'Political theater': Conservative rips Ron DeSantis for 'sucking up' to the ‘conspiracist anti-vax fringe’

'Political theater': Conservative rips Ron DeSantis for 'sucking up' to the ‘conspiracist anti-vax fringe’
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Far-right Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t officially announced a presidential run for 2024, but his admirers — from author Ann Coulter to Fox News’ Rupert Murdoch to writers at the National Review — are hoping that he will. As they see it, a DeSantis presidential campaign would be the way for the Republican Party to quit Donald Trump (who announced his 2024 campaign in mid-November) while still satisfying the MAGA base. And if DeSantis does run, he may have found a way to show MAGA voters how he differs from Trump: pandering to the anti-vaxxer crowd.

Never Trump conservative and former GOP strategist Rick Wilson is quite skeptical about DeSantis’ prospects as a 2024 presidential candidate. Wilson, a North Florida resident, believes that DeSantis, for all his bombast, will be crushed in a Republican primary if Trump fully unleashes his cruelty on the Florida governor (who was reelected by 19 percent in the 2022 midterms).

In a biting article published by The Bulwark on December 15, Never Trumper Amanda Carpenter emphasizes that DeSantis’ latest anti-vaxxer theatrics are designed to fire up “fringe” MAGA voters ahead of a likely presidential run.

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“As he seeks to elevate his profile further and distinguish himself from potential 2024 presidential rivals, DeSantis is sucking up to the anti-vax crowd and styling himself as a crusader against what he calls the ‘biomedical security state,’” Carpenter explains. “And, like most of DeSantis’ political stunts, his overtures to the fringe are pretty cringey. On Tuesday, (December 13), as the state legislature was embroiled in a complex debate about skyrocketing home-insurance rates, DeSantis hosted a roundtable in West Palm Beach that brought doctors and scientists together with other Floridians to question the efficacy and safety of COVID vaccines.”

DeSantis, Carpenter notes, featured Steven Ordonia — an anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist who claims that COVID-19 vaccines have “horrible side effects” that the “mainstream media” are covering up.

“When the roundtable concluded,” Carpenter observes, “DeSantis made a series of planned announcements. He called for investigations into vaccine manufacturers and public officials who he alleges lied about the life-threatening side effects of shots.”

These theatrics, according to Carpenter, reflect “a desperate wish to kiss up to cranky, conspiracist anti-vax voters.”

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DeSantis’ anti-vaxxer pandering is quite a contrast to Trump’s messaging on COVID-19 vaccines, which the former president has exalted as a major scientific achievement and tried to take credit for. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, governor-elect of Arkansas and former White House press secretary in the Trump Administration, has echoed Trump’s messaging and described COVID-19 vaccines as “the Trump vaccine.”

Carpenter points out that when Trump was still in the White House in 2020 and was pushing his Operation Warp Speed program, DeSantis was “advocating” COVID-19 vaccines rather than promoting the claims of “fringe” anti-vaxxers. And she views DeSantis’ recent anti-vaxxer theatrics as a flawed political strategy.

“As DeSantis elevates vaccine skeptics and picks fights with vaccine manufacturers and public health officials, a new Wall Street Journal poll shows him significantly outpacing former President Trump as the preferred 2024 nominee among GOP primary voters,” Carpenter writes. “Is DeSantis making these gains because of his overtures to the fringe activists in the party, or because Republican voters see him as a more palatable alternative to Trump? Probably both, but sucking up to the anti-vaxxers probably doesn’t play that well outside a very distinct slice of MAGA.”

Carpenter continues, “Further, as the WSJ poll attests, DeSantis’ likely 2024 candidacy is already approaching liftoff. Running to the right of Trump on COVID is a high-risk maneuver without a clear political justification. It’s hard to see the payoff for someone in the governor’s position…. DeSantis embraces this sort of political theater even though he appears to lack a natural aptitude for showmanship.”

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