Murdoch’s conservative media outlets seem to have launched a coordinated effort to nudge Trump off the stage. It is not going well.
In the aftermath of the midterm election debacle for the Republican Party, Rupert Murdoch’s conservative media outlets are trying, in more and less subtle ways, to send a message to Donald Trump: It’s over.
On Wednesday, the New York Post devoted its first post-election front page to hailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as “DeFuture” of the Republican Party. On Thursday, the Post carpet-bombed Trump with criticism, portraying him on its front page as “Trumpty Dumpty” who “couldn’t build a wall” and “had a great fall,” leaving it to others to put the party’s pieces back together.
Trump, the Post columnist John Podhoretz argued, “sabotaged the Republican midterms” by elevating a string of weak gubernatorial and Senate candidates who supported his lies about the 2020 election but repelled voters.
The Wall Street Journal editorial pages were equally scathing, describing the former president as “the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser,” alongside a column headlined “DeSantis Is a Winner. What Does That Mean for Trump in 2024?”
On Murdoch’s most influential outlet, Fox News, two of Trump’s closest allies on the television channel he gets his opinions from, Laura Ingraham and Kayleigh McEnany, sounded like hostage negotiators, urging the former president to admit his time was up and let his supporters go.
After beginning her monologue Wednesday night by blaming “the media” for “obsessing over the losses of Trump-backed candidates in states like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania,” Ingraham addressed Trump, without mentioning his name. “Going into 2024, the Republicans are going to be looking for candidates who are focused on winning, not just making a point or settling a score,” she said, as a graphic over her shoulder read “It’s About America, Not Grudges,” and the headline on the screen beneath her changed to “Focus on Ego and Grievance Turning Off Voters.”
Appealing to younger voters, Ingraham added, has “got to be the goal for the next presidential election.” Looking directly into the camera and speaking slowly, as if addressing an audience of one sitting before a television in Mar-a-Lago, Ingraham continued: “The populist movement is about ideas. It is not about any one person. If the voters conclude that you’re putting your own ego or your own grudges ahead of what’s good for the country, they’re going to look elsewhere, period.”
McEnany, Trump’s former press secretary, seemed to be reading from the same script on Thursday when she told viewers that “there are 72 million people in this country that make up a movement. It is a conservative movement, it’s not tied to any one person.”
“In 2016, they decided, ‘Our home is in President Trump,’” McEnany said. “This time around, these 72 million people, they will decide where their home is, only they will decide. No pundit will say, ‘It’s Trump,’ ‘It’s DeSantis.’ They’re smart, they’re wise, they’re going to read the tea leaves, and I have all the trust in the world they’re going to pick where their home is.”
“Then why did the former president come up with the name ‘DeSanctimonious’ a couple of days before” the election, fellow Fox host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery broke in to ask. “Well, he shouldn’t have,” McEnany responded. “There is,” she added in a description of a future Republican Party that must exclude Trump, “no place for nicknames.”
Other Fox guests voiced more direct criticism of Trump, but the channel’s coverage largely ignored the former president and switched focus to DeSantis.
Trump, it must be said, appears to have no interest in taking any of these hints to go away quietly — even from the television network that operated as a de facto arm of his two presidential campaigns, in 2016 and 2020, and served as something akin to state TV during his years in office. “Despite having picked so many winners, I have to put up with the Fake News,” he complained on Truth Social. “For me, Fox News was always gone, even in 2015-16 when I began my ‘journey,’ but now they’re really gone.”
“NewsCorp, which is Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and the no longer great New York Post,” Trump raged on Thursday evening, “is all in for Governor Ron DeSanctimonious.” In the same rambling statement, Trump also tossed in a new conspiracy theory, claiming that he had dispatched the FBI to Florida in 2018 to shut down a Democratic plot to steal that year’s gubernatorial election from DeSantis. (In fact, Trump’s allegations of election fraud in Florida in 2018 were debunked by local law enforcement.)
It is far too early to say if Murdoch’s campaign to force Trump from the stage will be a success, but the effort to cast the former president as a loser by focusing on the cast of odd candidates he supported does have a precedent.
In the 2010 midterms, Republicans lost three winnable Senate races because of deeply flawed, pro-insurrection and racist candidates supported by Sarah Palin, the party’s former vice presidential nominee turned Fox News contributor. Palin eventually decided to pass on a run for the White House in 2012, but it was not until June 2015 that she finally lost her contract with Fox — the week after Trump announced that he was running for president.