“The 2024 Presidential Race Begins to Take Shape,” declared NPR this week, part of an early downpour of coverage. Eight hundred days from a vote, the world’s biggest analytical army is already working every angle to the election story but one: its own influence on the outcome.
The press is going to elect Donald Trump again. They did it once, tried again four years later, and now they’re on the hunt a third time. They hate him, but they keep doing him favors, the latest being an attempt to kill off his biggest primary rival.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you likely noticed a sudden avalanche of center-left news offering left-handed praise of Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Reigning conventional wisdom weathervane Chris Cillizza of CNN came out with a DeSantis-heavy piece called, This is the best argument for Republicans to nominate someone other than Donald Trump in 2024, Vanity Fair went with DeSantis Splinters Never Trumpers, Politico opined that Liberals Should Welcome Ron DeSantis’ Rise, and famed Alfa-Bank hoaxer and New Yorker writer Dexter Filkins called the Floridian “Trump With a Brain” in “Can Ron DeSantis Displace Donald Trump as the GOP’s Combatant-in-Chief?”, leading a gleeful National Review to chirp, “The New Yorker Accidentally Makes Ron DeSantis Look Awesome.”
DeSantis was Satan incarnate with the same crowd about ten minutes ago, hammered for lockdown-averse Covid policies and for a “Don’t Say Gay” law that, in a minor detail, didn’t actually say not to say gay. Then, toward the end of June, stories began to circulate that DeSantis’ record gubernatorial fundraising efforts could be a springboard to a national run.
That seemed to trigger the first in a series of manufactured campaign dramas of the “That Little Girl Was Me” type, beginning with apparent Democratic 2024 hopeful and California governor Gavin Newsom doing a DeSantis-aimed ad buy in Florida on the Fourth of July. Newsom, who has presidentish hair but not much else, wanted to pick a fight over who got to “own the word freedom”:
After this series of events, Trump began disappearing from Fox News broadcasts, a phenomenon conspicuous enough that the New York Times wrote a feature about it. Key passages:
On July 22, as Mr. Trump was rallying supporters in Arizona and teasing the possibility of running for president in 2024, saying “We may have to do it again,” Fox News chose not to show the event… Instead, the network aired Laura Ingraham’s interview with a possible rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida…
It also reflects concerns that Republicans in Washington, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have expressed to the Murdochs about the potential harm Mr. Trump could cause to the party’s chances in upcoming elections.
By the end of July, both Democratic Party mouthpieces and the traditional GOP bureaucracy were open in their desire to run DeSantis in 2024 instead of Trump. Papers across the spectrum began commissioning polls and instantly began interpreting them as news that the public was in sync with these desires. This is from a Wednesday Post piece, “Trump is losing ground in the 2024 primary. Here’s why”:
Donald Trump leads in primary polls and is well-liked by his party — but his position is worse than it was a year ago… Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is gaining ground in primary polls, emerging as a plausible challenger…
The Post logic in claiming Trump’s 50%-24% poll lead won’t stick is that unlike 2016, when Trump had an “exclusive hold” on issues like immigration, he will face stiffer competition from DeSantis, who’s no softie on immigration himself. This conveniently forgets that leading Trump challenger Ben Carson in 2016 was proposing using drones on border migrants (“You look at some of these caves… one drone strike, boom, and… gone”). Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal came out for ending automatic citizenship for immigrant children, and even Jeb Bush pledged to stop “anchor babies.” The idea that Trump was the only Republican talking tough on immigration in 2016 is delusional.
We’re watching a replay of 2015-2016, when one establishment organ after another ran laudatory stories about establishment-approved Trump rivals supposedly seizing control of the race from twenty, thirty, forty points back. Who could forget MSNBC’s “Is Ted Cruz 2016's invisible GOP front-runner?”, or the Washington Post conferring the same “plausible nominee” moniker on John Kasich that’s now cursing DeSantis, or temporarily tumescent headlines like “Marco Rubio has surged to the front of the pack”? In 2015 a near-identical New York Times story about Rupert Murdoch’s “misgivings” about the “catastrophe” Trump ran to no effect, and the National Review published a massive “Against Trump” issue, in which editors and an all-star cast of Republican heavies railed against the “excrescences of instant-hit media culture.”
These efforts all failed, because none of these media figures — including all-powerful Fox boss Murdoch — could come to terms with the voting public’s changed attitude toward campaign press. In every previous cycle, if Mark Halperin of ABC said John Kerry was in a “strong position” to win the Democratic nomination, Kerry would win. If Sean Hannity gave a full-hour backrub to John McCain, McCain would be the Republican nominee. The campaign press really were kingmakers, once.