Trump's Media Strategy: Will Appearing on CNN Help or Hurt His 2024 Campaign?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Can former President Donald Trump make nice with left-leaning activist media outlets? His team seems to think so according to a recent report. But the question is: Will this be a boon or a detriment to his campaign?

Trump will be participating in his first major network interview with CNN since he stormed off the set of a “60 Minutes” interview in late October 2020. Trump’s team is hoping to re-establish his relationships with mainstream media after demonizing them for years, and they think that they can improve his chances by getting him on networks across the media landscape.

It could be a significant moment for both parties, offering possible rewards to both CNN and Trump. While it provides CNN with potentially big ratings, it also comes with the risk of being accused of giving too much attention to Trump.

The Hill reported:

While Trump still has a complicated relationship with Fox News, one of the biggest brands in television, the agreement to do a town hall event with CNN is a significant moment that offers potential rewards to both parties.

For CNN, it could provide big ratings, even though it also comes with the risk of being accused of giving too much attention to Trump. CNN and MSNBC both came under criticism for the coverage they provided to Trump during his rise in the 2016 GOP primary fight.

For Trump, getting on CNN gives him what he craves most: attention and the ability to control a news cycle. In the aftermath of his false claims that fraud led to his 2020 defeat — and the violence of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — it also could hand him some mainstream respect and legitimacy.

The former president’s team believes engaging with outlets like CNN could improve his chances of becoming president again in 2024. One of his advisers told The Hill that “[g]oing outside the traditional Republican ‘comfort zone’ was a key to President Trump’s success in 2016.” The adviser took a thinly-veiled shot at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when he noted that “[s]ome other candidates are too afraid to take this step” and “are afraid to do anything other than Fox News.”

DeSantis, who is viewed as Trump’s most dangerous challenger for the GOP nomination, has made it a policy of avoiding non-friendly media outlets. Indeed, he made waves when his press secretary announced he would stop doing interviews with NBC News, MSNBC, and other outlets due to media activist Andrea Mitchell lying about the governor’s position on teaching slavery.

The move was widely lauded on the right, but DeSantis might not be able to get away with it for much longer, especially if his opponent is willing to get in the dirt with the activist media.

For its part, CNN’s leadership seems to think engaging with Trump without obsessing over him as the network did in the past might help its reputation as well.

“We have fact-checkers ready to go. We will put things in perspective. We will not let everything he does consume the news cycle, right?” said CNN President Chris Licht during an interview late last year. “There are other things that are important.”

The question is, will Trump’s willingness to interact with non-friendly media outlets benefit his campaign more than DeSantis’ avoiding them? It all depends on how he handles these interactions. If he is seen as being too unfriendly to a network that he used to constantly refer to as “fake news,” it might turn off the base, which still detests the Fourth Estate. However, if he manages to maintain a balance between excoriating them and making nice, it might allow him to win over independents and moderates who have grown tired of the Biden years.

On the other hand, Team DeSantis will probably need to become willing to engage with media outlets that are not right-leaning. His refusal to give interviews to these organizations might have gained him a boost a few months ago, but going forward, it could give the impression that he is afraid to tangle with media activists who won’t go easy on him. Either way, the new situation with the media might make this race more interesting than we originally thought.

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