‘Iowa Letdown’: How the media is covering DeSantis’ second-place finish

Iowa can be crucial in setting the narrative. What story did DeSantis tell Monday?
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens as Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds speaks during a rally at the Never Back Down super PAC headquarters on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, in West Des Moines, Iowa. DeSantis is running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens as Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds speaks during a rally at the Never Back Down super PAC headquarters on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, in West Des Moines, Iowa. DeSantis is running for the Republican presidential nomination. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published Jan. 16|Updated Jan. 16

Gov. Ron DeSantis strode into the Republican presidential primary in May with a message: I am a winner.

Eight months later, voters in Iowa delivered a rebuke of that assessment, handing former President Donald Trump a dominant 30-point victory in the first Republican presidential primary contest. DeSantis finished second, fighting off a late surge from former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Monday night’s results were by no means fatal for DeSantis’ campaign. For all of the attention it gets, Iowa doesn’t decide who is going to be a party’s nominee on its own. The state awarded just 40 of the 2,429 delegates up for grabs in the Republican primary this cycle.

But for DeSantis in particular — and presidential candidates in general — Iowa can serve as a crucial competitive litmus test. And it can help build narrative momentum for candidates like DeSantis hoping to show they have the support to compete in monthslong primary.

What did the narrative look like for DeSantis Tuesday morning? Here’s how news outlets covered his second-place finish.

Mainstream media

New York Times: DeSantis suffered an “Iowa Letdown”

The New York Times raised doubts about DeSantis’ staying power in the primary, writing in a news story headlined “DeSantis’s Iowa Letdown: A Distant Second Place Behind Trump” that DeSantis’ “distant second-place finish had all the feelings of a disaster, given how much time and money he invested in the state.” Reporters for the paper wrote that the result “calls into question his ability to stay in the nominating contest.”

Reuters: “Ron DeSantis bet the farm on Iowa. He just lost it.”

The international news service ran a headline saying that DeSantis had risked it all on Iowa — and lost. This is how the first paragraph of its story read:

“Ron DeSantis’ path to victory in the Republican primary race is now in deep trouble and he risks funding problems going forward after failing to deliver a breakthrough performance in Iowa on Monday, analysts and people close to his nomination effort said.”

Des Moines Register: “DeSantis defied polling”

One of the most prominent Iowa newspapers wrote that DeSantis “defied polling that had him finishing third in the race to former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, allowing his supporters to claim that he is the leading alternative to Trump.”

But reporters added that DeSantis still lost by 30 points to Trump, raising questions about whether DeSantis can beat the former president.

Time: “In Iowa, Ron DeSantis Takes His Loss as a Win”

The national magazine wrote that DeSantis’ finish “means that the DeSantis campaign will continue into New Hampshire and beyond.” It quoted DeSantis at his campaign’s election night party saying, “You helped us get a ticket punched out of the Hawkeye State.”

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But the story went on to say “Second was good enough to punch his ticket, but it may be a ticket to nowhere.”

Outlets calling the race

News organizations such as the Associated Press and CNN called the Iowa caucuses for Trump about half an hour into caucusing.

The DeSantis team was furious, with spokespeople accusing outlets of making a premature call. Christina Pushaw, a DeSantis campaign spokesperson, likened the calls to “election interference.”

Conservative media

Fox News: Does DeSantis have the momentum he needs?

Rupert Murdoch’s television news network was once a key megaphone for DeSantis. On Tuesday, a reporter for noted that DeSantis outperformed the polls to finish second over Haley.

But a different Fox News story raised questions about DeSantis’ viability going forward.

“Despite the close 2nd place finish, questions about whether DeSantis has the momentum and funding to compete with Trump in future states are likely to continue,” read the second story.

Breitbart: DeSantis has no plans to drop out.

Trump’s victory dominated Breitbart’s coverage of Iowa. (“GLOBALIST RECKONING AFTER TRUMP IOWA BLOWOUT,” read a headline on the site’s homepage.) But the outlet, which was once run by Trump adviser Steve Bannon, noted that DeSantis will continue to fight on in the primary,

“DeSantis made it clear earlier in the day that he had no plans to drop out regardless of the night’s results. On Monday night, his campaign reiterated that point but took it a step further, concluding that DeSantis successfully ‘earned his ticket out of Iowa,’” the site reported.

Washington Examiner: Iowa could give DeSantis a boost

The conservative Washington Examiner newspaper left open the possibility that DeSantis’ performance Monday could give him momentum.

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis managed to edge out former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley for second place, possibly giving his campaign a boost in other primary states,” the newspaper wrote.

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