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Murdoch Is Losing Faith in DeSantis

Rupert Murdoch is not a kingmaker, but he is pretty good as a presidentmaker. Without Fox behind him, it is doubtful that Donald Trump could have won the GOP nomination in 2016 against over a dozen governors and senators. There was a period there when Fox was all Trump, all the time. Without all that free publicity, he probably couldn't have conquered so many well-known politicians.

Will history repeat itself and Fox News determine the next Republican presidential nominee? For a while, it looked like Fox boss Rupert Murdoch had his fill of the mercurial Trump and was ready to move on. Specifically, for a while, it appeared that Murdoch was going to switch horses to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Like Trump in 2016, DeSantis could use a lot of publicity about how presidential he is. But that was a problem Fox News could fix. Furthermore, DeSantis is either an actual conservative, unlike Trump, or at least is better at playing the role of a conservative. There were plenty of news stories out there with headlines like "How Ron DeSantis won the Fox News Primary," "Fox News Has Found Their New Trump," and "Fox News Now Referencing DeSantis More Than Trump."

That was then and this is now. The bromance seems to be souring. Remember, Fox's primary goal is not to elect Republicans or even make the country conservative. Its primary goal is to make lots of money. Being the go-to television network for conservatives is simply the method being used. Backing a winner is important because viewers don't want to feel like losers. DeSantis is good enough at acting like a conservative to fool most of the viewers and he is young, smart, and telegenic (until he opens his mouth). He seemed like he could beat Trump in the primary and Joe Biden in the general election, so Murdoch was on board the S.S. DeSantis.

But now that DeSantis is an official candidate, is stumbling badly, and is way behind Trump in all the national and early state polls, Murdoch is privately voicing his doubts that the Florida Governor is capable of making a comeback. In particular, Murdoch doesn't think that DeSantis' strategy of betting the farm on cultural grievances and being the biggest LGBTQ hater in town is a winner. He also is afraid that DeSantis does not connect well to the average Republican voter or viewer. One insider said of Murdoch and his son, Lachlan, who now runs Fox's cable operation: "They are transactional and can smell a loser a mile away." The Murdochs fear that Trump will be the Republican nominee and if they support DeSantis and Trump is elected president, well, they know that Trump has promised to make his second term about "retribution."

The shift away from DeSantis is gradual, but clear. Last week Fox host Will Cain said DeSantis is not "connecting" with the voters. On Sunday, Maria Bartiromo asked DeSantis on air: "What's going on with your campaign?" while a chyron read "DeSantis Trails Trump by 34% for GOP Nomination." Murdoch's newspapers are taking pot shots at DeSantis now. The Wall Street Journal openly attacked Florida's new anti-immigration bill. The New York Post has begun looking askance at DeSantis and has written pieces like "DeSantis' Odd Choices." None of this is accidental. There is no way so many Murdoch properties would start dumping on Wonder Boy without direct instruction from on high.

But the Murdochs have a big problem. If they toss DeSantis under the bus, then what? Crawl back to Trump with their tails between their legs? They would kind of have to, since none of the other candidates will please their audience in the slightest. This would radically change the power relationship between Murdoch and Trump and not in Murdoch's favor. Murdoch understands that all too well, but he bet on the wrong horse and his horse appears to be losing. Now the consequences are sinking in.

One news story in The New York Times yesterday reports that Murdoch is interested in getting Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) to jump in. So far, Youngkin has repeatedly said that he is not running in 2024. He probably realizes that the rabid Trump base is not looking for a fleece-wearing guy who ran as a moderate and that he wouldn't have much of a chance to wrest the nomination from Trump even if Fox were to put him on every night. Youngkin has said that his goal is to capture both chambers of the Virginia legislature in 2024, so he can ram through all kinds of conservative legislation in 2025, his last year in office due to term limits. That could set him up for a race against Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) in 2026 and then on to the White House in 2028. (V)

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