“You are really in game shape now,” a beaming Brian Kilmeade told Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Fox & Friends the morning after the first 2024 GOP presidential primary debate. “Is that part of the athletic training of yours?”
Unfortunately for DeSantis, his post-debate welcome was not so warm elsewhere in right-wing media, with an array of other conservative voices noting that “the big loser last night was Ron DeSantis,” calling him “a non-entity” whose “fake populism” is going nowhere.
On Newsmax -- which has been effusively pro-Trump during the primary -- the criticism of DeSantis began before the debate even ended. Discussing what was perceived to be one of DeSantis’ high points among a Republican audience — criticizing former President Donald Trump’s handling of the early COVID-19 pandemic — American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp said that DeSantis’ record wasn’t all he claimed it to be.
“He did shut down Florida,” Schlapp asserted. “Ron DeSantis and these governors who are now talking big that they never would have done what Donald Trump did, they all complied with shutting down their whole states. They didn’t have to do it, and they did it,” referring to efforts by government officials to prevent overwhelming mass death.
“The other thing I would say on his performance so far tonight, he’s so amped up,” Schlapp complained. “It’s almost like he’s been programmed to be hyper.”
Appearing on Newsmax’s Wake Up America Thursday morning, Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin was quite direct: “I don’t think there’s any question, the big loser last night was Ron DeSantis.”
“Ron DeSantis is faltering. He’s falling. He was a non-entity on the stage last night,” said The Washington Times’ Kelly Sadler, instead praising his fellow GOP primary contender Vivek Ramaswamy.
“Ron was just sort of there,” said Turning Point USA co-founder Charlie Kirk on his show. “No charisma. People didn't even see Ron DeSantis worthy of attacking him,” Kirk added, before also negatively comparing him to Ramaswamy. “Did Ron DeSantis seem like the guy that’s going to carry the torch forward? He’s kind of nonexistent, to be perfectly honest.”
On the podcast Timcast IRL, host Tim Pool mentioned that far-right columnist Ann Coulter thinks that DeSantis will win the Republican nomination. Several people in the studio laughed. “I’ve been enjoying the decline of Ron DeSantis,” admitted conservative commentator Sohrab Ahmari, adding that the campaign is attempting to “channel all the populist energy of the Trump movement” toward “superficial cultural issues.”
Pushing the spin that Trump is staunchly pro-entitlements while being “skeptical of free trade” and “foreign policy hawkism,” Ahmari said that “on all of those issues, Ron DeSantis is much more of a conventional Republican figure, but with this veneer of ‘I’m going after Disney because of, like, the gay shows.’”
It has been clear for years that Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch media empire was positioning DeSantis as a successor to Trump (while still aggressively supporting Trump at every turn), a narrative which was especially pushed by Fox & Friends.
However, even among the Fox & Friends audience subjected to a deluge of preposterously positive coverage, DeSantis is struggling.
“I think he was terrible,” said one August 24 guest about DeSantis’ debate performance. “He didn’t come across as genuine. He was very flat. There was nothing striking about him last night. He was really disappointing.”