In March, as Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida laid the groundwork for his presidential run, he joined Fox News host Brian Kilmeade to play a nationally televised game of catch on his hometown baseball field outside Tampa.

The questions Mr. DeSantis faced were as relaxed as the throws.

“Locksmith’s getting you ready for the press, huh?” Mr. Kilmeade asked. “Because your teammates, if they like you a lot, they rip you all the time.”

At the time, Mr. DeSantis was seen by many in the Republican Party as the strongest possible alternative to former President Donald J. Trump, who has repeatedly attacked the network and seen his relationship with its owner, Rupert Murdoch, evaporate.

Four months later, as Mr. DeSantis’ campaign failed to catch fire immediately against Mr. Trump, Fox News is no longer taking it so easy on Mr. DeSantis.

Over the last week, he faced noticeably tougher questions in interviews with two of the network’s hosts, Will Cain and Maria Bartiromo, who pressed him about his anemic polls and early campaign struggles. It was a striking change for a network that for years had offered Mr. DeSantis a safe space as a congressman and governor.

Other outlets in Mr Murdoch’s media empire have also been a little less friendly recently.

A recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal criticized tough immigration bill that Mr. DeSantis signed into law in May. And The New York Post, which hailed the governor as “future” on its front page last year, covered his lagging poll numbersas well as the backlash to a video his campaign shared that was condemned as homophobic.

Mr. DeSantis was always supposed to be subject to more scrutiny as a candidate, rather than a candidate-in-waiting. His decision to challenge Mr. Trump — who remains a favorite of the Fox News audience and some of its hosts, including Mrs. Bartiromo — will also certainly result in being brushed aside by fellow Republicans.

But together, the signs of skepticism from previously friendly Tory megaphones suggest that Mr Murdoch’s media empire may now be reassessing him as the early glow comes off his campaign.

Even if Mr. Murdoch’s outlets are overall less determinant of outcomes in Republican politics than they once were, they remain influential, and GOP candidates and major party donors still pay close attention to their coverage.

Whether Mr. Murdoch wants to see Mr. DeSantis as the nominee is unclear. Some of Mr. DeSantis’ moves — such as his ongoing penalty battle with Disney — likely did not sit well with the business-minded Mr. Murdoch, who nearly a decade ago demanded that federal officials make immigration reform a priority.

The media likes to even watch political races play out live-tweeting reactions to one of the Republican presidential debates during the 2016 election. Mr. Murdoch has privately told people he would still like to see Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia enter the race, according to a person with knowledge of the remarks. And he has made clear in private discussions over the past two years that he thinks Mr. Trump, despite his popularity with Fox News viewers, is unhealthy for the Republican Party.

A spokesman for Mr. Murdoch and a spokeswoman for Fox did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mr. DeSantis’ campaign declined to comment. Privately, his advisers say tougher questions were always expected and that the governor plans to pursue interviews with Fox hosts who may challenge him.

Republican voters view Mr. DeSantis favorably overall, but he could not significantly narrow the electoral gap between him and Mr. Trump since he entered the race, even as he remains the former president’s primary challenger. Mr. DeSantis has also continued to show an awkward side in unscripted exchanges where he is challenged — a contrast to Mr. Trump, a no-holds-barred activist who seems to enjoy combative interviews.

The tide has not completely changed. On Monday, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal took a new blow at Mr. Trump for adjusting his political positions depending on which audience he is addressing, and gave Mr. DeSantis a slight boost by comparing him favorably.

For Fox, navigating its coverage of Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Trump and an already bitter Republican presidential primary race is just one challenge.

This spring, the network paid dearly for its airing of Mr. Trump’s false election claims, settling a defamation lawsuit related to its coverage of the 2020 presidential contest for a staggering $787.5 million. More legal dangers lie ahead.

Less than a week after the settlement, Fox fired Tucker Carlson, its most popular prime-time host, in an earthquake for the conservative media ecosystem. The network now faces constant concerns about a dip in ratings and upstart competitors eager to push away Fox viewers who want a more pro-Trump point of view.

Although Mr. Trump still appears on Fox News, his relationship with the network remains hostile, to the extent that people close to him say there is little chance he will participate in the first Republican presidential debate, which Fox News hosts. next month (Mr. Trump, who leads in national polls by approximately 30 percentage pointsalso doesn’t want to give his rivals a chance to attack him personally, those people said.)

Mr. DeSantis, who usually avoids one-on-one interviews with mainstream political reporters, has a long and positive history with Fox News.

As a congressman, he co-hosted the show “Outnumbered” several times. In 2018, he announced his candidacy for governor in “Fox & Friends”. During the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News’ Sean Hannity praised Mr. DeSantis in an interview, saying: “I’m an idiot. I should be in Florida. You should be my governor.”

And after declaring his candidacy for president in a slow live stream on Twitter seven weeks ago, Mr. DeSantis immediately went on Fox for an interview, though the network did. mock at his technical difficulties.

Mr. Trump himself raged earlier in the year over what he perceived as Fox’s overly friendly treatment of Mr. DeSantis. “Just watching Fox News. They are very bad,” Mr. Trump wrote on his TruthSocial website in May. “They desperately push DeSanctimonious who, regardless, falls like a rock.”

He also researched features in The New York Post, including one in which the writer Salena Zito did long interview with Mr. DeSantis in his hometown of Dunedin, Fla. — article Mr. Trump denounced like a “puff piece”. (The Post, once one of Mr. Trump’s favorite newspapers, ripped into him.)

Mr. Trump was no doubt more pleased last Thursday when Mr. Cain, the Fox host, pressed Mr. DeSantis about his poll numbers, asking the governor why he was so late.

In response, Mr. DeSantis suggested that he was being unfairly attacked both by the “corporate media” and, somewhat incongruously, by Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has criticized him because of his hard stances on immigration.

“So I think if you look at all these people who are responsible for a lot of the ills in our society, they’re targeting me as the person they don’t want to see as the candidate,” Mr. DeSantis explained, adding. that his campaign had “just begun”.

Mr. Cain tried again, saying he believed Mr. DeSantis “did a wonderful job” as governor, but that “there are those who say there’s something about you that’s not relevant, for whatever reason, not relevant to the voter.”

Mr. DeSantis weaved around the question and noted that his campaign had raised $20 million in its first six weeks.

“We’re in the process of building a great organization, and I think we’re going to be on the ground in all these early states,” he said.

Mr. Cain is not a dyed in the wool Trump supporter. He talked about to vote against Mr. Trump in 2016. But when Mr. DeSantis joined Ms. Bartiromo, who has relentlessly pushed the former president’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, for an interview on Sunday, he certainly expected to be challenged.

“You did a great job pushing back against ‘awakening,’ we know that,” Ms. Bartiromo. said after allowing Mr. DeSantis to hit his usual talking points for a few minutes. “But I wonder what’s going on with your campaign. There was a lot of optimism about you running for president earlier in the year.”

Mr. DeSantis forced a laugh as Ms. Bartiromo read negative headlines about his campaign. He then jumped into a rejection that focused his efforts on building strong organizational operations in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Mary, these are stories,” he said. “The media doesn’t want me to be the candidate.”

Jonathan Swan contributed reporting from Washington.

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