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Laura Ingraham: I'm not there yet on Trump 2024

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

She’s never going to be press secretary during Trump’s second term if she keeps talking like this.

If you conducted a private “Trump vs. DeSantis” primary poll among major conservative media figures, I’m guessing DeSantis would win on the order of 90/10, which is why it’ll be fascinating watching those same figures try to navigate the politics of the next two years. It’s a matter of when, not if, Trump starts attacking the new guy to try to sideline him as a potential primary rival. How do Fox News primetime and conservative talk radio react when he does?

Pushing back on Trump in DeSantis’s defense could help move the Overton window towards a new nominee among their audiences. But partisan media stars are terrified of getting on the wrong side of their base for fear of what it might do to their ratings. And it would be hard to predict in advance which way the base would go on a spat between Trump and DeSantis, especially if that spat played out on DeSantis-friendly political terrain like COVID restrictions. A number of Republicans, like Nikki Haley, calculated in the first flush after January 6 that the GOP was finally about to ditch Trump, only to jerk the wheel and steer in the other direction once they realized it wasn’t. A conservative media host who went out on a limb to support DeSantis in a feud with Trump might look back to see the MAGA base preparing to saw it off.

Laura Ingraham’s being coy for now, refusing to commit to Trump early (DeSantis 2024!) but certainly not ruling it out (Trump 2024!). That’s how you navigate in an uncertain partisan media landscape.

“I’m not saying I’m there for him yet,” Ingraham told Northern Virginia Magazine, when asked if she’ll support Trump in the next presidential election, should he run. “But I think whether he runs or not — I mean, his policies worked. Trump’s blueprint for policy — a forward-looking, optimistic set of pro-America policies — that blueprint, without a doubt, is winning.”…

“A lot of conservatives were feeling a year ago, you know, completely dejected,” Ingraham told the magazine of Trump’s loss in 2020. “I kept saying, ‘I’ve been around for 30 years, doing this in one form or another. There’s always another election, so don’t get too dragged down by the results of one.”

She has a superior and more electable alternative to Trump in DeSantis, a guy who has the added virtue of having never incited a riot at the Capitol that almost ended in his own running mate being lynched. But when you work in partisan media, it’s not about what you want. It’s about what the base wants and making sure they get a steady supply of it. If they’re dead set on Trump 2024 then that’s what the righty media establishment will be set on too, whatever their judgment on the merits might be.

Today brings another report of Trump grumbling about DeSantis privately because the governor refuses to say “the magic words,” that he won’t run in 2024 if Trump chooses to. Apparently Trumpworld noticed DeSantis’s recent comments complaining about the national lockdown that happened on Trump’s watch in spring 2020. “Is he being a wiseguy?” Trump allegedly asked confidants.

In recent weeks, if you’ve run in the ex-president’s inner circle or floated in and out of his social or political orbits, chances are high that you’ve heard Trump casually insulting DeSantis, even in conversations that initially had absolutely nothing to do with DeSantis.

Ever eager to protect his turf and with an eye on 2024, Trump has gossiped with certain confidants and advisers about DeSantis’ political vulnerabilities and “weaknesses,” according to the two sources familiar with the situation, and another person with direct knowledge of the matter. On a number of occasions, the twice-impeached former president has lately told associates that if they’re asked about the DeSantis-Trump tensions on TV, they should decline to confirm or deny the existence of a simmering cold war between the two conservative icons…

The source with direct knowledge recounted that in one private conversation earlier this month, Trump sounded “confused” about why DeSantis wasn’t simply coming out and saying that the 2024 GOP nomination is Trump’s, if he wants it. This source added that the former president, who remains staggeringly popular among Republican voters, rhetorically asked if DeSantis “remember[ed] what happened” in the 2016 primary, during which Trump humiliated and steamrolled over his prominent conservative rivals like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

One well-known Trump ally took a hard shot at DeSantis over the weekend:

If Trump’s going to attack DeSantis, that’s probably the way it’ll start — via surrogates, to give Trump himself plausible deniability about any “feud,” and with unflattering leaks. That’ll be another early test for conservative media figures. If Trump calls them up and nudges them to go after DeSantis for him, what do they do? If they say no, they’ll be on the sh*t list as “disloyal” too. And that’s a bad place to be if Trump really does reassert himself as presumptive nominee in 2023.

Josh Barro wonders whether DeSantis or some other ambitious rival angling to run in 2024 might try to hit Trump on the subject of election fraud from the right. Plenty of people have hit him from the center, calling him to account for spreading lies about widespread cheating. Barro imagines a Trump primary challenger winking at the possibility of widespread cheating and attacking Trump for not preventing it: “Yes, the media is very unfair. Yes, technology companies don’t want to let you say what you believe. No, I don’t trust the way Democrats run elections. These are things conservatives have always had to contend with. It’s not enough to fight. You have to protect yourself at every turn, fight, and win. You have to hire people you can trust to fight with you. And unfortunately, Donald Trump wasn’t disciplined enough to do that. I will be.”

“Trump was too incompetent to stop the steal.” Given the current state of the GOP, that really might be the only way to criticize his presidency without hopelessly alienating the base. Take note, Ron!