-stepped the “Trump or DeSantis” question buzzing through Republican circles.
“There are 72 million people in this country that make up this movement. It is a conservative movement and it’s not tied to any one person,” Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s former White House press secretary and now a regular pundit on Fox, said on Thursday. “This time around, these 72 million people, they will decide where their home is, they will decide. No pundit will say it’s Trump, it’s DeSantis.”
Fox’s influential prime-time evening hosts, each of whom draw in an audience of millions each night, did not explicitly blame Trump for the GOP’s losses in the 2022 midterms, but have spent time applauding DeSantis’s resounding victory in Florida.
Tucker Carlson, the network’s top-rated weeknight host, on Wednesday evening replayed a clip from a months-old interview he conducted with DeSantis, saying he “thought it was relevant” to his victory this week.
“Many others are saying that Donald Trump is the reason why Republicans didn’t do as well as they thought they would. That’s a more complicated question. The truth is we can’t see the entire picture this early,” Carlson said during his show. “The truth is Trump has always been a mixed blessing politically. The downsides are marbled in with the upsides, but in this case he’s certainly not the single cause of anything.”
In a recent interview with The Hill conducted before this week’s elections, Laura Ingraham, a known pro-Trump commentator on Fox, deflected a question about Trump vs. DeSantis, instead saying the future of the GOP would be about populism more generally.
She reiterated that sentiment on her first show after the election this week, but also offered a subtle jab at the former president.
“The populist movement is about ideas. It’s not about any one person. If the voters conclude that you’re putting your own ego or your own grudges ahead of what’s good for the country, they’re going to look elsewhere, period,” Ingraham said on Wednesday.
Criticism of Trump and an embrace of DeSantis has been less subtle at some media entities owned by Rupert Murdoch.
“What will Democrats do when Donald Trump isn’t around to lose elections? We have to wonder because on Tuesday Democrats succeeded again in making the former President a central campaign issue, and Mr. Trump helped them do it,” the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal wrote in an entry this week dubbing Trump “the biggest loser” of the 2022 midterms.
On the morning after his victory in Florida, the New York Post, another right-leaning Murdoch-owned tabloid, displayed a photo of DeSantis across its cover with the screaming headline “DEFUTURE.”
Trump’s relationship with the Murdochs grew famously frosty toward the end of his presidency, with the former president exploding at Fox News on election night 2020 over its relatively early race call of Arizona for President Biden.
The former president attacked Murdoch’s media empire and Fox News directly again this week, complaining about its coverage of DeSantis.
“This is just like 2015 and 2016, a Media Assault (Collusion!), when Fox News fought me to the end until I won, and then they couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive,” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Thursday.
A representative for News Corp. declined to comment.
Political experts say a war between Trump and DeSantis is not an entirely bad thing for Fox News, even if such a showdown could be risky for the Republican Party still fighting for control of Congress.
“Two conservative candidates fighting over their airwaves is good for viewership, we know that conflict is popular,” said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. “There is the possibility that Donald Trump could ultimately remind people what they like about him — and what they hate about him — as a candidate and that could affect what happens in the Georgia runoff. … It would behoove the Republican Party to push this fight off until at least January.”
New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman, who is known for having a wide array of credible sources inside Trump’s circle, noted recently that Trump can’t “count on Fox the same way” in 2022.
“I think that, you know, Rupert Murdoch, and I read about this, was pretty sick of Trump after Nov. 3, 2020, and said to a confidant, ‘We should throw this guy over.’ So I don’t think he can count on Fox the same way and Fox is clearly DeSantis-curious, right?” Haberman said during remarks on a recent podcast. “You’re seeing a fair amount of that if there is that primary.”