The grinding sound you’re hearing is the Rupert Murdoch propaganda machine chewing up ex-PresidentTrump and spitting him out. That’s the good news. We’ll get to the bad news.
What a miraculous coincidence it was when Murdoch’s New York Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages eviscerated Trump for abetting deadly violence Jan. 6. The right-wing outlets didn’t denounce Trump’s behavior as criminal but they signaled nonetheless that they’re done with the demagogue once and for all.
Granted, Murdoch’s outlets have sent up signal flares before. Six weeks ago, his Post penned an editorial lamenting Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election and urging Republican voters to consider alternative candidates “who embrace conservative policies without the preoccupations of the Don.” And lest we forget, Murdoch has reportedly referred to Trump as a “f—ng idiot.”
Nevertheless, the latest salvos are startling. From the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he had a duty as Commander in Chief to protect the Capitol from a mob attacking it in his name. He refused. He didn’t call the military to send help. He didn’t call Mr. Pence to check on the safety of his loyal VP. Instead he fed the mob’s anger and let the riot play out.”
The New York Post editorial was even more withering: “Trump didn’t lift a finger… He was the only person who could stop what was happening. He was the only one the crowd was listening to. It was incitement by silence… His only focus was to find any means – damn the consequences – to block the peaceful transfer of power.”
Meanwhile, Murdoch’s Fox News also appears to be filing for divorce. Trump’s usually reliable doormats on “Fox & Friends” posted new poll numbers showing Trump’s grip on the GOP loosening in the early matchups for 2024 – prompting Trump to whine on his social media account. And last week, the Fox News website posted a montage of Trump voters who are pining for a less “polarizing” hero. And last Friday, when Trump was in Arizona staging his latest hate/self-pity rally, Fox News counter-programmed by airing an interview with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Ah, here’s where we spotlight the bad news.
Murdoch is ditching Trump not because of any sudden moral epiphany that Trump is a clear and present danger to American democracy. As a rank opportunist, he has merely calculated that Trump is fatally damaged goods; that the ever-mounting evidence from the Jan. 6 committee, the Georgia grand jury investigation, and the Justice Department’s expanding criminal probe are rendering Trump increasingly unelectable, and that Trump’s clout even within the GOP is likely to wane further. Therefore, Murdoch has decided that Trump is expendable.
A source in the Murdoch orbit recently told Vanity Fair magazine: “Rupert’s a pragmatic guy. He knows better than anybody how to read political tea leaves. It’s fairly self-evident that quite a few people in the firmament have begun to challenge the previously supported collective viewpoint about Trump. It’s understood now that the gloves are off.”
Hence, the bad news: Murdoch is rebooting his empire to promote Trumpism without Trump.
At this point, his vehicle of choice is DeSantis, who is smarter than Trump and is full MAGA without Trump’s serial imbecilities. Murdoch’s strategy was previewed last month, in the New York Post, when Piers Morgan, one of his multi-platform mouthpieces, wrote a rapturous huzzah about DeSantis: “He’s just younger, fresher, and more exciting than the aging, raging gorilla who’s become a whiny, democracy-defying bore.”
Unlike Trump, DeSantis also has the discipline to market the MAGA movement’s rage – as evidenced by his “don’t say gay” law, his law restricting classroom discussion of race, and his creation of an “election security” agency to police voter fraud.
As historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert of authoritarianism, recently remarked: “DeSantis has already absorbed all the lessons of Trump…And he’s a very dangerous individual. He’s dangerous because he is equally repressive, but doesn’t have the baggage of Trump.”
So before any of us cheers Murdoch’s takedown of Trump, let’s all be careful what we wish for.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at email@example.com