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After midterms, Ron DeSantis eclipses Trump on Fox News

Fla Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) arrives to speak to supporters at an election night party after winning his race for reelection in Tampa. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

While the outcome of Tuesday’s midterm elections was still up in the air Wednesday evening, political prognosticators on Fox News were already forecasting a very bright political future for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Many pundits on the cable channel have spent years championing former president Donald Trump as the candidate most likely to lead Republicans back to the White House, but the tone on Fox was noticeably different as election results rolled in. DeSantis’s landslide victory over Democrat Charlie Crist was one of the few bright spots for Republicans as they watched their hopes of a midterm red wave fade, and many commentators suggested that the governor might make a better 2024 nominee than the former president.

DeSantis “made the single best case I have heard made for the GOP in quite some time,” Trump’s former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said midday Wednesday on Fox. “It was positive, it was sunny, it was forward-looking. It needs to be the future message for the party.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) won a second term on Nov. 8. (Video: The Washington Post)

Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz, who wrote a “Dear Republican Trump haters” column extolling the defeated president’s virtues last year, bluntly declared on-air Wednesday that DeSantis is “probably one of the front-runners — if not the front-runner — to become the next president of the United States of America.”

As if to drive the point home, the former Republican congressman criticized Trump for belittling his rival, who he recently dubbed “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

“Even before the votes were closed, to start to take shots at Ron DeSantis?” Chaffetz asked. “Donald Trump’s not going to like this, but I’ve got to tell you, the people I talk to, they say: ‘We love Donald Trump. … But, you know what, we don’t like all the drama. We like Ron DeSantis.’ That’s what I hear.”

Versions of that line echoed across Fox throughout the day. “Trump is the past,” said Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney. “Donald Trump [might] cost us the Senate twice in a row,” complained Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen, who also writes a column for The Washington Post.

The glow extended beyond the top-rated cable news station to other parts of Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. The New York Post declared DeSantis “DeFUTURE” in a front-page headline.

“That is a White House-winning profile if I have ever seen one, if he can repeat that nationally,” Fox anchor John Roberts told viewers Wednesday afternoon, noting DeSantis’s strong performance with Hispanic voters and women.

There were dissenting voices, of course. Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law and another pundit on Fox’s payroll, mused early Wednesday morning: “If there is ever a time people are ready for Donald Trump to come back, it could be right now.”

But she was an outlier. A Fox News article summed up the prevailing mood Wednesday morning with this headline: “Conservatives point finger at Trump after GOP’s underwhelming election results: ‘He’s never been weaker.’ ”

“I love Trump. I want him to run. I think he’s a great candidate. I loved him as president,” Fox News host Jesse Watters said Wednesday evening. But, he added, “He brings out such insanity on the left. They will walk over hot coals to vote against Donald Trump.”

It’s hardly the first time DeSantis has received praise on Fox. He was invited onto the channel regularly during his first campaign for governor in 2018, and even some of the channel’s most stalwart Donald Trump fans have flirted with the idea of President DeSantis. “Ron DeSantis is showing tremendous strength in New Hampshire, Michigan and Florida,” “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade told viewers in July, citing a poll. “He’s leading or tied with the former president.”

But this week’s outburst of flattery for DeSantis is notable given Trump’s longtime relationship with Fox, which employs many hosts who heavily promoted his first presidential run and have stuck by him since he lost the White House. On occasions when Fox personalities or anchors have criticized the former president, Trump often hit back. He said “Fox & Friends” had “gone to the ‘dark side’ ” after the July segment, for example.

The timing might also be especially problematic for Trump, who has strongly hinted that he intends to announce his 2024 campaign next week.

If he does, candidate Trump may find himself getting a colder reception on Fox than he’s used to. Some insiders have seen signs that the former president has lost the confidence of Murdoch, the media titan who controls Fox and much of the rest of the conservative media-sphere.

The editorial board at the Wall Street Journal, a newspaper also controlled by the Murdoch family, called DeSantis’s victory a “tsunami” Wednesday morning. Trump notably drew a stern rebuke from the Journal’s editorial board this year for his conduct during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The New York Post’s cover anointing DeSantis the future of the party might hit Trump particularly hard. “Let me just say: I know somebody in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, who may cut off his subscription to the New York Post,” Fox’s Ari Fleischer joked Wednesday.

This story has been updated.

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