The Iowa caucuses are still three months away, but a growing chorus across right-wing media is saying that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign is effectively over and former President Donald Trump has already won the Republican primary. The charge is led by pro-Trump voices and outlets, which have an obvious interest in declaring the primary over, and have worked for months to reach such a moment.
Though Trump’s polling dominance has been absolute, it was effectively a self-fulfilling prophecy, given the surreal dynamics of the primary. Pro-Trump media spent months trashing DeSantis before he even announced a campaign, and not only made criticism of Trump on most issues totally off-limits, but also demanded that Trump’s opponents defend him from criminal investigations -- in one instance, even getting DeSantis to issue a statement in support.
Trump media allies have dismissed the upcoming primary debate as “phony” and defended recent controversial (to conservatives) comments he made about abortion under the guise that he is preparing a general election campaign. With their rote reporting that Trump still holds commanding leads, some commentators are arguing the primary is “effectively over,” DeSantis has been defeated, and “the rest of them, quite frankly, shouldn’t even be on the stage.”
Many such pro-Trump voices recently talked to The Daily Beast about focusing their energies on the general election going forward.
“He [DeSantis] still comes up in conversation, but the fire is gone because he’s already toast,” said one anonymous Trump adviser.
GOP strategist Alex Bruesewitz, another Trump supporter, said plainly that “a lot of people like me are looking at the primary as effectively over and are looking to pivot to the general already.”
Among pro-Trump media, the sense that the primary is over bubbles through discussions of the primary debate schedule.
On September 25, Trump loyalist and former chief strategist Steve Bannon denounced Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and committee member David Bossie, saying they should be “ashamed” for “putting on this phony debate this week when Trump is out there talking to the workers in Detroit.”
“This thing is phony,” Bannon reiterated. “Going to suck up $500 million that we should be putting into election integrity.”
Bannon seems to already think the primary is over if instead of a primary debate that notably omits the front-runner he is pushing measures to (he claims) shore up the general election instead.
On One America News’ Tipping Point, right-wing radio host Andrea Kaye commented that everyone except DeSantis, “quite frankly, shouldn’t even be on the stage.” But as far as the Florida governor went, Kaye said that “Trump has pretty much locked up the primary for the Republican Party, and DeSantis really has a tough road to hoe” if he hopes to “make any gains” going forward.
The idea that the primary is already over is also seen in right-wing media analyses of Trump statements. Recently, when Trump interviewed with Meet the Press and denounced the six-week abortion ban DeSantis signed, some conservatives seemed to interpret his remarks as a sign that he is effectively the GOP nominee already.
On Fox News’ Special Report, senior political analyst Brit Hume noted that Trump’s position on abortion has always been “as purely political as anything you could imagine.” Within that context, Hume said “he’s now calculated that the issue is hurting the Republicans and would hurt him if he adhered to it as his party’s nominee,” before falsely suggesting that Trump is “clearly pro-abortion rights.”
“Donald Trump is pro-life,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell on Newsmax, correctly noting Trump’s responsibility for the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.
O’Connell maintained that Trump was merely warning Republicans that Democrats will “try to run up the scoreboard on abortion,” so Trump has already shifted to “a general election strategy” in an attempt to get ahead of it.
Elsewhere on Newsmax, even reported segments are taking on a tone of Trump inevitability.
While anchor Shaun Kraisman reported that “Trump has publicly questioned the point of participating in primary debates when he holds a commanding lead,” Kraisman also lent credibility to Trump’s questions, adding that “in national polls, in state polls, there’s not one Republican candidate that even comes close.”
And all signs suggest that will continue to be the case. The FiveThirtyEight polling average for the GOP primary shows Trump with a 41-point lead over DeSantis -- including some polling done after the abortion comments -- and the gap is only growing larger.
Underlining the sorry state of the GOP primary and its consistent number two was DeSantis’ recent November debate announcement. DeSantis will appear on Fox News’ Hannity, one of the most obsequiously pro-Trump shows on TV, for a “red vs. blue state debate” against California Gov. Gavin Newsom -- a Democrat who is not running for president, much less the Republican nomination for president.
Fox’s peculiar choice to have a Republican primary contender debate a non-Republican noncandidate can perhaps best be seen as a desperate attempt to breathe life into what the rest of right-wing media is more readily acknowledging is a withered and waning campaign.