“He’s done.” That was the general consensus when I asked around about Donald Trump’s future in politics this week. And in the search for signs that Trump is in trouble, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers are a good place to start. In the days since the disappointing midterm results, the New York Post, has already labeled the former president “Trumpty Dumpty” and praised his Republican rival Ron DeSantis as “DeFuture.” Trump’s 2024 bid was relegated to page 26 on Tuesday, teased on the cover as “Florida man makes announcement.”
Things aren’t much better for the former president over at the Wall Street Journal. It has been crammed with anti-Trump op-eds since last Tuesday. One headline summed things up neatly: “Trump is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser.”
For years, Trump and Murdoch found themselves in a marriage of convenience that paid political and commercial dividends. But it looks like that union is finally over. As both Trump (on marriage number three) and Murdoch (who recently parted ways with wife number four) will understand, every divorce has a winner and a loser. One party has to come out on top. In this case, Trump is the scorned lover plotting his revenge. Holed up in Mar-a-Lago, the former president is reportedly “throwing regular tantrums.” Meanwhile, the media baron seems to be smitten with a younger model, DeSantis. “NewsCorp, which is Fox, the Wall Street Journal and the no longer great New York Post, is all in for Governor Ron DeSanctimonious,” Trump complained in a statement last week.
Where did it all go wrong? Well, you’ve seen Succession. When Logan Roy, the fictional founder and CEO of a media conglomerate clearly based on Murdoch, has no further use for someone, he simply gets rid of them. And so it is in the real world. The British newspaper the i reported Monday that Murdoch has told Donald Trump that he will “not back any attempt by the former president to return to the White House” and even threatened to “back a Democrat against him.” Like an injured racehorse, it’s far more humane to shoot it than watch the poor thing cry out.
Maybe it was always going to end this way. I asked an old acquaintance of Murdoch for any insight into his character. “He’s a total bastard,” he said. In the best sense, apparently. “There is no small talk with Rupert Murdoch: when he’s done with you, you know about it.” Notice how I said acquaintance. I was told “you can’t call me a friend simply because he has no friends.”
Any successful media proprietor needs to know when to elevate and when to kill. The Economist describes Murdoch as “inventing the modern tabloid,” as he amped up coverage of sex and scandal because, as he learned, it sells. Through Fox, he has had an outsize influence on the American right for a quarter of a century. In 2016, when it was clear that Donald Trump was on his way to the White House, he backed him, in what was to become a harmonious media relationship. But every dog has its day, even one with a bark as loud as Donald Trump.
It isn’t just Murdoch. In recent days, formerly staunch Trump fans in conservative media have withdrawn support for the former president after his chosen candidates’ underwhelming performances in the midterms. Candace Owens, the conservative commentator and Daily Wire host, recently denounced Trump, claiming he needs “more humility when he gets something wrong.”
One official from the Trump administration told me there were three reasons the media love affair with Trump ended. The first, he claims, is because “the act became stale as shown by the run of electoral losses.” Second: “media always does better selling the next hot thing.” But he claimed the third reason was the most important: covering Trump’s stories from his team was no longer a risk-free proposition. “Maybe Fox & Friends could let him run with the Obama birth certificate claims, but Newsmax faced legal jeopardy when they ran with Trump’s Dominion election-fraud claims,” the official explained. (Dominion Voting Systems claims in an ongoing $1.7 billion lawsuit that Fox and other media outlets “intentionally and falsely” lied about Dominion’s voting systems in the wake of the 2020 election.)
Rather scathingly, the former official added, “It’s one thing to ignore the howling madman on the street corner, but it’s another to let him into your home to cause chaos. Media outlets can’t let themselves get into legal troubles to blindly follow his claims. The safer bet for media companies also has a higher upside: tout the shiny new contenders and don’t give Trump earned media that may ultimately cost you bigly.”
It’s no secret that before the 2016 election, Murdoch was less than impressed with Donald Trump’s political aspirations. Murdoch once tweeted, “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?” Trump boycotted the Fox primary debate in retaliation. The courtship was plagued with jealousy and gas-lighting, and when Murdoch didn’t dance to Trump’s tune, he would simply spend a night with out-there upstarts like One America News Network or Newsmax.
One former News Corp employee claimed “the fractures were always there” between the pair, adding that “Rupert has his eyes on the prize. He backed Trump because he was going to win. Now it’s all about DeSantis.” In other words, it was always strictly business. After all, Murdoch famously branded Trump a “phony“ and “fucking idiot” as early as late 2016.
Although the deal was largely done, election night in 2020 was the final straw. Fox became the first to call Arizona for Joe Biden, a move which reportedly led Jared Kushner to contact Murdoch and Trump’s remaining allies to demand a retraction. For the Trump team, this was the ultimate betrayal, and a Trump administration official claimed “Arizona was when it became clear it was all over.”
But is it any surprise Murdoch is less than excited by Trump 2024 when even the former president’s own family are reportedly nonplussed? Over the weekend, at his daughter Tiffany’s wedding, the New York Post claimed that Trump spent a large portion of it “trying to convince Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner to be with him on stage when he announces his third consecutive run for the presidency.” According to the paper’s sources, the pair are standing firm, claiming “they both feel they got burned in Washington and don’t want to go back and expose themselves and their children to another bitter campaign.”
This comes after The Spectator reported last week that an emergency gathering is set to be held in Miami this week to talk about “the Trump problem.” Sources claimed to Cockburn that Steve Wynn and other GOP donors are said to want to “move on from Trump,” so are coming together to decide how to keep him from securing the 2024 nomination. Ryan Girdusky, chairman and founder of the 1776 Project PAC, a conservative campaign group, says that the midterm elections “were really death by a thousand paper cuts for the Republicans,” adding that Trump “definitely hurt them.”
But while conservative strategists and donors have the fortunes of the Republican Party, Murdoch’s move against Trump is ultimately about the success of his own outlets. As an ex-News Corp employee told me, “first and foremost it’s a business. The Trump show isn’t cutting it anymore.”