Donald Trump has been harangued by the media and emerged stronger. That’s the ‘Trump effect’ in a nutshell.
With the voting in Iowa set to take place in a mere few days and the results all-but foregone – at least according to polls -- one wonders, is Gov. Ron DeSantis suffering from a reverse Donald Trump effect in this year’s campaign?
What is meant by a “reverse Donald Trump effect”? The Republican voters’ negative reaction to the establishment media’s intentional campaign to ruin a candidate – in this case, DeSantis himself – actually worked to its intended purpose. Politics watchers of all stripes know from the experiences of the last eight years that the news reporting industry (both cable TV news shows and major newspapers) has had it out for Donald Trump since the beginning of his less than a decade old political career, yet he’s only gotten more popular with his backers, which doesn’t make sense.
When Trump was merely a tabloid celebrity and reality TV star, the smut-smearing forces of negativism generally tolerated him because he was, well, good at what they used him for. Trump’s lavish lifestyle along with his uncompromising public persona lent itself to editors and producers seeking to keep his name in print and on the airwaves, simply because he brought in viewers and readers.
But when Trump entered the 2016 presidential race and then performed way above expectations with the voters, the formerly friendly establishment media cockroaches started crawling in the opposite direction, away from him. Their sudden turn to the dark side didn’t fool voters, however, who liked what they’d seen from Trump the candidate and stuck with him through the tough times regardless of the media’s unflinching mission of personal destruction.
By contrast, when Gov. Ron DeSantis looked to be a potential competitor to Trump in the 2024 race, the negative onslaught towards the Floridian almost appeared to become sharper and more intense, as though the DC swamp creatures recognized the mid-forties conservative champion as the true threat to the Democrats’ reign under the auspices of bumbling idiot senile Joe Biden and the rest of the party narks in Congress.
Only the “get DeSantis” concentration hasn’t helped DeSantis like it did with Donald Trump. No one enters politics to be handled nicely by the journos – unless you’re a leftist Democrat with kook fringe ideas – but the Fourth Estate’s treatment of the earnest-sounding Floridian has been over-the-top cruel. They’ve criticized his physical height, supposedly phony smile, his aggressive wife, his relatability to average people, and, his record, of course, making DeSantis seem like a real monster.
Trump benefitted from his own unfair treatment by the obviously jealous and biased media. But it’s leveled DeSantis. In an opinion piece titled “Why the Media Hates Ron DeSantis”, the sometimes-reliable-for-a-relevant-point establishment Republican Rich Lowry wrote at Politico:
“Once DeSantis got in, his campaign was indeed, like the Lemony Snicket children’s stories, a series of unfortunate events. But, usually, even a scuffling presidential campaign gets the benefit of a spate of counter-narrative stories at some point. If nothing else, the press tends to get bored and likes to write and say something new about a campaign. Not with DeSantis.
“Meanwhile, the conventional wisdom of left-of-center opinion is that Trump is a rules-defying threat to the American system of government. You’d think that DeSantis would get some sympathy based on not being a threat to the republic, and putting his reputation and career on the line to try to stop the man who supposedly is. But that’s not the way it has played out. If nothing changes in Iowa, most of the political press is going to enjoy watching DeSantis get steamrolled by Trump.
“Usually the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but in this case, the enemy of my enemy is a standoffish politician who’s falling in the polls and doesn’t like me very much — so, screw him.”
Hmpf. I’m not sure I’d agree with Lowry’s assessment, but then again, the career commentator has worked alongside the evil news snoopers for all of his adult life, having labored at National Review for decades now, a time that has seen the once uber-respected conservative publication fall into disrepute because several of its writers became Never Trumpers virtually overnight in 2015/2016 and refused to evolve with the times. If it’s smart marketing to offer products that consumers want, National Review violated that truism. Trump took off; NRO went the other way.
But Lowry’s argument regarding DeSantis is well taken, considering the candidate himself has never received a break and didn’t appear to care a whole lot about the impression proffered by reporters that he hated the press and was constantly at war with them. Trump, by contrast (and Lowry points this out in his column), has always maintained a love/hate relationship with the establishment media, and never seems to hold a grudge for long because he understands the sheer value of news coverage.
As an example, Trump has had his issues and battles with Fox News over the years, but he’ll be granting the network a major ratings/promotional opportunity when he appears in an Iowa Town Hall with Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum tonight, opposite the DeSantis/Nikki Haley forum on CNN.
Note: Here’s a preview of the CNN program with Haley and DeSantis. Fox News also had Nikki Haley on Monday night and DeSantis last night, both for an hour in a town hall-like format.
For those who recall watching Fox on January 6, 2021, you may remember Baier and MacCallum as being somewhat less than sympathetic with Trump on that day. But let bygones be bygones when you’ve got a presidential campaign to run, right?
People are who and what they are, but DeSantis never appears to be having much fun when he’s talking to news personalities, presenting more of an aura of thinly veiled loathing. Some will harken back to the school days of being called into the principal’s office to receive a stern official talking-to… that’s what it’s like with DeSantis, kind of an “I don’t enjoy being here but I have to” type confrontation.
Part of the problem, in my opinion, is DeSantis got used to controlling the message in Florida, where he garnered a reputation for shying away from “pressing the flesh” with voters or journalists outside of his comfort zone. Gov. Ron has definitely improved over the course of months on the presidential campaign trail, but his lack of ease sometimes shines through.
During the December GOP debate, for example, I noted that DeSantis stands back from the lectern rather than being directly behind it, which means little in terms of content but supplies the sense that he’s not in his element. Is it a big deal? No. DeSantis, like most politicians, likes to use his hands when talking. He’s no Bernie Sanders (who makes wild circles with bugged out eyes), but he’s clearly not as practiced at the back-and-forth as Trump… or even Chris Christie, who often leans on his podium and stares right into the camera when he speaks.
DeSantis has attempted to seem more like a “man of the people” by appearing in public, such as when both he and Trump went to the Iowa/Iowa St. football game a couple months ago. Trump took in the action from a suite in the stadium press box while DeSantis sat with the crowd. The optics didn’t work for the latter man.
Whenever anyone in a crowd booed or made offensive hand gestures, it served as fodder for liberals to claim the men weren’t popular. DeSantis was confronted by several groups of Trump backers at the Iowa State Fair last summer, which drew spiteful coverage from the media. The barbs bounce right off of Trump, but they stick to DeSantis.
None of it – at least the press coverage part of it – has served to weaken Trump’s standing with the voters. The establishment media has attempted to turn much of its coverage away from Trump’s already well-trodden-on personal attributes and instead depicted him as a guilty-until-proven-innocent felon, which, as I have repeatedly noted, has turned Trump into a sympathetic character.
No such luck for DeSantis, who never catches a break from those serving the news. Anyone notice that the fawning stories regarding DeSantis’s governance of Florida have all-but stopped since he ran for president? DeSantis still makes the headlines, but these days it’s more for offhand comments about Nikki Haley – or his critiques of Trump himself, not for the content of his proposals or factual statements of his policies or record.
But more than anything, DeSantis has suffered from a “reverse Trump effect” because of being at the wrong place (this year’s GOP primary race) at the wrong time. The more negative that the media was to Trump, the faster his polling numbers shot up. DeSantis was also bombarded by the establishment media, but his standing stayed the same – or even declined.
Who said life was equitable? If all’s fair in love, war – and politics – 2023/2024 have turned on DeSantis with a gusto. Can he come back from it in 2028?
Who knows. Four years is a lifetime in politics, and the outcome of the 2024 election will impact not only the country, but also DeSantis’s political future. The negativity is bound to continue… but will voters react to it like they’ve done with Trump? Will there be a “Trump effect” in DeSantis’s favor?
It’s no stretch to argue that Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump are different men with divergent sets of political talents and skills. Both Republicans are fearless in their principles and beliefs, yet only one of them commands and controls the message effectively. Trump’s experience with manipulating public opinion has paid dividends for him in politics. DeSantis has much to learn.
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