Intelligence is no substitute for virtue
Ron DeSantis’s critics are crowing today. Florida’s Republican governor announced last night his anticipated bid for the presidency. Elon Musk, Twitter’s owner, hosted the occasion on Twitter Space. It didn’t go well.
“All right, I’d like to welcome, umm, Gov. DeSantis, uh, for this historic … we’re just trying, just trying to get it going because it’s … there’s just so many people. It’s unfortunate. I’ve never seen this before,” Musk said before dead silence.
The Bulwark ran a sampling of headlines this morning.
READ MORE: Mark Levin posts DeSantis donation page and MAGA enthusiasts nearly destroy him on Twitter
The Telegraph: “Crackling voices that sounded like a pre-war wireless: DeSantis launch marred by Twitter shambles.” CNN: “Glitches, echoes and ‘melting the servers’ crash DeSantis’ campaign launch on Twitter.” The Daily Beast: “Very Online and Very Glitchy: DeSantis Announces for President.” Reuters: “Ron DeSantis joins White House race, tripped up by chaotic Twitter launch.”
DeSantis’s critics are crowing, because, well, it’s easy to crow when things go wrong for the object of one’s ridicule. His critics, however, are almost certainly going to leave it there, with the implication that anyone so idiotic that they can’t get his presidential announcement right is too idiotic to be president.
Intelligence, or lack of it, is no indicator of success in American politics. As Jonathan Bernstein wrote, there’s plenty of time for DeSantis to catch up to his main rival, Donald Trump, surpass him and win the Republican nomination.
“There is speculation that he might have moved up his announcement, planned for later today during a live audio conversation with Elon Musk on Twitter, to break a string of negative stories that had some people wondering whether he would drop out before reaching this stage,” Bernstein wrote Tuesday. But “while slow starts in nationwide polls aren’t helpful, they can be overcome.”
READ MORE: 'Persistent affordability crisis': How DeSantis’ plan to sell his 'Florida blueprint' could backfire
Ron DeSantis is not an idiot. He went to Yale and graduated magna cum laude. Then Harvard Law, then the US Navy as a JAG (Judge Advocate General). He was elected later to the US House of Representatives before becoming Florida’s chief executive. Idiots accomplish things too, but they aren’t of like caliber.
His critics can’t leave the subject of his intelligence alone, though. Newt Gingrich, who appears to favor Donald Trump, was a Fox guest last night. The disgraced former House speaker was asked about the “disaster on Twitter.”
Gingrich praised DeSantis’s “intelligence but questioned his communication skills after Ingraham played a clip of DeSantis making a convoluted comparison involving financial institutions and elections,” according to HuffPost. Gingrich said that “one of Trump’s great advantages is he talks at a level where 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade educations can say ‘oh yeah, I get that.’” This, according toHuffPost, was an “unintentional burn of Donald Trump [that] is priceless.”
I yield to no one in my loathing of Newt Gingrich but I’m careful not to let my feelings for the Worst Person In The World cloud my judgment. Intelligence is good, but it’s no substitute for virtue. DeSantis himself is proof. The policies he enacted as governor, with respect to free speech, abortion and trans rights, are demonstrably gothic. Yet by any objective measure, he’s highly intelligent.
If we listen to the liberal reaction to Gingrich – and to the botched rollout of DeSantis’s presidential campaign – we can hear that intelligence has become, or is close to becoming, a substitute for virtue. Or worse: it’s become so venerated as a status bringer that idiocy deserves little but bile and contempt.
HuffPost recounted some Twitter responses. “The fact that [Trump] speaks to the children says everything you need to know about the educational level the Right is shooting for,” one said. “I don’t see where that’s good for somebody that’s running a country. SMH,” another said. And yet another: “Makes sense why the GOP is banning books.” And this meme: “Uncle Donald wants you! Well, not u cuz you can tie your own shoes but the 1 next to u eating crayons.”
For too many liberals, the presumption is that the smarter you are, the more ethical you are; the more educated you are, the better person you are. I don’t know how this myth can endure in the face of empirical reality. Virtually all the GOP’s leading figures are highly intelligent and highly educated. And virtually all of them support policies that are, like Florida’s, demonstrably gothic.
READ MORE: 'A clown show': Steve Bannon lambastes DeSantis’ 'historic screwup' of a campaign launch
- 'Amateur hour': Report shines light on flaws plaguing Ron DeSantis’ book tour ›
- Wave of confusion grows over DeSantis' new law giving himself power to run for president: report ›
- 'Leaning into weird': Ron DeSantis’ campaign panned ahead of launch due to confusion over Twitter Spaces ›