It can be argued that since Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE left the White House, the ratings for a number of programs on left-leaning cable outlets or news sites have dropped dramatically. In many ways, for liberal sites — and, to a lesser extent, right-leaning programs and publications — talking about or hating on Trump at first was an unexpected ratings bonanza. And then it apparently became evident to some cable news executives that talking about Trump was morphing into a bullet-proof business model.
With the advent of Trump’s presidency, the ratings for programming on CNN and MSNBC skyrocketed when compared to the Obama years. There was gold in them thar Trump-hills, like none seen before.
But with those ratings and that advertiser gold came a serious paradox for left-leaning sites, most of all for reporters and executives who openly dislike Trump. It would be natural to assume that in their minds, Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election was crucial to our nation’s well-being. But then that often-quoted cliché popped up: “Watch out what you wish for.”
While left-leaning executives, editors and reporters may outright deny it, or talk their way around it, Trump was the cash cow of all cash cows for their news organizations and evicting him from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to his Florida resort hurt their bottom line.
Beyond the news sites, hating Trump also proved to be a lucrative fundraising tool for various Democratic committees, politicians and candidates. Over the four years of the Trump administration, it literally became a billion-dollar enterprise.
So, what to do, with Trump gone from D.C. politics for now?
For right-leaning news sites, talking about or hating on President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE or Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Harris facilitates coin toss at Howard University football game Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE is working like a charm, ratings-wise. But for the left-leaning sites, saying nice things about Biden or Harris is proving to be the equivalent of ratings crickets. The same holds true for the powerful fundraising machines of the left.
Negative stories or end-of-the-world predictions about Trump and his policies were clickbait on steroids for the left. With that largely gone, nothing has replaced it.
But in our polarized era, when many liberals still search for anti-right stories, it might make sense for news executives or Democratic PAC leaders to attempt to fill the “Trump void” with click-producing targets of opportunity. Two potential candidates have materialized in that regard: Fox News personality Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonStefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right 90 percent of full-time Fox Corp. employees say they're fully vaccinated: executive MORE and Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDemocrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms California dreaming did not become reality for Republicans Florida landlord requiring proof of vaccinations from tenants MORE.
Even a cursory internet search shows these two names are starting to dominate liberal media. Carlson is regularly discussed and openly criticized on various liberal-leaning sites. This may be partly because he is a dominant force in cable programming, but it’s also because he continually assails liberal dogma and personalities. His opinions are heard and spread by millions of Americans, and many liberals see him as the face of what is wrong with the right.
DeSantis is being perceived by many as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, because his “anti-lockdown” message resonated with millions of Americans during the pandemic, and because he comes from electorally important Florida.
Although, at least for the moment, neither Carlson nor DeSantis can deliver Trump-like-ratings, both are nationally known figures, seemingly reviled by many on the left, and both are becoming reliable, click-producing personalities online.
But, while hating on Carlson and DeSantis may help to fill the ratings and fundraising voids created by Trump’s disappearance from center stage, it also could produce an unintended consequence for the left. Such a short-term, narrowly focused victory could backfire by elevating their platforms and making Carlson and DeSantis shine brighter to tens of millions of viewers and voters in our politically divided nation.
Watch out what you wish for, indeed.
Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.