DeSantis gets the hook
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

After the poorer-than-expected showing by Republicans in the 2022 election, Rupert Murdoch's media empire — Fox News, the New York Post and Wall Street Journal — embraced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over Donald Trump as the GOP's future. The Post even ran a cover calling DeSantis "DeFuture." Now that love affair appears to be over.

"Fox News is not taking it quite so easy on Mr. DeSantis anymore," the New York Times reported, noting that the governor's presidential campaign has "failed to immediately catch fire" against Trump. DeSantis as a congressman and governor often found a "safe space" on the network, but in recent appearances "he has confronted noticeably tougher questions" from Fox News hosts.

That's no accident, Rolling Stone reported. Murdoch and his family have soured on DeSantis, who trails Trump in the polls by a wide margin. "They are transactional and can smell a loser a mile away," a "Fox insider" told the magazine. It's not just Fox: In recent weeks, the Wall Street Journal and New York Post editorial pages have both taken shots at the candidate. But the Murdochs haven't completely abandoned DeSantis yet, "in part because they likely would have nowhere else to turn except to crawl back to Trump." If DeSantis stumbles, where do Murdoch and his media properties turn?

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What the commentators are saying

Rupert Murdoch may have a fearsome reputation as a conservative kingmaker, Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote for Slate, but he "or all his wealth and influence, does not appear to be any more savvy or knowledgeable about politics than the average person reading the news." Murdoch might have thought DeSantis a viable alternative to Trump because of his hard-right views and "relatively dignified and competent" leadership in Florida. But his support of DeSantis might have been counterproductive: It recast Trump "as an anti-establishment insurgent—an underdog, somehow, in a race he was already winning."

DeSantis may not be to blame for his stumbles, Edward Luce wrote at the Financial Times. Trump's hold over the GOP is just too strong: "MAGA voters cannot get enough of the Trump drama." This means that the Florida governor's attempt to present himself as "Trump without the indictments and future jail sentences" is a fatal misreading of the Republican electorate. The Republican Party "is in the grip of a personality cult that defies any common sense rules of democratic politics."

Which means that Rupert Murdoch is "stuck with the monster he created," Philip Bump wrote for The Washington Post. Fox News spent Trump's presidency "defending him and undercutting his opponents out of fear that their viewership would bail." Even after he left the White House, "Trump has continued to be a focus of Fox News coverage." No wonder other GOP candidates — including DeSantis — have failed to get traction. "Few people bear more blame for his current position than Rupert Murdoch."

What's next?

A sign of how things are going for DeSantis: He has already had to deny that he would run as Trump's vice presidential candidate in the 2024 presidential election. Fox News — naturally — reported that he rebuked the idea during an appearance on a Wisconsin radio talk show. "I don't think so," DeSantis told the host. "I'm not a number two guy. I think I'm a leader."

In the meantime, Murdoch is reportedly casting about for another Republican — not Trump — to support in 2024. One possibility? Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin hasn't joined the legion of candidates running for the GOP nomination, the New Republic noted, but might be "exactly what people like Murdoch hoped DeSantis would be." He's a conservative, but "less cringey and flagrant in his embrace of the right-wing agenda." The Virginia governor, however, has said he plans to remain in his current position. "So the Murdochs may be stuck with DeSantis after all."

There is still time for the Florida governor to make a comeback — and reenter Rupert Murdoch's good graces. "There are a lot of people who are trying to write the obituary of a well-funded and popular figure in the party before the debates have even started," one Republican analyst told Rolling Stone. He added: "I think it's too early for that."

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Joel Mathis

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.