The Wall Street Journal’s Desperate Search for the Perfect Anti-Trump Candidate

The problem for Gigot and company is that they want to be part of the GOP nomination conversation rather than quixotic crusaders. As the most prominent print voice of Reagan-era conservatism, the Journal is not about to lavish column inches on no-hope candidates like Asa Hutchinson. In DeSantis, the editorialists thought they had found their man: someone who would sucker the Trump enthusiasts, but who, deep down, was really just like them. But so far DeSantis has bamboozled no one.

Chris Christie, in particular, presents the Journal with a dilemma. His vitriol-dipped contempt for Trump undoubtedly appeals to Murdoch. When the former New Jersey governor entered the race in June, the Journal gushed, “Mr. Christie’s biggest appeal has always been his intelligence and tough-talking persona.” Peggy Noonan, the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist who operates independently of the rest of the edit page, hailed Christie’s executive abilities: “Love him or hate him, he knows what to do with power. He isn’t secretly frightened of it, as many politicians are.” Noonan, it should be pointed out, also earlier offered this worthy-of-Bartlett’s put-down of DeSantis: “He’s tough, unadorned, and carries a vibe, as I’ve said, that he might unplug your life support to recharge his cellphone.”

But Christie, despite his potential appeal to independents who can vote in the New Hampshire primary, does not have a plausible route to the nomination. Nor does Mike Pence, who, like Christie, appeals to the Journal partly because of his muscular support for the war in Ukraine and his free-market ideology. In mid-August, the editorial page went out of its way to praise the former veep’s drill-baby-drill energy policy. While Tim Scott and Nikki Haley are acceptable to the Journal on most issues—despite tiptoeing around Trump—they do not arouse much active enthusiasm and were barely mentioned in the editorial columns during a full month in midsummer. In June, though, the editorial page praised Scott, the leading African American in the GOP scrum, for wanting “to free minorities from union schools and escape poverty by giving them more economic opportunity.”