The same Rupert Murdoch–led outlets that helped Ron DeSantis build a national brand are now raising doubts about the Florida governor’s 2024 prospects. These question marks stem from DeSantis’s inability to catch up to Donald Trump in both national and key statewide polls. Indeed, two months after entering the Republican presidential primary, Ron “I’m Not a No. 2 Guy” DeSantis remains exactly where he started: In second place.
DeSantis’s polling struggles have come up in recent appearances on Fox News, a network that has served as a safe space for the media-skeptic governor but appears to be souring on him. “There are those that say there’s something about you that’s not connecting, for whatever reason, not connecting with the voter,” Fox News host Will Cain asked DeSantis last week. Maria Bartiromo asked the same question in a more prickly fashion on her Sunday show, when the Trump-allied host, noting DeSantis’s lagging primary performance, asked him point-blank, “What’s going on with your campaign?” On a panel show last weekend, one Fox News guest, Democratic strategist Jonathan Kott, got the last word on a segment by describing DeSantis as a “weird guy” who promotes an unpopular, hateful platform and struggles to connect with voters.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has suffered a number of self-inflicted blunders. A week and a half ago, his campaign shared an ad that touted his “draconian” anti-LGBTQ+ policies, which was even condemned by some Republicans as homophobic. The ad was part of his broader plan to build out his base by outflanking Trump on cultural issues, including abortion restrictions, attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, and his ongoing war with Disney. But that strategy appears to have hit a point of diminishing returns, particularly among Republican elites: Rolling Stone revealed Tuesday that Murdoch has “privately winced” at the governor’s obsessive cultural crusading.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board published a missive last week directed at the harsh anti-migrant bill DeSantis signed in Florida. “DeSantis’s crackdown will exacerbate the state’s labor shortage while doing nothing to fix Biden’s border failures,” wrote the Murdoch publication, adding that the immigration plan put forward by the DeSantis campaign “parrots the restrictionist right’s lump of labor fallacy that illegal immigrants are taking US jobs and reducing wages of America’s working class.”
Of course, in DeSantis’s telling, these setbacks have nothing to do with his niche agenda and stiff personality not landing on the national stage. Instead, the “corporate media” (and also Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador) is to blame. “So I think if you look at all these people that are responsible for a lot of the ills in our society, they’re targeting me as the person they don’t want to see as the candidate,” DeSantis told Cain.
In either case, if DeSantis is unable to climb out of his hole, Murdoch might look elsewhere for a viable challenger to Trump. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor of Virginia, has been floated as such a prospect, with The New York Times reporting that Murdoch has privately expressed a desire for Youngkin to enter the race (Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment from The Times). Last month, the New York Post’s editorial board, a Murdoch outfit that hailed DeSantis as the GOP’s future as recently as November, shared an excerpt from an op-ed published by The Hill that named Youngkin as a potential dark horse contender in the event that Trump and DeSantis “bludgeon each other into political oblivion.” As of May, Youngkin was said to be reconsidering a 2024 bid.