Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been spending plenty of time out of state as he promotes his book and continues his maybe run for president. He signed an unpopular six-week abortion ban just before 11 pm Thursday, then headed to Liberty University in Virginia, where he weirdly didn’t discuss it with the heavily right-wing students and staff. Huh.
On Tuesday he visited Washington, D.C., for a “policy discussion” geared at shoring up his standing with House GOP members, especially Floridians—he’d already lost five of the state’s 20-member GOP congressional delegation, who have endorsed former president Donald Trump. Representative Greg Steube announced his Trump endorsement Monday night, a nice “Welcome to Washington” gesture for old “pudding fingers” (watch this video).
On Tuesday afternoon, as DeSantis prepped his DC confab, Trump added Representatives Brian Mast and John Rutherford as the sixth and seventh House GOP Florida men behind him. DeSantis grabbed one endorsement, Representative Laurel Lee, former Florida secretary of state and a longtime ally. “His leadership and his vision made Florida a shining beacon of freedom,” Lee said. Right now, she is the only member of the Florida delegation to back the Florida governor. Greg Steube complained to Politico that he’d never heard from DeSantis in the governor’s five years in office, not even when Steube was hospitalized early this year after a tree-trimming accident (Trump called immediately). To know him, I guess, is not to love him.
Still, DeSantis found time, on his way out of town, to take another shot at the Disney Corporation, the largest employer in Central Florida, as he prepared for D.C. He’s been sparring with the company since its leaders came out against his anti-LGBT “Parental Rights in Education” law last year. He botched a recent power grab for the theme park’s land, but now he’s threatening to take over responsibility for monitoring safety and working conditions. And he made an even crazier threat, suggesting that the state could build a prison on land adjacent to Disney World.
“Someone even said like, maybe you need another state prison,” he told reporters. “Who knows? I mean, I just think that the possibilities are endless.”
Who knows, indeed? It’s the threat that matters. DeSantis is trying to rival Trump in spite and meanness: The Bulwark’s JV Last says DeSantis’s move is intended to signal to Republicans that “I will use every power of the state to hurt the people you hate.” Of course, I’d have to assume some Republicans like the state’s giant employer, which bills itself as “The Happiest Place On Earth.” Even when DeSantis’s pettiness rivals Trump’s, he doesn’t seem to be having as much fun with grievance as TFG does. He just seems grumpy.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’s stand on abortion and his support for radical book bans have at least one major donor putting plans to support a presidential run by the Florida governor “on hold.” GOP megadonor Thomas Peterffy told the Financial Times that he and “his friends” are no longer backing a run because of DeSantis’s “stance on abortion and book banning.” Along with other former DeSantis backers, Peterffy says his widely expected presidential bid has lost “momentum.” While you can still find Florida polls that show him with a slight lead over Trump, the former president has recently boosted his standing in national polls.
“If I were one of his advisers, I’d be like ‘Dude, what are you waiting for?’” Mike Murphy, a Michigan sheriff and DeSantis supporter, recently complained to reporters. “The shots are coming regardless, whether you’re a presidential candidate or in the exploratory phase or dropping hints.… I would’ve already announced.” Other nominal supporters tell journalists anonymously that there’s concern that DeSantis has little or no organization in early GOP primary and caucus states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
A heralded New Hampshire appearance last Friday night generated some tension with state Republicans, who balked at paying for the metal detectors required by DeSantis’s camp (two protesters with “Jews Against DeSantis” signs disrupted the event anyway). Once again (this always kills me), DeSantis supporters spread word that he stayed after the event and actually shook hands with voters—just more evidence of how much DeSantis hates that kind of exposure and thinks he should get a participation trophy for it.
DeSantis went into his Tuesday meeting with only two congressional supporters—Representatives Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky (seven other Republicans sponsored the event, but they have not yet endorsed him). He picked up Lee’s endorsement just before the event, where he was met outside by more protesters and media members than Republicans.
Meanwhile, the top #MAGA joke on Twitter Tuesday afternoon was:
Toddler crawls through White House fence https://t.co/noNh2oSVWW
—Jim Lokay FOX 5 DC 📺 (@LokayFOX5) April 18, 2023
Punchline: The toddler was DeSantis.
His perfectly average five-foot-nine height really riles up the #MAGAs and almost makes me feel bad for him. Almost.
The settlement of the Fox-Dominion lawsuit crowded out all other political news on Tuesday afternoon. I have to say: DeSantis might be grateful that Fox and Dominion obscured his D.C. visit. He won no new supporters; in fact, in what Politico called “a stone-cold act of political brutality,” Texas Representative Lance Gooden walked out of the meeting and endorsed Trump. It seems like the better Republicans know DeSantis, the less they like him. Maybe he’d like a do-over on his foray to Washington. Or maybe he’d rather stay in Tallahassee.