(The Hill) — The 2024 GOP presidential primary will run through Fox News, and Republicans are already eyeing strategies on how to get on the network and reach its audience.
It’s a Fox primary of sorts, with Republicans hoping to get favorable airtime and attention on a network that has boosted GOP hopefuls in the past.
The efforts to get attention on Fox are especially important ahead of an open primary where a host of potential candidates will be vying for space — and where former President Donald Trump will be a heavyweight.
“There isn’t a path to the GOP nomination for president that doesn’t run through Fox,” said Michael Mirer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who studies media strategy and politics.
“For 2024, fundamentally after the first four states, you can’t actually do the retail politics. You’re going to need to reach the loudest megaphone,” he added.
GOP operatives are already watching Fox, and Trump and other possible 2024 candidates, with interest to figure out how they are trying to move forward.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tim Scott of South Carolina, as well as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, are among the GOP bold-faced names who have received substantial airtime on Fox in recent weeks.
On Monday, Scott served as a guest host on the network’s daytime talk show “The Five,” while Cruz is a regular on Sean Hannity’s evening program.
DeSantis has emerged as the non-Trump GOP favorite in early 2024 prognostications.
He leaped to national attention through appearances on Fox News during the Trump administration that were widely credited for helping him win the state’s governorship in 2018. It’s easy to forget that DeSantis was not the early favorite in the race, but the upstart challenger to a more establishment candidate.
Prominent pollster Frank Lutz has praised DeSantis’s strategy.
“DeSantis has pursued the best media strategy of any politician over the last five years,” he told The Hill. “He focuses on friendly media, ignores hostile media, and almost always generates good press. And unlike Trump, he doesn’t pick fights with his media friends.”
Fox News declined to comment on its strategy for booking guests as it relates to campaign cycles and upcoming elections.
DeSantis’s office recently shared with Fox an exclusive on the governor’s first TV ad buy of his 2022 reelection campaign. The same week, the governor appeared on Tucker Carlson’s top-rated prime-time program to speak on his decision to suspend a Tampa-area prosecutor who received the backing of liberal billionaire George Soros, a frequent foil of Fox’s prime-time opinion hosts.
When contacted for comment about the governor’s media strategy and political aspirations, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the governor is “focused on doing what’s right for the people of Florida.”
“He is not running for anything other than re-election to continue serving as the governor of our great state,” the spokesperson said.
Last summer, as DeSantis’s national profile was rising, the Tampa Bay Times reported on what it portrayed as a sometimes-rosy relationship between the governor’s office and producers at Fox.
“I honestly think he could host the show with the chops we saw from him at the vaccine site,” a Fox producer wrote to a member of DeSantis’s team in an email obtained by the Times via a public records request.
Booking decisions are watched closely on Fox by political players trying to guess who is up and down.
“Candidates do themselves a disservice by focusing on what they think Fox News wants vs. actually campaigning to their constituents,” one media industry expert said. “Fox is a news channel that goes where America is going. You only have to look back to 2016 to see that played out. It was no secret that Fox was not ‘pushing’ for Trump, and yet Trump earned his way to more and more coverage and eventually victory.”
While Trump remains largely popular with Republicans, observers have noticed a shift when it comes to airtime on Fox since he left the White House.
Fox did not provide live continuous coverage of a recent Trump speech in Washington, D.C., while it did air several minutes of an earlier address the same day by former Vice President Mike Pence, another potential candidate for the GOP nomination for president in 2024.
“Fox News seems to be pulling back from total support for Trump,” said Joe Peyronnin, a former cable news executive who served as president of the network in the 1990s. “All Trump all the time was great for ratings in 2016 and during his presidency. But some Republicans are tiring of Trump, in part because of the recent revelations regarding his role in the Jan. 6 riots. Fox News is a business, ratings are the lifeblood of their business, so they may be hedging their bets a bit.”
An FBI search at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago residence on Monday evening shifted some of the political calculus again by enraging Republicans.
“When we get power back, it’s time to hold everyone accountable. The military leadership, the civilian leadership, the civil service, those in Congress who have abused their power, all of them have to be held accountable,” Fox host Laura Ingraham said on her show, defending the former president.
While Fox’s sheer audience size also earns it the attention of some Democrats and independents, observers say there are parallels to be drawn between the tone of coverage on Fox and the ideas being put forth by the Republican Party.
“What matters about Fox is a combination of the audience size and the fact that everything they cover is from an angle of urgency and crisis,” said David Niven, a political scientist who researches political campaigns, gerrymandering and political communication. “Any political figure in the center of their coverage is at the center of not just doing their job but avenging wrong. … Whether it’s DeSantis or somebody else, when they get the Fox News treatment they’re riding the white horse and slaying dragons.”