CNN, Fox News, and the DeSantis-Trump showdown
The 2024 presidential campaign had all the feel last week of a political Purim spiel, where the story line seems to run in reverse.
Donald Trump receives a full hour of coverage on CNN, the network he loves to bash, while Fox News, the originator of the Trump Derangement Syndrome tag for all Trump detractors, hosts a forum on its One Nation program advising Ron DeSantis to start punching back or risk a first-round knockout by Trump.
Aside from the network optics, which are all designed to draw the highest ratings possible, what we already see from Trump and DeSantis is what we’re likely to get.
With a penchant for scoping out an opponent’s weak spot and using ridicule to hammer home the message, Trump mocked his lower-key rival, saying DeSantis needs a personality transplant, an operation that’s not yet available.
DeSantis did some verbal jousting of his own, telling a gathering in Iowa that governing is not about entertainment and that the GOP must reject what he called the “culture of losing.” From those remarks, we can already get a taste of the DeSantis campaign strategy. He will try to turn his more understated personality into an advantage to convince Republicans that he is all business. That won’t be so difficult, as he has a track record of accomplishments as Florida governor. The harder task will be to convince voters that he’s a winner and Trump is a loser.
While Trump failed to win a second term, he did defeat the supposedly “inevitable” Hillary Clinton to win the presidency the first time around. Trump has millions of loyal supporters who thought he was a great president and who also back his claims that the 2020 election was rigged — and there’s no talking them out of it. While a handful of Trump’s handpicked, high-profile senatorial and gubernatorial candidates did lose in the 2022 midterms, they mainly lost by small margins in states where the electorate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Republicans were winners in recapturing the House of Representatives, albeit by a small margin. The GOP is heavily favored to take control of the Senate in 2024, even if Biden wins again. They also lead the Democrats in governors, 26 to 24, and control about 55% of all the legislative seats in the 50 states. It’s hard to see how this constitutes a culture of losing.
Trump is also far better organized than DeSantis. As opposed to his first run for office, in which he relied primarily on family and close business associates to run his campaign, this time Trump has assembled a disciplined and experienced team who are hauling in donations and endorsements at an impressive pace.
As CNN’s senior data reporter Harry Enten has noted, Trump is polling north of 50% among likely Republican primary voters. Historically, candidates of both parties who have built that kind of early lead went on to win their party’s nomination in races that weren’t particularly close.
Although DeSantis’s staff have been whispering in the ears of political reporters that he has quietly built the necessary political infrastructure to make his move, once he gets into the race, DeSantis will be playing catch-up in every important political metric.
Even if he gets scrappy and decides to punch harder, he might end up shadowboxing against an opponent who’s already declared victory and left the ring.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 961)
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