As Donald Trump Dominates News Cycles, Rivals Are Left with Shrunken Spotlights

Former US President Donald Trump speaks at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, on
ALON SKUY/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump has dominated news cycles following his indictment and arrest on highly criticized charges last week, which operatives say make it difficult for his opponents to make a splash as he continues to surge in the polls.

Trump already showed a strong plurality among Republican voters last month, even before he forecasted his impending arrest based on “illegal leaks” from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s Office.

In the aftermath of the unprecedented indictment, which three in four Republican voters said stemmed more from a “witch hunt” than a “legitimate investigation,” Trump has coalesced a majority of support in the party in most national polls.

At the same time, he has become the focal point of news cycles, gaining comprehensive coverage surrounding his arraignment last week from legacy and establishment cable stations.

Breitbart News caught up with a Trump world operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity regarding the 45th president’s media attention and what it means for primary opponents trying to gain traction. The operative said that much like in 2016, the current primary will “be seen through the lens of Trump.”

“It’s going to be about who agrees with Trump and who opposes Trump,” the individual said. “That’s just where this is going. And, of course, Trump is going to control all of the media cycles because there’s just no one else who can create a bigger spectacle than him. There’s no one else with more charisma than him. There’s no one else who understands how to work the media as well as him.”

This was evident in Trump’s decision to forgo a remote virtual arraignment in favor of an in-person booking at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and an arraignment hearing in the New York County Supreme Court that was sure to turn into a “spectacle,” as Rolling Stone reported.

The day before his arraignment, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN ran “live continuous coverage of Trump’s departure from his home in Florida and arrival in Manhattan,” as the Hill noted.

The next afternoon, cable news stations provided wall-to-wall coverage of his booking, hearing, and departure from New York City. The frenzy continued into the evening as many stations carried his remarks after his return to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

ABC News even caught heat for blurring a campaign poster on the front of Trump’s podium.

Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC saw substantial rating boosts following their intensive Trump coverage. Between March 30 and April 5 – the week that saw the grand jury indictment and arrest – CNN’s “total-day ratings” jumped 35 percent compared to the March 23-29 time frame, the Wall Street Journal reported. MSNBC saw a 36 percent rating spike in the same period, while Fox News viewership grew by 13 percent.

In all, indictment day registered as a 10.2 rating, beating “the average ratings of 2022 evening news (6.47), the 2023 Golden Globes (1.1), the 2023 Oscars (4.0), and Trump’s own ‘Celebrity Apprentice’s‘ best rating of 10.1 in its 2004/2005 season,” as Breitbart News reported.

In comparison, the Trump world operative zoned in on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who has not yet announced a White House bid but is amid a book tour, which Trump and GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy have likened to a “shadow” presidential campaign.

Ron DeSantis has been on a nationwide media tour for the last two months, yet, it seems like he’s getting less media coverage than ever now,” the strategist told Breitbart News.

DeSantis had difficulty getting out of Trump’s shadow even before rumors of the indictment, according to the source, stating the “only times” he garnered national attention over the past month and a half resulted from “missteps, like when he flip-flopped on Ukraine and when he decided to join the radical left in criticizing Trump over the Stormy Daniels stuff.”

Further evidence of this was that “even before the indictment, DeSantis’s poll numbers were crashing,” the individual noted, adding that the current polling trends are “a continuation of what was already occurring.”

One operative who backs DeSantis and two strategists who worked for a pair of Trump’s 2016 rivals highlighted the difficulties for others in securing media attention at the moment, Politico reported.

The Pro-DeSantis source, who was granted anonymity, frustratedly likened the current climate to “fucking 2016” when Trump took the lion’s share of news coverage in a deeply crowded field.

David Kochel, who was the chief strategist for Jeb Bush’s failed 2016 campaign, complained about Trump receiving “roadblock media coverage,” comparing it to the infamous O.J. Simpson car chase in 1994.

“I get it, it’s a big story. But this was getting covered like … the opening of the war in Iraq or the O.J. chase. You couldn’t escape it,” he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) 2016 advisor Terry Sullivan called it “deja vu all over again. ”

“Trump dominates media coverage, making it impossible for his competitors to get any coverage or forward traction,” Sullivan said.

A source close to the 45th president told Breitbart News that Trump’s ability to command news cycles is second to none, and anyone considering a challenge should strongly evaluate their own ability to “breakthrough” Trump-dominant coverage.

“President Trump is the only person in history who can command an entire global news cycle whenever he wants,” the source said. “And in turn, those eyeballs have translated to better poll numbers that have put him far and above any other candidate or potential candidate. Everyone who is thinking about running should reconsider how they’ll breakthrough on their own merits.”

Speaking anonymously, a third source, who is a GOP strategist, told Breitbart News that “President Trump is in control of events and this indictment narrative reaffirms his entire frame of politics: that the system is corrupt.”

The source also laid out the contours of what voters seek in their nominee and the tasks at hand for all candidates in the race.

“Republicans want a fighter, and the challenge for the other candidates is to create a different news cycle with them – not Trump – as the main hero,” the operative added. “Ron DeSantis has done it before with his war on Disney and his response to COVID, but those story lines are fading and he needs something new to keep his media star alive.”

That feat is even more difficult for the GOP candidates who are not in public office, “as they have a more limited platform,” according to the source.

“Meanwhile, the challenge for President Trump is to use media coverage of his indictment to drive home a strong, winning message that seals up his support from Republicans and convinces skeptical voters that he has the discipline to win in 2024,” the strategist added.

While the indictment made Republican voters more likely to support Trump, per a Mclaughlin & Associates survey, it also established an even more difficult climate for his challengers to levy a political attack, according to the first strategist.

Rivals were already tasked with the “really tough” prospect of effectively landing an attack on Trump without being associated with “RINOs [Republicans in Name Only],” the operative pointed out.

“After the indictment, it just got 100 times harder because now it’s virtually impossible to hit Trump in a way that makes it look like you’re not piling on as this radical left-wing D.A. is trying to literally put him in jail,” the operative said. “I don’t know how DeSantis or Nikki Haley are going to be able to square that circle.”


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