It’s rare that you see Fox News cut away from the biggest news event in Republican politics. Roughly 40 minutes into Donald Trump’s announcement that he was running for president again, a glittery affair at Mar-a-Lago scheduled during primetime, Sean Hannity came back on the air to talk to Fox and Friends weekend host Pete Hegseth and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee—hardly the A-team of Fox News—while Trump was consigned to picture-in-picture. Well into the 10 p.m. hour, Laura Ingraham ran her show over the muted live footage of Trump rambling about “Marxists,” executing drug dealers and referring obliquely to QAnon “storm” rhetoric. The New York Post, which was once all in for Trump, consigned the announcement to page 26.
It was quite a difference from 2016, or even 2020. CNN, which made Trump the focal point of years of frenzied coverage, stopped carrying the speech after 25 minutes; the networks didn’t air it at all. At Mar-a-Lago, ABC’s Jon Karl observed people trying to leave the ballroom early, but getting stopped by staffers to avoid generating an all-too on-the-nose visual metaphor.
The subdued mood of the night—I kept hearing the words “low-energy” being thrown around, the phrase itself a Trump-era death rattle—hinted at the obvious: a week ago, the Republicans endured the most embarrassing midterm performance in recent history. Despite an unpopular president, record inflation, the soaring cost of living and several international crises, the Democrats successfully defended the Senate and denied Kevin McCarthy a sizable majority in the House. And while the G.O.P. is trading blame across its leadership ranks, there’s one man who’s drawing most of the fire. “I feel like there’s a big difference in Trump declaring victory and credit for the big red wave of whatever size it might have been, and everybody’s happy. That’s kind of the head of steam they wanted,” one G.O.P. consultant told me. “Now it’s almost purely out of defensive, seize-the-vacuum before anybody can really take it, as the Murdoch empire is coming out against him. It really does feel different.”