As David Freedlander points out in New York Magazine, Republican candidates in 2022 increasingly have decided that they no longer need a free press, and that the far friendlier confines of right wing talk radio, podcasts, viral social media and FOX News are all they need to reach in order to get enough votes to win in November.
When Fox News host Tucker Carlson appeared last week at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa — an annual cattle call for Republican would-be presidential contenders — he insisted that he was a not a candidate, but he had advice for what GOP voters should look for in one: “You need to be really wary of candidates who care what the New York Times thinks,” he said. Singling out former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who, after the murder of George Floyd, tweeted that his death was “personal and painful,” Carlson accused the likely presidential candidate of pandering to the wrong audience.
“You’re trying to please the people whose opinions you actually care about — at the New York Times,” he said, mocking Haley.
This view — that approval from the mainstream press isn’t just unnecessary but actually suspect — is one that has come to dominate GOP politics in the Trump era. And while railing against the so-called liberal media has long been a part of the Republican playbook, more than a dozen GOP campaign operatives, senior Hill aides, and political reporters from major news outlets say the past few years have brought something new: actively courting the media’s scorn while avoiding anything that may be viewed as consorting with the enemy.
At this point in the political cycle six years ago, Rand Paul was on the cover of Time magazine. “The Most Interesting Man in Politics,” the headline said of the junior senator from Kentucky and 2016 presidential aspirant. He was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine too, billed as a “Major Threat” (with a design riffing off the visual language of the punk band Minor Threat).
In both instances, Paul spent lots of time with the reporters, posing for pictures, and his views were given at least a fair, if not flattering, airing. And if Paul was a sympathetic figure for the media in his pre-2016 days — a civil libertarian who opposed military escalation abroad and seemed to hate the Republican Establishment as much as Democrats did — he wasn’t alone in receiving and participating in coverage from the elite media. Ted Cruz was profiled in The New Yorker, pictured in his cowboy boots before a painting of Ronald Reagan. He was portrayed as an archconservative, but a swashbuckling one, with his father and various employers, friends, and former college professors speaking to his intelligence. Marco Rubio was also in the magazine and was compared to a Republican Kennedy.
It wasn’t just Paul, Cruz, and Rubio. Take a look at any of the prestige- and Establishment-media outlets from around this time (including this one), and all of their pages were graced with the Jeb Bushes, Chris Christies, John Kasichs, and other contenders who were making up an already overstuffed presidential-primary field.
We are at the same point now in the 2024 election cycle, and again two fistfuls of Republicans are making noises about running for president. But that kind of long look at the life and career of the contenders has been all but absent so far this election cycle. Save for a recent Time profile of Glenn Youngkin, still considered a long shot for a 2024 run, the closest we’ve seen to what used to be a staple of political journalism is a long New Yorker profile of Florida governor Ron DeSantis — one in which the subject didn’t participate, a previously almost unheard-of press strategy for a presidential aspirant. And it is not just the prepresidential campaign profile that is suffering from a lack of Republican engagement. Increasingly, even simple news stories from national newspapers and wire services will feature a direct quote from a Democrat but just a tweet or a line from a speech by a Republican, typically a sign the latter declined to respond to the reporter.
“I just don’t even see what the point is anymore,” said an adviser to one likely GOP presidential aspirant, who requested anonymity to discuss press strategy. “We know reporters always disagreed with the Republican Party, but it used to be you thought you could get a fair shake. Now every reporter, and every outlet, is just chasing resistance rage-clicks.”