What Trump vs. DeSantis says about the future of the American right

“a DeSantis victory in 2024 would not, in any sense, represent a return to Republican pre-Trump normalcy or the triumph of the “traditional GOP,” as some observers see it.
The Florida governor, who won a blowout victory in his reelection bid..is not a Republican cut from the Bush-Cheney-Romney cloth. He represents an evolution of Trumpism, a new way of channeling the illiberal populist forces unleashed by the former president’s rise to power in 2016.”

His ascendancy as Trump’s principal challenger represents not the return of the GOP establishment, but its adaptation to the insurgency that defeated it six years ago. His model is less John McCain or Mitt Romney, the last two GOP nominees before Trump, than Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — a leader who, after being elected in 2010, proceeded to use his right-wing populist ideology as a cover for authoritarian power grabs.

This is not to say that Trump and DeSantis are identical. In fact, they represent two related but distinct versions of American right-wing populism: Trump its wild id, DeSantis its more calculating and intellectualized ego. If one looks closely at which prominent conservatives and media voices are backing which candidate, these subtle distinctions become clearer — pointing to the different ways that these two figures threaten liberal-democratic norms.

These distinctions are real, important, and, as an intellectual matter, quite interesting. But they should not obscure what this matchup really represents.

DeSantis versus Trump is not normalcy versus radicalism. It’s American Orbánism versus the berserk.”

“DeSantis’s Trumpism, like the original flavor, contained a healthy dose of hostility to basic liberal-democratic norms. After Florida voters passed a ballot initiative in 2018 that would end felon disenfranchisement, DeSantis signed a bill that would require felons to pay outstanding fines in order to vote — a poll tax, in effect, linked to debts so opaque and/or punitive that many could not feasibly pay them. In 2020, the ACLU argued that his law would functionally disenfranchise “hundreds of thousands” Floridians.

While not explicitly declaring the 2020 election stolen, DeSantis will not condemn “stop the steal” conspiracy theories when asked by reporters. He campaigned for hardcore deniers like Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano and, on the anniversary of the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack, downplayed its severity and mocked the media for continuing to focus on the day’s events. In advance of the 2022 elections, he allocated over a million dollars in state funds to a new police unit dedicated to investigating “voter fraud,” including violations of his pay-to-vote bill. The squad found virtually no actual crime but may have worked to deter lawful voters from showing up at the polls.

When Florida’s state legislature drew fairer election maps for the House in 2022, DeSantis vetoed them — demanding more Republican-tilted maps. He got what he wanted, delivering a multi-seat rightward swing”

“Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth warned that DeSantis’s governing record in Florida resembles some steps that “electoral authoritarians” like Orbán use to consolidate power. Chenoweth is most concerned by the efforts to disenfranchise felons and crack down on “voter fraud,” but notes a number of other troubling examples:

“DeSantis also signed a law that aggressively restricts the ability of people to submit others’ absentee ballots, which upended long-standing community organizations’ efforts to make it easier for working people and people with disabilities to vote. Along with partisan redistricting that dramatically reduces competition and representation, limits on expression in public schools, harsh penalties for various forms of protest, and trafficking immigrants as a political stunt with impunity, for example, we can see the hallmarks of electoral authoritarianism.”

The comparison to Hungary is not mere liberal slander. Rod Dreher, a prominent conservative pundit and one of Orbán’s biggest stateside fans, has suggested that “maybe Florida is becoming our American Hungary.” Not coincidentally, Dreher concluded after the midterms that “DeSantis’s smashing Florida victory last night makes him the head of the conservative movement.”

In this, Dreher is speaking for a broad swath of so-called “national conservative” or “New Right” intellectuals: the pundits and academics who have dedicated themselves to theorizing a new kind of American conservatism compatible with the populist sentiment unleashed by Trump. This corner of the right, where the culture war is paramount and Orbán is seen as a model, believes DeSantis better embodies the qualities they admired in Trump.”

“The substance of the arguments for Trump or DeSantis is in some ways less revealing than the identity of the advocates themselves. On the one hand, you have those on the right who dream of Budapest on the Potomac; on the other, congressional bomb-throwers who enjoy nothing more than battling the left under the ring lights. Each represents a different vision of how to challenge the American political status quo, to pull it in a more illiberal and less democratic direction.

Elements of this radicalism have always been a part of the conservative movement. Prior to Trump, there was a sense among many that the “responsible” elite could prevent things from going too far.

That they are now backing a figure as illiberal as DeSantis proves that this guardrail has completely fallen off — if it was ever in place to begin with.”

Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard Stunt Might Help Migrants Stay in the U.S. on Special Visas

“Salazar certified that the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were the victims of a crime. “Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” Salazar said in a statement to GBH News. Under the Texas penal code, unlawful restraint, or restricting someone’s movement without consent, includes actions that involve “force, intimidation, or deception.” Salazar noted that his office had “submitted documentation through the federal system to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation.”
The sheriff’s certification move is notable because it clears the way for the migrants to apply for a U visa, which is devoted to victims or witnesses of crimes, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “Once certified, the crime victim can apply to USCIS for a U visa, which, if approved, allows them to remain in the US in nonimmigrant status and eventually can lead to Lawful Permanent Residence,” said immigration attorney Rachel Self, who has been assisting the migrants legally.

But backlogs spell a lengthy process for migrants who hope to obtain U visas. There were over 285,000 U visa petitions pending as of FY 2021, per USCIS data. According to a March report by the Niskanen Center, it would take more than 17 years for the government to process all U visa applications at its current pace. What’s more, Congress caps the number of visas at 10,000 annually. But as Politico notes:

“Once the Venezuelans submit their applications, they will likely be allowed to work and protected from deportation. Last year, the federal appellate court that covers Massachusetts ruled that a Honduran man could not be removed from the country while his U visa application was pending.””

“This development in DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt speaks to how counterproductive showy immigration enforcement schemes can be. Often done in the name of fiscal responsibility, moves in Texas and Florida have racked up massive bills at taxpayers’ expense. The Martha’s Vineyard flights have also landed DeSantis in the Treasury Department inspector general’s crosshairs: The governor is now under investigation for potential misuse of federal COVID-19 funds to cover the flights.”

Ron DeSantis Touted the Arrest of 20 People for Illegally Voting. Some Say They Were Told They Were Eligible.

“Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R–St. Petersburg), who shepherded the bill implementing Amendment 4, tweeted last week that the Legislature never intended it to be used so harshly against those who accidentally voted.”

“”As the author of the bill implementing amend 4 it was our intent that those ineligible would be granted some grace by the state if they registered without intent to commit voter fraud. Some of the individuals did check with SOEs and believed they could register. #Intentmatters””

Ron DeSantis Wants To Edit the First Amendment

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading presidential contender, is skilled at appealing to Republicans who resent the censorious self-righteousness of woke progressives. But instead of defending free inquiry and open debate, DeSantis seems bent on fighting intolerance with intolerance.

When he signed the Individual Freedom Act (IFA) last April, DeSantis bragged that it would “prevent discriminatory instruction in the workplace,” striking a blow against “the far-left woke agenda.” But as a federal judge explained last week, the law’s restrictions on employee training blatantly violate the First Amendment.

The IFA expanded Florida’s definition of “unlawful employment practices” to include “any required activity” that promotes one or more of eight forbidden concepts. Some of those ideas are plainly illiberal (e.g., linking moral status to race) or patently silly (e.g., viewing virtues such as excellence, hard work, and fairness as white supremacist constructs), while others are ambiguous or debatable (e.g., the notion that “members of one race, color, sex, or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin”).

Whatever you think of those ideas, the government has no business decreeing whether and how they can be discussed in private workplaces. Yet that is what the IFA does: It allows discussion “in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts” while forbidding speech that “espouses, promotes, advances, [or] inculcates” them.

As U.S. District Judge Mark Walker noted when he issued a preliminary injunction against those restrictions, they amount to “a naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech,” which is presumptively unconstitutional. “Under our constitutional scheme,” Walker observed, “the ‘remedy’ for repugnant speech ‘is more speech, not enforced silence.'”

DeSantis argued that the IFA aims to prevent a “hostile work environment” created by ideas that might discomfit employees. Walker thought that was a stretch because that term encompasses speech only when it is “both objectively and subjectively offensive and when it is sufficiently severe or pervasive”—requirements that provide “shelter for core protected speech.”

More to the point, conservatives have long criticized discrimination claims based on an allegedly hostile work environment precisely because they can transform otherwise protected speech into illegal “harassment.” Yet DeSantis is not only defending that concept; he is extending it to cover even a single “required activity” that “espouses” ideas he does not like.”

Are Ron DeSantis’ Migrant Flights Legal?

“Two big legal questions are germane to the stunt: one relating to how migrants were induced to board flights and the other relating to using state funds. Legal experts, lawmakers, and the architects of the flights are now debating what was and wasn’t legally permissible about the scheme.
DeSantis, for his part, has said the migrant flights were “clearly voluntary.” Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, shared with Axios a redacted consent form for the flight. That form mentions a “final destination of Massachusetts” and holds “the benefactor or its designated representatives harmless of all liability” incurred during the journey, which it says is meant to transport the signatory “to locations in sanctuary States.”

Though much of the form is translated into Spanish, the mention of Massachusetts as the final destination is not. The only mention of Massachusetts in the Spanish portion of the redacted document is a handwritten abbreviation: “MA.”

Three of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard filed a lawsuit against DeSantis..alleging that Florida officials “made false promises and false representations” that if they “were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival.” The lawsuit notes that a woman “gathered several dozen people…to sign a document in order to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card.” Per the suit, the woman didn’t explain what the consent form said. Migrants interviewed by NPR also explained that the same woman promised they would be flown to Boston and receive expedited work papers if they boarded the flights in San Antonio.

With this background in mind, some commentators have suggested the flight scheme may have run afoul of Texas law. Under title 5, chapter 20 of the Texas penal code, the crime of “unlawful restraint,” or restricting someone’s movement without consent, includes actions that involve “force, intimidation, or deception.” An unlawful restraint offense is a misdemeanor, except when the victim is under 17 years old—then it’s a state jail felony. At least some of the migrants DeSantis sent to Martha’s Vineyard were children.

Legal experts surveyed by Politico suggested that federal criminal trafficking statutes weren’t relevant unless migrants were transported against their will. If coercion was involved, the legality becomes much murkier. “If someone is told, ‘Hey, get on the bus. We’re going to Chicago because we have a job for you’ and it’s not true, that person has been victimized,” said Steven Block, a Chicago lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney who dealt with trafficking and corruption cases.

The matter of state funds is at least slightly easier to distill. Florida’s 2021–2022 budget set aside $12,000,000 to implement “a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.” Funds that weren’t spent in 2021–2022 rolled over to be used for the same purpose in 2022–2023. This is the pot through which DeSantis financed the Martha’s Vineyard flights, and the governor says he’ll spend “every penny” of it to “make sure that we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida.”

The 2022–2023 spending bill explicitly provides money for transporting migrants “from this state.” That would seem to indicate an origin in Florida. But the Martha’s Vineyard flights originated in San Antonio, which DeSantis acknowledges. Florida Democrats are now questioning whether this rendered the flights illegal. They are attempting to block funding for the relocation effort. A potential sticking point is that the flights were routed through Crestview, Florida, before reaching Martha’s Vineyard, ostensibly to refuel.

Geography aside, the migrants’ immigration status may also clash with the Florida budget language. State Sen. Aaron Bean (R–Jacksonville) stated in March that the relocation scheme wouldn’t apply to people who had requested asylum in the U.S. after fleeing communist or socialist countries since “they are here lawfully.” Further, the 2022–2023 budget specifies that the relocation scheme only applies to people who are “unlawfully present” in the country.

After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the migrants now suing DeSantis—all recent immigrants from Venezuela—turned themselves over to federal immigration officials, the lawsuit explains. Each has “active federal proceedings to adjudicate their immigration status,” which authorizes them to stay in the United States unless their immigration court proceedings determine otherwise.”

Ron DeSantis Oversteps His Authority by Suspending Tampa’s Elected Prosecutor

“As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his culture war campaign against abortion providers and members of the LGBT community, prosecutors who choose to defy the governor’s edicts may soon find themselves out of a job.
Last Thursday, DeSantis signed an executive order suspending Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, a progressive prosecutor who had previously pledged his office would not prosecute women seeking abortions or pursue criminal charges against those pursuing gender-affirming health care. “State Attorneys have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida law, not to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal agenda,” DeSantis said in a statement.

Warren was first elected in 2016, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent with the support of liberal donor George Soros. Despite clashing with law enforcement over his refusal to prosecute minor offenses, Warren was reelected in 2020. Warren has said he will fight the governor’s suspension in court.

Article 4, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution allows the governor to suspend local officials for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony” and to appoint a temporary successor. The Florida Senate must approve a permanent removal from office and confirm the governor’s replacement appointments.

Previous governors have reserved that power for extreme cases of incompetence and malfeasance. In the last weeks of his governorship, then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, suspended Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, a Democrat, after her office came under fire for its mismanagement of the 2018 midterm elections.

Snipes was the second consecutive Broward elections chief to receive a pink slip from Tallahassee; her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, had been suspended by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in September 2003 after a task force report investigating her disastrous handling of the 2002 elections* revealed countless administrative failures in the county elections office, including hundreds of uncounted ballots found in filing cabinets and a gravely understaffed office. Neighboring Palm Beach County also saw their elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, receive the boot in January 2019, this time from DeSantis. Snipes and Bucher both resigned from their positions.

DeSantis also suspended embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel early in his tenure, after an investigation into the 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting found Israel and the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to the massacre with “incompetence” and “negligence.” He then appointed Coral Springs Sergeant Gregory Tony as Israel’s replacement. The Florida Senate officially removed Israel from office in October 2019.

However, suspending a prosecutor for using their discretion sets a troubling precedent. Many prosecutors across the U.S., including federal prosecutors, prioritize their resources to go after offenders who pose a threat to public safety and civil society. It is simply not possible for prosecutors to devote equal resources to every type of offense.

Even when prosecutors adopt policies that seem political, the governor has less extreme tools for making sure that justice is done. When former Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala, a Democrat now running for state attorney general, announced that her office would no longer pursue the death penalty, Gov. Scott reassigned 30 murder cases to a different State Attorney, prompting Ayala to sue.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Scott’s decision to reassign cases from Ayala’s office was a legitimate use of the governor’s powers. “The executive orders reassigning the death-penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to King fall well ‘within the bounds’ of the Governor’s ‘broad authority,'” the majority opinion explained. DeSantis himself used that same ruling to reassign homicide cases from Ayala’s office in 2020. However, neither governor suspended or removed her from her position.

What’s more, DeSantis has declined to use his executive authority to suspend sheriffs who refused to enforce gun restrictions. Meanwhile, DeSantis has allowed state education officials to ignore federal anti-discrimination laws designed to protect LGBT students and teachers in Florida public schools.

Many lawmakers have expressed concerns that the suspension encroaches on the separation of powers between the governor and local governments in the state, something they see as contradicting DeSantis’ messaging advertising his vision of a “free Florida.”

“Removing a duly elected official should be based on egregious actions—not political statements,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor tweeted in response to the governor’s executive order. Like many Democrats in the state, she believes that the governor is thwarting the will of voters in her city by suspending Warren. “In a free state, voters should choose their elected officials.””

Civil rights group files first lawsuit against DeSantis over ‘illegal’ migrant flights

“The 35-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Boston offers one of the most detailed accounts yet of how roughly 50 migrants found themselves on two planes that unexpectedly landed in Martha’s Vineyard last week, and trauma their new lawyers say they’ve suffered from their ordeal and from being thrust into the center of the national debate over immigration.

The plaintiffs include three Venezuelan migrants who boarded the planes to Martha’s Vineyard along with their family members as well as Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based advocacy group for Latino immigrant communities.

The complaint alleges that people working for DeSantis were “trolling streets outside of a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locales, pretending to be good Samaritans offering humanitarian assistance,” including $10 McDonalds gift cards and free hotels while making “false promises and false representations” of employment, housing and educational opportunities awaiting the migrants in either Boston or Washington, D.C.

They were also allegedly told they would receive assistance with their immigration proceedings at their final destination and were “intentionally sequestered” before their departure from Texas “so they could not discuss the arrangement” and so that the migrants “would be less likely to leave or change their minds.”

Instead, the migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, where “no one” on the island or “anywhere in Massachusetts” knew they were coming. They were given pamphlets “lifting language” from the state’s Refugee Resettlement Program — which the lawsuit argues none of the migrants are eligible for. And the people who recruited the migrants for the flights were “unreachable by phone” after they landed in Massachusetts.

“These immigrants, who are pursuing the proper channels for lawful immigration status in the United States, experienced cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country,” the plaintiffs argue. “Defendants manipulated them, stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process, and equal protection under law, and impermissibly interfered with the federal government’s exclusive control over immigration in furtherance of an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda.””

“DeSantis has continued to defend his actions, claiming last week that the migrants voluntarily boarded the flights and weren’t coerced. He has argued that Florida’s Republican-led Legislature approved $12 million to transport migrants out of the state, though Democrats have claimed the flights are improper uses of the allocated funds.”

Florida medical board moves to block gender affirming treatments for minors

“Florida’s medical board on Friday voted to begin the process of banning gender-affirming medical treatment for youths, a move that comes as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has become increasingly vocal in his opposition to such therapies.”

“The board also voted to start that process for requiring adults seeking such care to wait 24 hours before going forward with any medical procedures.”

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association support gender-affirming care for adults and adolescents. But medical experts said gender-affirming care for children rarely, if ever, includes surgery. Instead, doctors are more likely to recommend counseling, social transitioning and hormone replacement therapy.
The proposed rule is the latest step taken by the DeSantis administration to tighten regulatory controls over gender-affirming care. Florida’s Medicaid regulator is also considering a rule that would block state-subsidized health care from paying for treatments of transgender people.”

The Florida conservatives likely heading to Congress, thanks to DeSantis

“Several Florida conservatives who question President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory could be heading to Congress in November, thanks to the state’s contentious redistricting process muscled through the Legislature by Gov. Ron DeSantis.”