THE FACT OF THE MATTER
If you think Donald Trump is bad – and he is; crass, misogynistic, and purveyor of non-truths – then you ain’t seen nothing yet in the guise of the new man who has stepped into the Republican ring as contender for America’s next president, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis is a far more potentially dangerous politician than Donald Trump. Like Trump, DeSantis’ time in office would be marked by attempts to pit Americans against one another. But, unlike Trump, DeSantis – 45, and 30 years young than Trump – has the proven ability to follow through.
While it’s hard for die-hard Trump supporters to imagine any politician wresting that title away from thir former president, DeSantis brings something to the table that Trump lacks – the ability to translate, what his critics see as his political vindictiveness and appeal to people’s unfounded prejudices, into policy results.
In the past several weeks in Florida, DeSantis has shown what a politician somewhat removed from fundamental democratic principles — and intent on waging political warfare — can achieve. It could become a model for Republicans across the country, expanding Trumpism into even more divisive new territory.
DeSantis’ latest move was signing legislation that would investigate allegations of voter fraud, including fines of up to $50,000 for failing to submit voter registration forms within a set time.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Florida, and a judge recently struck down many of the provisions of DeSantis’ ‘election fraud’ law, but what Americans are left with is a series of bills based on a broader Republican pattern of voter intimidation against voters likely to support Democrats.
As my flight touched down on US soil, DeSantis pushed through a new congressional map that could, by some estimates, increase the likely Republican advantage in House elections this autumn by as many as four seats.
DeSantis is hardly the first red state Republican to push legislation that would curtail voting rights and give the GOP a political advantage in congressional elections. But what separates DeSantis from others is the lengths he has also gone to attack, intimidate and ultimately silence his political critics.
DeSantis has pushed legislation that makes it more difficult — and increases the potential jail times — for state residents who peacefully protest and demonstrate, a right enshrined in the First Amendment. (A judge has blocked parts of the law; DeSantis has vowed to appeal.) Now, he has just signed signed a bill limiting the tenure for professors at state universities, who his Republican political allies have claimed are trying to “indoctrinate” students with liberal beliefs.
The coup de grace, however, came when DeSantis signed legislation that stripped Disney of the special tax status it has enjoyed for decades around its theme park in Orlando, hugely popular with many Irish family visitors. DeSantis’ motivation appears insidious – claiming the change is to curtail an overly powerful corporation. But the legislative assault dovetails perfectly with company officials pushing back on DeSantis’ so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which aims to restrict teacher-led discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida public schools.
It is not Ron DeSantis’s first foray into America’s ongoing culture wars. He has also signed the Stop WOKE Act, which seeks to limit discussions of race in classrooms, colleges and corporate diversity training seminars that might make the good people of Florida “uncomfortable”.
Donal Trump is way ahead in the polls, particular in the last two months since De Santis hinted at his intention to run in 2024. But it is early days, with the primaries yet to play out. And then the numerous investigations, potential indictment and charges of sexual impropriety against Trump may, in the final analysis, play against the former present and into the hands of Florida’s firebrand governor.
The Florida maverick is running to the right of the man who endorsed him for governor but is wary of antagonising Trump’s extremely loyal base. He has many millions more dollar campaign funds raised than has Trump and, as well as his pow-wow with Elon Musk and Twitter, DeSantis is sticking close to republican-friendly media.
Finally, Ron DeSantis has a deep understanding of policies on foreign affairs, inflation and energy policy as seen in his latest interviews. A Yale graduate who went on to receive a Harvard law degree, he often refers to complicated concepts by their acronyms.
But, unlike Trump, the kind of small talk that politicians encounter greeting voters still doesn’t come naturally to the Floridian who would be president.