Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is far more dangerous than Donald Trump

Ron DeSantis is the governor of Florida, one of the favorites for the Republican presidential nomination and probably the most dangerous figure in American politics.

Although it is difficult to imagine a politician snatch this title from Donald TrumpDeSantis brings something to the table that Trump lacks — his ability to translate political vindictiveness, cruelty and grandstanding into political results.

While it’s hard to imagine any politician snatching that title from Donald Trump, DeSantis brings something to the table that Trump lacks.

Over the past few weeks in Florida, DeSantis has shown what a politician detached from basic democratic principles — and determined to wage political warfare — can accomplish. It could become a model for Republicans across the country, stretching Trumpism into alarming new territory.

DeSantis’ latest move this week was signing of legislation it would create a new security office to investigate allegations of voter fraud. The bill would also impose significant new penalties for violations of state election law, including fines of up to $50,000 for failing to submit voter registration forms within two weeks.

It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Florida, or that a judge recently struck down many provisions of DeSantis’ earlier “voter fraud” law. We are left with a series of bills based on a broader Republican model of voter intimidation against voters likely to support Democratic candidates.

Three years ago, after Florida voters overwhelmingly backed a constitutional amendment restoring the franchise to convicted felons, DeSantis signed legislation forcing ex-criminals to repay any financial obligations before their rights are reinstated. It is in fact a modern capitation.

Last year he pushed a series of voting restrictions this included limits on mail-in ballot boxes, new voter registration requirements, and even made it harder to give food and water to Floridians waiting in line to exercise their right to vote. (As mentioned above, parts of the legislation were thrown out by a federal judgeeven if the state appeals the decision).

Then last week he hit a new congress card it could, according to some estimatesincrease the likely Republican advantage in House elections this fall by up to four seats.

To be sure, DeSantis is not the first Republican from the red state to push through legislation that would restrict the franchise and give the GOP a political advantage in congressional elections. But what separates DeSantis from the pack are his efforts to attack, intimidate and ultimately silence his political critics as well.

What separates DeSantis from the pack are his efforts to attack, intimidate, and ultimately silence his political critics as well.

DeSantis pushed for legislation that makes it more difficult — and increases potential jail time — for state residents who protest and demonstrate peacefully, a right enshrined in the First Amendment. (A judge blocked parts of the law; DeSantis has vowed to appeal.) Last week, he signed a bill limiting the mandate for professors at state universities, which his Republican political allies have claims try to “indoctrinate” students with liberal beliefs.

The final blow, however, came when DeSantis signed legislation that stripped Disney special tax status he enjoyed for decades around his Orlando-area theme park. While good government supporters might find reason to support such a move, DeSantis’ motivation seems much more insidious.

DeSantis says the change is about shrinking an overpowered company. But the legislative onslaught dovetails nicely with company officials pushing back DeSantis’ so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which seeks to restrict teacher-led discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida public schools. Coincidence? Obviously not. Indeed, DeSantis has launched fundraising appeals to complain about Disney’s attacks on him and trying “to advance their ‘woke’ agenda.”

This isn’t DeSantis’ first foray into the country’s culture wars. This week he also signed the Stop WOKE Actwho seeks to limit discussions of race in classrooms, colleges, and corporate diversity training seminars that might make Floridians uncomfortable.

But what’s different about the assault on Disney is that it smacks of authoritarianism — and a direct government effort to curb the speech of political actors who disagree with DeSantis.

Indeed, when the state’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez was asked if Disney could stop the legislation by “disregarding the whole ‘woke’ agenda” and producing different types of content, she said “sure.” The message couldn’t have been clearer: stay on the governor’s good side and he won’t use the Florida state government to punish you.

Conservative Republicans like to make fair ideological arguments about the heavy hand of big government. And yet, faced with a perfect example of legislation aimed at chilling free speech, most applaud DeSantis’ decision. In the modern Republican Party, the accumulation of political power trumps all other considerations – morals, ethics, and allegiance to democratic principles be damned.

Again, this has become virtually pro forma in Republican politics, but what makes DeSantis such a particularly worrisome figure is that there’s seemingly no political sewer he won’t wade through.

If scapegoating the LGBTQ community and preventing trans kids from embracing their gender identity is the price to pay to ensure DeSantis’ continued popularity among Republican voters, he’s more than willing to pay it.

While Trump revealed at conservative conference that he had received a Covid booster shot (to scattered boos from the audience), DeSantis refused to tell questioning journalists if he had been shot that way. It’s no wonder that Florida, even with its elderly population, ranks 36th in people over 65 who received a booster injection. And although DeSantis likes to brag about his response to Covid-19, during the pandemic his condition is the 18th in the country for deaths per capita and just outside the top 10 for cases per capita. According to a study carried out last fall by the British medical journal The Lancet, if Florida had reached the vaccination rates seen in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, more than 22,000 lives could have been saved.

Instead, like many Republicans, DeSantis saw political advantage in minimizing Covid and opening up the state’s economy as quickly, regardless of the consequences for his state’s residents.

Since DeSantis is governor of the nation’s third-largest state — and a good bet for re-election this fall — his actions loom larger than those of other Republican officials. There’s also the fact that he’s seen by many Republicans as a front-runner for the party’s presidential election in November. His assault on Democratic freedoms could become a model for other Republicans, as well as a strategy for government if he manages to capture the White House in 2024.

Of course, that would mean defeating Trump in a contested primary, which would be no small feat. Trump reportedly said of DeSantis that he “has no personal charisma and has a lackluster personality”. For once, the president is not wrong. DeSantis combines the smoothness of Ted Cruz, the likability of Mitch McConnell and the personal charm of Dick Cheney.

What he shares with Trump is a vindictive and demagogic side, an unquenchable ambition and a refusal to be weighed down by political norms or democratic traditions. Like Trump, his tenure will be marked by repeated attempts to pit Americans against each other. But unlike Trump, DeSantis has the proven ability to follow through on divisive rhetoric. The full package, DeSantis represents a terrifying future for America, and by 2025, it could become a reality.

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