The many reinventions of Ron DeSantis

“Looking back through DeSantis’s career in elected politics, the main through line isn’t policy principle or ideological fealty, but rather apparent opportunism. In just over a decade, his persona has undergone a series of quite calculated shifts based on what DeSantis evidently felt could help him climb the next rung.”

“Being a Tea Party conservative got him into Congress. Becoming a staunch Trump defender got him the Republican nomination for Florida’s governorship. Being a pragmatist who avoided national controversies helped boost his approval rating early in his governorship. Now, his latest reinvention as an “anti-wokeness” culture warrior has helped make him the leading alternative to Trump in polls of national Republican primary voters. Each shift was optimized for his next political objective.”

“During those Tea Party years, defining yourself as a conservative champion meant pushing for cuts to government spending, so DeSantis embraced that cause, saying he wanted to partially privatize Medicare and Social Security. He won the House seat and followed through on his commitments once in Congress, supporting the effort to shut down the government (in an attempt to defund Obamacare) in 2013 and becoming a co-founder of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus in 2015.”

“Once President Trump was in office, DeSantis saw a new path for advancement: becoming one of Trump’s biggest congressional defenders. In August 2017, he started a push to defund special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, and he grilled Justice Department officials over whether the probe was politically biased. He then got to ride with Trump on Air Force One, where, according to reports, Trump pledged support for his bid for Florida’s open governorship, saying, “You’re my guy.” A presidential endorsement came by tweet in December 2017.
Still, DeSantis remained locked in a tight race with Adam Putnam, a better-known candidate tied to the state’s traditional GOP establishment. So he hugged Trump ever tighter, to the point of absurdity, with an ad showing him “building the wall” of blocks with his daughter and reading The Art of the Deal to his baby (“Then Mr. Trump said, ‘You’re fired.’ I love that part”).
It worked: DeSantis won the primary by 20 points.”

“DeSantis recalibrated again when he took office as governor in 2019, and spent much of his first year winning praise for his approach.

Initially, DeSantis “seemed determined to govern from the center on the environment, education, marijuana, criminal justice and public accountability,” and he won “unexpected praise from both the right and the left for his efforts,” Andrew Romano later wrote for Yahoo News.

 DeSantis focused on clean water. He posthumously pardoned the Groveland Four (four Black men who had been accused of rape in 1949 but are now believed to have been innocent). He pushed to raise teacher salaries. He appointed some Democrats to his administration.

It’s not that he fully abandoned the right. He still, for instance, signed a bill letting teachers carry guns in school and banned Florida cities from protecting some unauthorized immigrants from deportation. But he stayed off Fox News, in what the Tampa Bay Times reported was a concerted strategy “to avoid questions that could suck him into polarizing partisan battles.””

“What came next turned out to be the Covid-19 pandemic and soaring conservative interest in culture-war issues, and these spurred DeSantis to abandon his conciliatory style and adopt his current persona.”

“The memory of DeSantis being a middle-of-the-road governor who avoided hot-button cultural issues seems like a distant dream because, in the past couple of years, he’s deliberately leaned into one national controversy after another, focusing particularly on denouncing “wokeness.”

“The woke is the new religion of the left,” DeSantis said at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year. “And the problem that we face as conservatives is a lot of major institutions in our country have become infected with this woke virus.””

“he signed legislation or took executive action on all these topics. He banned trans athletes from playing girls’ or women’s sports. He signed a bill, denounced as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for students in third grade and below, and then took aim at business benefits for Disney”

“He signed an “anti-rioting” law that critics said could chill peaceful protest. He had migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. He required all books in Florida school libraries be checked for inappropriate content. He signed a law that would fine social media companies for banning candidates for office from their platforms. He appointed conservative ideologues to overhaul a small, progressive state college, and ordered the end of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at others.”

“Political pragmatism and opportunism can be good traits if they align the politician’s incentives with simply doing a good job for the country. But they can also be quite dangerous if the politician is willing to throw anyone under the bus to advance himself politically — for instance, by demagoguing marginalized groups.

DeSantis’s views may be less authentic than other politicians’, but that doesn’t necessarily make them less menacing to liberals. The Trumpist right remains powerful and influential, and if DeSantis continues to view their support as crucial to his success, he’ll likely do whatever it takes to get and keep them on his side.”

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