Florida's gubernatorial race is a 'referendum on democracy' but 'the odds do not look good': journalist
In Florida’s 2022 gubernatorial election, voters have two main options: conservative former Gov. Charlie Crist — an ex-Republican turned Democrat — and incumbent far-right MAGA Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Rep. Crist, who is resigning from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to run for governor, is right of center politically; Never Trump conservatives who typically applaud non-MAGA Republicans such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois are rooting for him. But DeSantis is way to the right, and polls indicate that he is likely to be reelected.
Polls released by the University of North Florida and Cherry Communications in August found DeSantis leading Crist by 8 percent. The Cook Political Report considers Florida’s 2022 gubernatorial race “likely Republican.”
Countless DeSantis critics, who range from liberals and progressives to Never Trumpers, have used the word “authoritarian” to describe him. And it’s a word that New York Times opinion writer Thomas B. Edsall uses more than once in an essay/op-ed published on August 31. Florida’s gubernatorial election, Edsall argues, will be a yes-or-no referendum on authoritarianism — and Florida voters are likely to say “yes.”
“The fact that Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is favored to win reelection is a clear warning to those worried about declining support for democratic institutions and values in the United States,” Edsall warns. “The prospect of DeSantis’ reelection in November suggests that under certain circumstances, the American electorate will tolerate, if not actively embrace, the abuse by domineering leaders of traditional political norms.”
DeSantis, Edsall notes, has “made no secret of his intent to use executive authority to the fullest extent,” whether he was punishing Disney for opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill or fighting to get books he doesn’t like removed from Florida classrooms.
If former President Donald Trump doesn’t run for president in 2024, DeSantis would have a very good shot at becoming the Republican nominee — a prospect that Edsall clearly finds disturbing.
According to Edsall, “The DeSantis governorship provides insight into what our national life might look like if, in 2024, Republicans win a clean sweep giving them control of the White House, the Senate and the House… That DeSantis has pushed these boundaries is no surprise. What is surprising is the absence of strong, organized opposition in a purple state. Why? One answer is that his policies have substantial support.”
Edsall’s op-ed/essay is about more than DeSantis; it is about the MAGA movement in general and whether or not the U.S. will remain a democracy. And Edsall discussed the possibility of a MAGA takeover of the United States’ federal government with Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
Diamond told Edsall, “if a Trump Republican becomes president in 2025, I am less worried about church-state relations, or a federal ban on abortion, the passage of extremely illiberal national legislation, and so on…. I am worried about the extreme politicization and abuse of federal government power, the targeting of political enemies, and the mobilization and emboldening of the violent, well-armed, extremist fringe of Trump followers — who, even though they may represent a small percentage of Trump supporters, are in absolute numbers significant.”
Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), fears that in 2024, a MAGA Republican could lose the election yet end up in the White House anyway because of “election subversion.”
Hasen told Edsall, “Then, at that point, the United States ceases to be a democracy. Such a move to steal an election would likely be followed by other means of solidifying and maintaining power, such as control over the military and reformulation of election rules so that the regime would be self-perpetuating.”
Hasen emphasized that it’s important to distinguish between Trump or a similar MAGA candidate legitimately winning 2024’s presidential election and such a candidate stealing it from the Democratic nominee through “election subversion.” That type of scenario, Hasen warns, “would no doubt lead to massive street protests, and these could well be put down with violence.”
Hasen told Edsall, “Such violence could then deter people from speaking out in media. There could also be soft or harder controls over the media. There would be tremendous uncertainty over what a post-democracy period would look like in the United States. People would not feel free to speak out against the regime, much like there are penalties for doing so in other repressive societies.”
But Hasen also told Edsall that conversely, “If Trump, or another candidate like Trump, legitimately wins office in 2024, then I think we would not likely see all of those things I mentioned, including a takeover of the military or massive disenfranchisement or electoral manipulation. Instead, I think we would see much of what we saw during Trump’s first term, only more extreme. He would put more of his loyalists in key places in the government, and push the limits of what is allowed in terms of taking power and changing society toward his desires.”
Edsall also interviewed Donald Moynihan, who teaches public policy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and described what a post-democratic U.S. could look like in 2025 or beyond.
Moynihan told Edsall, “For many, life would go on as normal. These are groups with more conservative beliefs that have little reason to worry that their rights are at risk…. Certain groups would be more vulnerable. These include historically marginalized groups, who might find new restrictions on voting. Or members of the LGBTQ community who are treated as second class citizens.”
Crist uses the in-your-face slogan “Defeat fascism, defeat DeSantis” in one of his attack ads, and Edsall fears that Florida voters won’t reject fascism.
“Charlie Crist…. will test the vulnerability of contemporary right-wing populism in the nation’s third largest state — population 22 million,” Edsall writes. “Crist has already made it clear that he intends to make the election a referendum on DeSantis, adopting the slogan ‘Defeat fascism, defeat DeSantis,’ a theme that dominated his first general election ad. In fact, the Florida election will be a referendum on democracy, and the odds do not look good.”
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