Resolute Square

The Impending Threat of DeSantis

Yes, DeSantis is a little dumpy and seems pretty dimwitted, but he's also dangerous and the perfect malleable vessel for the GOP writes Amee Vanderpool.
Credit: Gage Skidmore
Published:March 1, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives two thumbs up towards then-President Trump as he speaks during his campaign event at The Villages Polo Club on October 23, 2020 in The Villages, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/via Getty Images)

I typically think speculating about who a political frontrunner will be in any race is a flat-out waste of time until the election is, at most, six months away. There are so many reasons for this. The news cycle moves so fast and tears up candidates just as quickly; the public is fickle and ever-changing; anyone can have a great viral moment at any time and, likewise, a bad one — these are just a few reasons. 

A momentous federal election is like a two-year-plus Kentucky Derby, where you can see who has the best chances for speed and stamina, but it will always come down to the last lap. The Republican Primary field for 2024 is going to be the perfect example of this pattern, but we still have the unknown factor of Trump. To continue on with this horse race analogy, we have some early Republican hopefuls emerging that appear strong and ready to take the lead. 

Given Trump’s last few years following his resounding 2020 presidential loss, and his subsequent failures to completely harness the full power of his party, Trump appears to be a horse with a badly wounded leg. No one really knows if the veterinary treatment or the copious medication can get him through, and no one is really sure how he will now perform.

The obvious solution for finding a successful replacement for Donald Trump within the Republican Party — should Trump take a bad fall in one of the major turns and be forced to leave the race — is to pick another Trump-esque runner who is capable of presenting the right Conservative look and following the directions that Trump refused. 

Then-President Donald Trump greets Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis during a campaign rally at the Hertz Arena on October 31, 2018, in Estero, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/via Getty Images)

Imagine if Mike Pence and Donald Trump had a foal, er, I mean, a baby…and that baby had been groomed and trained to run the race in the way that the big-money donors of the GOP demand. Conservatives need someone who could implement the fascist agenda of the Kochs and the Mercers but who could easily work with other Republican officials at all levels to exude the necessary faux-conservative gravitas. Further, they need someone with enough of an education to be dangerous but completely lacking an independent mind, so they could still be controlled. They need someone like Ron DeSantis.

Governor DeSantis signed a measure on Monday that stripped away the Walt Disney Company’s ability to self-govern — a payback after the corporate giant defied him last year by criticizing his Parental Rights in Education Act. That law, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, seeks to undermine all forms of LGBTQ education and identity in Florida schools. 

Disney LGBTQ employees rally against their CEO Bob Chapek's handling of the staff controversy over Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill at Bette Davis Picnic Area on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Glendale, CA. (Irfan Khan/via Getty Images)

The Wyoming State Legislature also put forward a bill that mimics Florida’s Don't Say Gay law by attempting to limit what can be discussed in public schools by educators, but the measure failed this session, having missed a key deadline Friday evening. Had it passed by Monday, DeSantis may have been able to take credit for that as well during yesterday’s announcement. Instead, DeSantis could only promote his new book release while stripping away the rights of Disney. In terms of political planning, branding, and savvy that will aid him in a presidential election, DeSantis gets a check.

DeSantis preemptively took control by revamping the board of a special tax district that oversees the Walt Disney Company. The conservative governor installed Tampa Attorney Martin Garcia, on the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which was previously named the Reedy Creek Improvement District. 

Six gay men spell out the word "Mickey" on their shirts at the base of the Walt Disney World Castle during Gay Days 05 June 1999 in Lake Buena Vista, FL, where over 80,000 gays and lesbians took part, marking the ninth year of the event. (Photo by Tony Ranze/via Getty Images)

Garcia joins four other DeSantis allies—also appointed on Monday—in replacing senior Disney employees on the district's board. While Disney was able to govern itself previously for five decades, the DeSantis-controlled new special district will now control land use, its fire departments and be able to pose astronomical taxes to the park that they were previously able to avoid.
Garcia donated $50,000 through his Pinehill Capitol private investment firm to DeSantis’ campaign one year ago. Ability to re-brand a political office within your control to better reflect the “values” of your party: check. Strength to leverage threats against your political enemies in order to intimidate: check. Capacity to promise big donors prominent positions in exchange for large campaign contributions so that you can stack all decision-making entities within your state in your favor: check, check. 

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava joins with people to protest the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health case on June 24, 2022, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Allison Dinner/via Getty Images)

In April of last year, following the landmark US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure that bans most abortions in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That law represents the most significant restriction on abortion in state history and was put in place in tandem with other Republican-controlled states that were also taking drastic steps to limit abortion. Control women’s bodies so you can control their education and earning potential, which ultimately controls the economy: CHECK.

In last year’s Midterm Elections, DeSantis put his substantial political backing behind dozens of conservative school board candidates across Florida. When they all took office in November of 2022, they began to purge educational leaders under their control who enforced Covid-19 mandates. Superintendents in Florida are able to enforce local policies like efforts to support the rights of parents. 

Demonstrators protest Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's plan to eliminate Advanced Placement courses on African American studies in high schools as they stand outside the Florida State Capitol on February 15, 2023, in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Joshua Lott/via Getty Images)

DeSantis signed the “Individual Freedom Act” in Nov. of 2022. Most of this new law was based on the Stop W.O.K.E Act, which substantially limits and prohibits how public schools and businesses are allowed, under the law, to discuss race and gender. The result has been an ongoing chilling effect on public school education that is nearly as unbelievable as it is dangerous. 

Two superintendents, who defied DeSantis directly by putting mask mandates into place within their Districts, were fired within the span of a week, thanks to the newly elected, DeSantis-backed, board members in two GOP-leaning counties. Creating an army of political cronies and getting them entrenched in local politics to influence the local laws in which the governor has no statutory authority: big ol’ check. Making an example out of traitors who refuse to surrender their educational expertise to further a political agenda: double-check. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference to discuss Florida's civics education initiative of unbiased history teachings at Crooms Academy of Information Technology in Sanford. Photo by Paul Hennessy/via Getty Images)

On February 1st of this year, the Florida College Board responded to previous criticism by the DeSantis administration by releasing a substantially modified curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies. In order to appease DeSantis, the new teachings were modified to strip much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives, including the removal of Black writers and topics like “Black Lives Matter,” slavery reparations, Black feminism, and queer theory. 

The next day, DeSantis announced a proposed overhaul of the state’s higher education system that would eliminate “ideological conformity.” Among the most prominent changes were how courses in Western Civilization would now be mandated, while diversity and equity programs would be eliminated, and the protections of tenure would be reduced. 

Just a few weeks after that, Florida teachers were forced to remove books or place paper over their bookshelves due to unclear criminal punishments for sharing materials with students regarding “race and diversity in schools and in the workplace, particularly anything that discusses privilege or oppression based on race.”  

In an interview with The New Yorker earlier this month, the president of the Florida Education Association estimated that a third of the state’s counties were instructed to cover up their bookshelves until confirmation that the materials were allowed under Florida law. Con parents into believing that public school teachers were intent on harming students with the materials being used: check. Force teachers to remove any educational material that might inspire a student to think freely or stand up against political oppression: this is the saddest check of all.

While it is too soon to predict who will become the next figurehead for this current Trump-mutated Republican Party, one thing is very clear. The political candidate that will have the best shot at getting the majority of the money and the political backing in 2024 will need to have the great gaslighting skills that worked so well on the Tea Party, but they will need to have the “appearance” of being a traditional Conservative. 

A person records on their phone as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to police officers about protecting law and order on February 20, 2023, in the Staten Island borough of New York City. DeSantis, a Republican, is expected by many to announce his candidacy for president in the coming weeks or months. (Photo by Spencer Platt/via Getty Images)

In order to beat Donald Trump in this 2024 primary race for president, someone will have to take his charlatan skills from 2016 and combine them with a newer, better power: being able to convince voters that the GOP is just as strong as ever and is re-united under the premise that always drove them — stand for nothing, just oppose “liberal” ideals. If you’re looking for the perfect person to stand for nothing while attempting to dominate everything with power and money, Ron DeSantis is your horse.