Florida Governor Ron DeSantis committed to fight “woke ideology” at his inauguration last week. It’s part of his crusade against “woke capitalism,” by which he means companies that see LGBT people as part of their market (Disney) or make noises about building environmental concerns into their investment strategies (BlackRock), and pharmacy chains that peddle what he now insists is a dangerous Covid vaccine (CVS and Walgreens). On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that DeSantis’s inaugural committee took money from lobbyists who work for those very same companies.
Hypocrisy, you say? I don’t bother to call out hypocrisy among Republicans anymore, since their voters don’t care about it. Christian evangelicals supporting the twice-divorced philandering charlatan Donald Trump? Ho-hum. I don’t find anything surprising about DeSantis taking money from these lobbyists, because he’s a cynic who is happy to take anybody’s money.
Anyway, who is worse here, DeSantis or the lobbyists? It’s a tough call. The governor has railed against the companies they work for but they support his inauguration anyway? He politically bites the hand that feeds them? Plus, after rhetorically bashing them for “wokeness,” the governor rarely if ever follows up with anything that hurts their bottom line (though he has reportedly directed Florida pension funds away from BlackRock). But if these corporations truly saw DeSantis as a threat, they’d get rid of these turncoat lobbyists. Of course, they have not, at least so far. And I don’t expect them to.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’s culture-war crusades hurt real people. On Wednesday, we also learned that his administration rejected a proposed Advance Placement course on African American studies, an avenue of scholarship that has always been championed in a nonpartisan way. DeSantis’s Department of Education claims the course “lacks educational value.” With all due respect, Ron, how would you know? His administration claims that the course violates the state’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which forbids the teaching of “critical race theory” in Florida. The proposed AP course has nothing to do with critical race theory, but anything that teaches the sorry past of white Americans is widely denounced as CRT.
This move will hurt Florida students and teachers in measurable ways. “It means an insult to me, it means an injury to me,” Dr. Marvin Dunn, a specialist in Florida’s Black history, told the Daily Beast. “Florida is doing its best to shut down discussions about race, slavery, anything having to do with a challenge to the idea that racism is still a real factor in American life today.”
We know about DeSantis’s assault on LGBT rights, especially in schools. Florida’s adoption of a “Parental Rights in Education” law, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, restricted teaching or talking about sexual orientation and gender identity. He’s appointed reactionaries to the board of the progressive New College of Florida, which has been a beacon of enlightenment and a place of refuge for LGBT students, as well as other independent-minded young people. He’s cutting off Medicaid care to transgender young people for any kind of “gender-affirming” treatment.
Just as bad, for a leader in a party that used to be known for promoting “freedom,” DeSantis just prevented cities, counties, schools, and even private businesses from imposing mask mandates or Covid vaccine requirements. The governor’s flat-earth approach to public health should be an affront to anyone who believes in the right of local jurisdictions or private businesses to make their own rules—such as the people we used to call Republicans.
But DeSantis’s Covid moves are said to be a means of marking one rare difference with Donald Trump: For a few minutes when Covid was beginning to kill a devastating number of Americans, Trump advised a temporary shutdown of public places (until his brainiac son-in-law Jared Kushner claimed the pandemic was only hurting blue states; now we know it disproportionately took the lives of red-staters).
And Trump has noticed. Earlier this week, he told the conservative podcast The Water Cooler that he’s prepared for a challenge from the guy he calls “Ron DeSanctimonious.” If DeSantis runs, Trump said, “I’ll handle that the way I handle things.” I’m not sure what that means, but I look forward to finding out. He’ll pay him hush money like he did Stormy Daniels? Sic the Proud Boys on him and send a crowd to Tallahassee chanting, “Hang Ron DeSantis”? Bury him on his New Jersey golf course with his first wife, Ivana? We’ll see.
Trump is a habitual liar, but about DeSantis, he’s telling the truth: The former president did help the Florida Congress member get elected governor in 2018. Then, DeSantis was a Trump toady. Remember that ad with his little son, Mason, where he told the toddler to “Build the Wall” with his blocks, and read him a bedtime story about Trump’s greatness? But now it looks like he wants to run for president, and it looks like a lot of Republicans who want Trumpism without Trump are getting behind him. Apparently, a quarter of Michigan’s Republican House members sent him a letter urging him to consider a run. He’s also the new darling of Fox News.
Right now, I don’t think Trump has much to worry about from DeSantis (I worry the same thing is true about Attorney General Merrick Garland, but again I hope I’m wrong). My colleague John Nichols has called him “the Scott Walker of 2024.” Remember former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker? Back in 2011, his crusade against public employee unions was his version of crusading against “woke capitalism,” a national political brand-builder, and Walker was hailed as a 2016 front-runner. But like DeSantis, he was not terribly bright and not at all charismatic, and he was driven from the presidential primary stage by the shriveling wattage of Trump’s celebrity bullying.
DeSantis actually got a feature in Politico this week hailing the fact that he mingled with donors and thanked them at his inauguration celebration. That would be routine for any other pol, but it’s apparently a big step for DeSantis, who appears to lack normal human instincts, or, to put it another way, to actively dislike most other people.
We’ll see how the 2024 primary race shapes up. DeSantis regularly polls behind Trump but far ahead of other aspiring nominees, including former vice president Mike Pence. But Trump’s declared candidacy is more likely to be foiled by his many foibles than by DeSantis’s alleged strength. Still, it would be nice to see these two bullies destroy each other instead of Florida and the country.