How Ron DeSantis has positioned himself as a leading MAGA ‘culture warrior’
Although Florida is a swing state, Gov. Ron DeSantis has not governed as a moderate conservative like Maryland's Larry Hogan, Massachusetts' Charlie Baker or Vermont's Phil Scott. DeSantis has governed from the far right, making it abundantly clear that he is a Donald Trump loyalist through and through. Never Trump conservative Max Boot, in his June 22 column for the Washington Post, describes DeSantis as a strident culture warrior and lays out some of his possible political motivations for being so devoutly Trumpian.
"The winner of 'The Apprentice: Culture Warfare Edition,' so far, appears to be Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Trump's new home state of Florida," Boot explains. "He is setting himself up as Trump's running mate or successor by showing a genius for appealing to every disreputable prejudice of the GOP base. This man knows how to outrage Democrats and therefore, delight Republicans."
Some of the Republicans who were scathing Trump critics when they ran against him in the 2016 presidential race are now afraid to say one word against him — Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for example. The problem with Rubio and Cruz, Boot argues, is that they come across as less "authentic" than DeSantis.
"Former President Donald Trump is America's premier culture warrior," Boot observes. "No other modern politician has displayed as much talent at dividing Americans, peddling disinformation, demonizing minorities and exacerbating social problems. Many have tried to imitate him only to fall short because their performances were inauthentic and unconvincing. I'm looking at you, Marco Rubio; you, too, Ted Cruz."
In 2020's presidential race, Boot was among the anti-Trump conservatives who endorsed now-President Joe Biden over Trump — and he was highly critical of the Trumpified Republicans who turned the coronavirus pandemic into a culture war battle. DeSantis, according to Boot, was more concerned about playing the MAGA card than dealing with the deadly realities of COVID-19.
"Other governors saw the COVID-19 pandemic as a public health crisis," Boot observes. "DeSantis, following Trump's lead, saw it as an opportunity to score populist points with the base. He was one of 16 governors never to issue a statewide mask mandate, and he banned municipalities from punishing people who refused to follow local mask orders. In September 2020, even while the pandemic continued to rage, he allowed restaurants and other businesses to reopen at full capacity."
Boot continues, "Last month, he signed an executive order and legislation preventing businesses from insisting that customers be vaccinated. This caused a showdown with cruise lines that want to use "vaccine passports" to lure travelers. DeSantis acts as if mask mandates and vaccination passports — both sensible precautions — are actually 'Deep State' plots that must be resisted at all costs."
In Florida's 2018 gubernatorial race, the far-right DeSantis narrowly defeated the liberal Democratic nominee: former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. But as close as that race was, DeSantis hasn't reached out to Democrats in his state — and he is still playing the MAGA card at every turn.
"Now, as the pandemic fades, DeSantis is scoring points on other issues of concern only to the Trumpist base," Boot observes. "Appealing to Trump voters who think that the 2020 election was rigged, DeSantis went on Fox News to sign a bill making it harder to vote in Florida. DeSantis won't say if he thinks President Biden won legitimately. Appealing to right-wingers mad that Trump has been kicked off Twitter and Facebook, DeSantis signed legislation that would fine social media companies that suspend state or local candidates close to an election and make it easier to sue tech companies."
It remains to be seen whether or not Trump will run for president in 2024. DeSantis is being mentioned as a possible running mate if Trump runs — or as someone Trump is likely to endorse if he stays out of the race.
Whatever happens in 2024, Boot emphasizes, DeSantis is making sure that MAGA voters know how much of a Trump loyalist he is.
"Mask mandates, vaccine passports, voter fraud, tech company censorship, transgender athletes, undocumented migrants, Critical Race Theory — DeSantis pushes every single right-wing hot-button issue," Boot writes. "He understands how to demonize and polarize for political advantage — and he doesn't care about how much collateral damage he inflicts. Little wonder he is being talked about as the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination if Trump doesn't run — and maybe even if he does."
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