The media’s conventional wisdom, now hardening into cement, is that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee next year, taking on President Biden.
And there’s a good chance that could happen. Trump has been steadily climbing in national polls, amassing as much as a 40-point lead over Ron DeSantis, with others mired in the single digits. This rapid rise comes despite a criminal indictment in the Stormy Daniels case and a $5 million verdict against him in the E. Jean Carroll suit – or maybe that further convinced his loyalists that he is being persecuted.
But it’s impossible to ignore the avalanche of bad press that has fallen upon DeSantis. Whatever his shortcomings as a candidate, the media’s sustained assault on the Florida governor feels almost orchestrated.
From the New York Times on his use of private jets from undisclosed pals to Politico likening his wife to Lady Macbeth, DeSantis is getting hammered by a media establishment that he openly disdains. DeSantis has a “lovability” problem, a CNN columnist says. He’s gone from media favorite to media piñata.
As Andrew Sullivan recounts in his Substack column, “Susan Glasser exulted that DeSantis was ‘an out-of-his-depth forty-four-year-old who was going to get eaten alive.’ Bulwark mucky-muck Charlie Sykes mused, ‘Surely there have been worse cluster**** campaign launches than the one we saw… but so far, no one can remember any of them.’”
Yes, a newly declared presidential candidate should be aggressively scrutinized by the press. But I detect an altered attitude toward DeSantis that goes beyond our addiction to polls and is closely tied to Trump.
Nothing matters more to most in the media than keeping the former president from an encore performance. When DeSantis looked like a giant-killer, the consensus was great, he’ll knock off Donald and our future national nightmare will never materialize.
But now that the governor has been losing traction, in part by letting Trump define him without hitting back, the media mood has changed. It’s great if Trump is the nominee, the thinking goes, because he’d be the easiest opponent for Biden to beat.
Be careful what you wish for, because in 2016 almost everyone thought Hillary Clinton would waltz into the White House.
Yet DeSantis is a rookie on the national stage. If he “wants to be the anti-woke candidate,” Sullivan writes, “he has to do better than telling us that DEI and SEL and ESG are just as bad as CRT. That’s an insane amount of insidery jargon. He has to do more than simply repeating the word ‘woke.’ He has to appeal beyond the GOP base to the moderates and independents who still believe in individual freedom, merit, colorblind racial policy, personal responsibility and letting kids grow up shielded from progressive fanatics…
“I find myself rooting for him against Trump not out of any affection or much admiration, but simply because I believe Biden is a lot weaker than many Democrats seem to think, and because my primary goal is preventing a second Trump term. I fear that Biden is fast becoming the Yuri Andropov of the Democratic Party — and can’t actually beat Trump next time.”
It’s not a crazy theory. On Sunday’s “Media Buzz,” Democrats in a focus group run by Frank Luntz, while some admired Biden’s record, said he was “too old and outdated,” “out of touch,” “wise but he’s old.”
I’m increasingly thinking this is a more visceral threat to his reelection than I had realized – and imagine if he was running against a Floridian who’s 44.
There’s wide agreement that DeSantis needs to loosen up and tell his personal story. Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist who was a top speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, is in this camp:
“Man, he’s intense… He should play up his biography, because it’s interesting. Regular middle-class kid, local baseball, then Yale, Harvard, the U.S. Navy… Kind of a compliment to the country that a kid with no special connections rose so high so quick.”
And yet I bet a major chunk of the electorate doesn’t know DeSantis served in the military during the Iraq War.
The governor, who yesterday went to Iowa, where a strong performance could be a game-changer, has time to learn how to work the county fair circuit. But the press now seems to have a major chip on its collective shoulder about DeSantis. That helps explain why he generally avoids mainstream outlets, but they would also be a way of getting out the story he needs to tell.