As robust a role as Fox News played in Trump’s political career, though, it’s Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) who has probably benefited the most. As a relatively unknown member of Congress, he began appearing on Fox News regularly to defend Trump early in his presidency.
After DeSantis announced his candidacy for governor, he trailed in fundraising — but his constant Fox appearances had the intended effect of earning Trump’s vocal endorsement. Fox News got DeSantis in front of Trump and got Trump behind DeSantis. DeSantis won the primary and, narrowly, the chief executive position.
After he won in 2018, DeSantis disappeared from the Fox News airwaves for a while, only to recently make the network a centerpiece of his public-relations outreach. When he signed new restrictions on voting in Florida, he did so in the middle of an interview on the network. He is up for reelection in 2022 but also clearly has his eye on 2024 despite his assurances on the network itself.
Newly published analysis from Media Matters for America finds that the Fox News primary contest is well underway among potential Republican contenders. Senior fellow Matt Gertz tallied nearly 500 appearances on the network from 18 possible candidates through the end of August, and 12 total appearances on CNN and MSNBC.
If appearances are votes, then Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has got Fox News’s nod. He makes up more than a fifth of the total, thanks in large part to his and the network’s shared interest in hammering President Biden on issues of national security. Three others have more than 40 appearances on the network, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and DeSantis.
Gertz’s analysis also tracks with another metric, which is loyalty to Trump. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have not been particularly enthusiastic about the former president, and Fox News has not been particularly enthusiastic about welcoming them on air. Regardless, a raw count doesn’t paint the whole picture.
The vast majority of Cotton’s appearances were outside of the network’s heavily watched prime-time hours. No one had more prime-time appearances than DeSantis, with two-thirds of his hits on Sean Hannity’s, Tucker Carlson’s or Laura Ingraham’s shows. About one out of every six prime-time appearances from the 18 tracked contenders was DeSantis’s.
The only other potential candidates who had a high density of prime-time appearances from their totals were Donald Trump Jr. — who had 14 total appearances, 10 in prime-time hours — and his father. The former president was on Fox News 13 times in the first eight months of the year, with 6 in 10 appearances occurring in prime-time hours.
It’s a reminder that Fox News hits aren’t everything. If the race comes down to Trump and DeSantis, it will be interesting to see how the network balances the two, much less how they balance each other. It will also be interesting, of course, to see how voters respond. One would be forgiven, though, for assuming that Fox News’s view of candidates is often more important than that of the electorate.