DeSantis, Once a Darling of Conservative News Media, Now Rails Against It

As the Iowa caucuses draw near, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has increasingly focused on a peculiar target as he looks to win the Republican nomination: the conservative news media ecosystem that supports former President Donald J. Trump.

Desperate to make his case that he is a better candidate than Mr. Trump — while trailing by wide margins in recent polls — Mr. DeSantis seems to have turned on many of the news outlets that once promoted his candidacy, for being unfair in their coverage.

“He’s got basically a Praetorian Guard of the conservative media — Fox News, the websites, all this stuff,” Mr. DeSantis told reporters outside his campaign headquarters in Urbandale, Iowa. “They just don’t hold him accountable because they’re worried about losing viewers. And they don’t want to have the ratings go down.”

He added: “That’s just the reality. That’s just the truth, and I’m not complaining about it. I’d rather that not be the case. But that’s just, I think, an objective reality.”

It was the most animated version of a message that Mr. DeSantis, despite saying he is not complaining, has delivered repeatedly over the last several days. While the former governor’s own criticisms of Mr. Trump are relatively muted, he has urged conservative news media to be more critical.

Calling on the conservative news media to hold Mr. Trump more to account allows Mr. DeSantis to appear to be doing so himself, if not directly. But he and his team have also taken to attacking Fox News, which was glowing in its coverage of Mr. DeSantis until it circled the wagons for Mr. Trump once the former president was first indicted in March 2023.

When Mr. DeSantis was a House member, he became a star among conservatives through appearances on Fox News. He soon built a supportive network with other conservative news outlets.

The New York Post, which, like Fox News, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, declared him “DeFuture” after his successful re-election effort in 2022, making him a target for some Trump allies who portrayed him as the conservative news media’s establishment pick. He had grown used to being defended by conservative news media in his culture war fights, and by an army of online allies who would defend him on social media.

But that was then. Mr. DeSantis’s standing in the race for the Republican nomination eroded over many months. Fox News hosted Mr. Trump just this week for a live town hall from Iowa.

Mr. DeSantis, who once constantly criticized the mainstream news media, has shifted gears and gives interviews to mainstream outlets like CNN and even left-leaning networks like MSNBC.

He now finds himself floating attack lines against onetime allies as he fights for second place in the caucuses before bringing them on the trail. To that end, Mr. DeSantis used his line about Mr. Trump’s Praetorian Guard during an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” before deploying it again on Friday.

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