Top talent at Fox News, and leaders in conservative media generally, will have to decide in the coming months: who would be the best Republican to support in a possible conflict over the 2024 GOP presidential nomination—former President Trump or the governor of Florida? Ron DeSantis?
Trump is expected to announce a third presidential bid Tuesday, while DeSantis this week handed Republicans one of Florida’s widest statewide victories in recent memory.
During his time in the White House, Trump was able to count on Fox and his top anchors for near-constant coverage and partisan approval.
But there have been signs of a departure from Trump at Fox for months, and the network’s praise of DeSantis before and after his dominant reelection win has raised questions about who it might be leaning on in 2024.
“When Rupert Murdoch speaks, people listen. So what’s happening at Fox is very important, especially for Republican Party politics,” said Darrell West, vice president for governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They have a direct pipeline to the grassroots, so how they feel about Trump and other candidates will be very important.”
DeSantis’ convincing win in Florida was covered extensively on Fox this week, with hosts and guests calling it a bright spot and cause for optimism for the Republican future.
Regardless, a number of Trump-backed candidates lost key races, raising questions about whether it’s time for the GOP to walk away from Trump.
Attacks by Trump on DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin have also not gone down well with many Republicans. Both DeSantis and Youngkin are considered potential rivals for Trump in a 2024 contest.
“Trump may be willing to play dirty to win the GOP nomination in 2024. If he does so, not only will he cement the contempt with which many in his party view him today, he will once again crush the Republicans’ chances of defeating the Democrats,” he wrote to columnist Liz Peek in an op-ed that summarizes it was published on FoxNews.com this week. “Let’s hope that the millions of Americans who supported Trump in 2016 and again in 2020 will begin to realize that his time is up. If you like his politics, you must swear allegiance to Ron DeSantis, who has never lost a campaign and who emerged from this midterm election as a big winner.”
Most Fox hosts have so far dodged the “Trump or DeSantis” question floating around in Republican circles.
“There are 72 million people in this country who make up this movement. It’s a conservative movement and not tied to one person,” Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s former White House press secretary and now a regular pundit at Fox, said Thursday. “This time, those 72 million people will decide where their home is, they will decide. No expert will say it’s Trump, it’s DeSantis.”
Fox’s influential evening anchormen, who draw an audience of millions each night, didn’t specifically blame Trump for the GOP’s losses in the 2022 midterm election, but have spent much time applauding DeSantis’ resounding victory in Florida.
Tucker Carlson, the network’s top-rated midweek host, on Wednesday night reiterated a clip from a months-old interview he did with DeSantis and said he “thinks it’s relevant” to his win this week.
“Many others say that Donald Trump is the reason Republicans haven’t done as well as they hoped. That’s a more complicated question. The truth is we can’t see the whole picture this early,” Carlson said during his show. “The truth is, politically, Trump has always been a mixed blessing. The downsides are mixed with the upsides, but in this case he’s certainly not the sole cause of anything.”
In a recent interview with The Hill ahead of this week’s election, Laura Ingraham, a well-known pro-Trump commentator at Fox, deflected a question about Trump vs. DeSantis and instead said the future of the GOP would relate more broadly to populism.
She echoed that sentiment on her first post-election show this week, but also offered a subtle smack to the former president.
“The populist movement is about ideas. It’s not about a person. If voters decide 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 Wednesday.
Criticism of Trump and a hug from DeSantis have been less subtle at some of Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets.
“What will the Democrats do if Donald Trump doesn’t lose an election? We have to wonder because on Tuesday the Democrats again managed to make the former president a key campaign issue, and Mr. Trump helped them do it,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote this week in an entry in which they Trump called “the biggest loser” of the midterms of 2022.
The morning after his win in Florida, the New York Post, another Murdoch-owned right-wing tabloid, ran a photo of DeSantis on its front page with the yelling caption “DEFUTURE.”
Trump’s relationship with the Murdochs famously went frosty towards the end of his presidency when the former president blew up on Fox News on election night in 2020 about his relatively early Arizona campaign for President Biden.
The former president once again this week directly attacked Murdoch’s media empire and Fox News, complaining about their coverage of DeSantis.
“This is just like 2015 and 2016, a media attack (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 on Thursday Social .
A representative from News Corp. declined to comment.
Political experts say a war between Trump and DeSantis isn’t all a bad thing for Fox News, although such a showdown could be risky for the Republican Party, which is still fighting for control of Congress.
“Two conservative candidates fighting over their airwaves is good for viewers, we know conflict is popular,” said Jennifer Lawless, a politics professor at the University of Virginia. “There’s a chance Donald Trump could eventually remind people what they like about him — and what they hate about him — as a candidate, and that could impact the Georgia runoff.” … It behooves the Republican Party to postpone this fight until at least January.”
The New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman, known for having a wide range of credible sources in Trump’s circle, recently noted that Trump cannot “count on Fox in the same way” in 2022.
“I think that, you know, Rupert Murdoch, and I’ve been reading about it, after November 3, 2020, Trump got pretty fed up and said to a confidant, ‘We should knock this guy out.’ So I don’t think he can count on Fox the same way, and Fox is clearly DeSantis-curious, right?” Haberman said during a comment on a recent podcast. “You see a lot of it when there’s this primal.”