Republicans are urging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to reset his media strategy, arguing that a less antagonistic approach to legacy and mainstream news organizations is needed to counter former President Donald Trump and define the 2024 race on DeSantis’s own terms.
The Florida governor for years has largely cloistered himself in the world of conservative media — Fox News, Newsmax and a suite of other friendly, right-leaning outlets — while often feuding with more mainstream organizations and journalists.
But with Trump embarking on a more aggressive media campaign, even DeSantis’s allies say that he may need to rethink and repair his relationship with the press if he hopes to shape the narrative of his presumed 2024 presidential campaign.
“I would like to see DeSantis broaden his media hits to include more mainstream media,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor backing DeSantis for the GOP’s 2024 nomination. “I certainly understand the temptation to stick to conservative outlets, but he needs to broaden his message so he can pull more people into his tent.”
Another donor who’s leaning toward supporting DeSantis said the Florida governor “doesn’t need to play nice with CNN” or other networks, even if he does open lines of communication with them.
“You go on these shows, you do these interviews to show that you can take on the media,” the donor said. “Nobody did more mainstream media than Donald Trump in 2016, yet he was credited by the base for simultaneously standing up to media bias.”
DeSantis isn’t a candidate yet, though all signs point to a campaign. He spent Saturday attending GOP fundraising events in Iowa, and his Tallahassee-based political shop moved out of the Florida Republican Party headquarters and into a new office this week. A formal campaign announcement could come as soon as the next two weeks.
DeSantis’s team has also begun inviting top donors and supporters to Miami for an event later this month, according to a person familiar with the plans, offering another sign that he’s closing in on a likely campaign.
DeSantis isn’t a stranger to the media. Mainstream networks, newspapers and magazines have been covering his political rise for months, or even years.
Yet he’s also sustained weeks of attacks from Trump and his allies, and his poll numbers have flatlined in recent months, with some Republicans saying it’s time for the governor to take a more direct approach with the mainstream media in order to regain control of his political narrative.
“I don’t think anyone would claim DeSantis’s coverage has been very good in recent weeks, in part because he’s not engaging the media,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who served as communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign. “The media is going to cover you whether you want them to or not, but shaping the coverage actually requires engaging with them.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis’s political operation declined to comment for this story.
Meanwhile, Trump has embraced the media, much in the same way he did during his successful 2016 presidential campaign, intent on keeping himself in the news as much as possible. Over the past several weeks, he sat for an interview with the popular “Full Send” podcast, took part in a town hall on CNN and granted an interview to The Messenger, a just-launched news startup.
Conant said that Trump’s enthusiastic approach to the media may be helping his chances.
“I think part of why Donald Trump is doing better in the polls is because he’s returned to his 2016 strategy of engaging the media at every turn,” Conant said. “It’s not just the CNN town hall. It’s bringing along print reporters on his airplane and sitting down for interviews he wouldn’t have done in 2020.”
“He understands that to improve his coverage he needs to insert his message into it, and that requires engagement.”
Trump isn’t the only 2024 hopeful hitting the media circuit.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who’s moving toward a presidential campaign, has sat for interviews with ABC and CNN; Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who’s set to announce a bid next week, has sat down with NBC News and CBS News. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has done countless interviews with various newspapers and TV networks.
For his part, DeSantis has long maintained a contentious — at times, outright hostile — relationship with mainstream and legacy media outlets, often accusing prominent organizations and journalists of bias and reporting inaccuracies. Just this year, he pushed the state legislature to approve a measure making it easier to sue media organizations, though legislation never came to pass.
Yet DeSantis has a team of communications professionals lining up behind him.
Never Back Down, the main super PAC backing the governor for the 2024 nomination, as well as DeSantis’s own political team, have brought on several veteran communications staffers to handle media relations and outreach. Key members of the governor’s team recently sat down with Politico in Tallahassee, and he barnstormed Iowa over the weekend with a bevy of reporters in tow.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), one of four U.S. House members who have endorsed DeSantis, brushed off questions about the governor’s media strategy, quickly noting that he hasn’t even jumped into the 2024 race yet and has been busy meeting with voters and party leaders in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
“The governor has been being the governor. He’s not a candidate, right?” Roy said. “Now, you got a whole lot of people who have been announcing support. You got a massive number in Iowa; you had 50 in New Hampshire that are apparently on the brink of coming out.”
“There’s a hell of a lot of support for the governor out there, and the media will catch onto that pretty quick,” he added.
Yet there may be a political payoff for taking an all-encompassing approach to dealing with the media, Doug Heye, a longtime GOP strategist, said.
“If you’re a candidate trying to get your message out, you need to go to a broader audience,” Heye said. “There’s a lot of primary voters who aren’t going to the same network all day every day.”
“That’s not to suggest that we’re going to see ‘The Ron DeSantis Hour’ on Lawrence O’Donnell,” he added. “But there are other places that he can devote time to.”
Caroline Vakil contributed.