Trump 2.0: Ron DeSantis is the future of the Republican Party

From COVID denialism to right-wing culture war, Florida's GOP governor is ready to take his radical agenda national

By Heather Digby Parton


Published March 14, 2022 9:50AM (EDT)

Ron DeSantis (Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis (Getty Images)

Former president Donald Trump had another of his interminable rallies this weekend. He said the usual things delighting his South Carolina crowd and boring the rest of us into a coma. This time, however, he did add one memorable new line to the script which got people's attention:

As we watch the horrific carnage unfolding in Ukraine and the repressive crack down in Russia, comments like that are all the more chilling. He truly does want to emulate Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un. As the Washington Post reported recently, he has repeated his earlier admiration for Kim's "total control" as well:

He espoused praise for North Korea's brutal leader, marveling at how Kim's generals and aides "cowered" when the dictator spoke to them. "Total control," Trump said of how Kim ran the country, describing generals snapping to attention and standing up on command. "His people were sitting at attention," he added. "I looked at my people and said I want my people to act like that."

I have little doubt that if he wins another term, he will be much worse than he was in the first. He won't make the mistake of hiring people who might stand in his way a second time.

However, as we know, Trump isn't really serious about governing and wouldn't know how to do it efficiently even if he were. It doesn't make him any less dangerous, of course. His chaotic narcissism can do as much damage as a serious ideological authoritarian could. But he's laid out a style template for someone who is serious, showing them exactly the attitude that appeals to the MAGA base. And nobody in GOP politics is as ready to seize the mantle as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump 2.0.

The personality and affect have been evident since DeSantis won the governor's seat back in 2018. The Trumpian pettiness, the contempt, the reflexive hostility seem to come naturally to him. He treats the press like dirt and thinks insults are the highest form of humor. If he has any personal warmth or human compassion it's certainly well hidden. He even gestures like Trump. 

But with DeSantis, it's more than just style. He's got the Republicans in Florida working together like clockwork to enact the most authoritarian agenda in the country, calibrated perfectly to appeal to the base in advance of his re-election campaign --- and a potential presidential run in 2024.

RELATED: Pediatricians on Florida's recommendation against vaccinating children: "Don't listen to it"

Florida has been at the leading edge of COVID denialism from the very beginning, but in recent days DeSantis and his hand-picked science-denying surgeon general have taken it to a new level. They had already turned masks into a battleground with the governor taking it upon himself earlier this month to scold high school kids for wearing them in his presence, declaring that it's time to end the "COVID theatre." This was ironic since it turned out that many of the kids had been told by their parents to wear them and DeSantis' numerous assaults on education over the past year have been rationalized as a defense of "parental rights." Then last week the surgeon general went even further, defying the CDC and most physicians by recommending that kids not get vaccinated for COVID-19. DeSantis and his medical henchman seem determined to keep the virus circulating as long as they can.

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Meanwhile, the legislative season just coming to a close has produced such an astonishing array of right-wing culture war victories delivering on Desantis' "anti-woke" agenda that it's hard to know where to start. Building on last year's education wrecking ball in which they banned Critical Race Theory from schools despite the fact that they were not teaching it, instituted a requirement that schools teach about the "evils of communism" and passed a higher education law that allows for budget cuts to colleges based on student and faculty surveys about "viewpoint diversity" (which DeSantis defines as "indoctrination") this year they took it to a whole new level. Salon's Amanda Marcotte offered this tart analysis of the "Stop WOKE Act" "

The legislature also passed the "Stop WOKE Act," which bars both schools and businesses from having any training or program that supposedly causes an "individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin." This has been largely covered as a ban on any kind of diversity training, but it's even more expansive than that. As I note in Friday's Standing Room Only newsletter, conservatives can also block anti-sexual harassment trainings by claiming it's guilt-tripping men to tell them that ass-pinching is not allowed in the workplace.

The "fuck your feelings" crowd sure are sensitive snowflakes, aren't they?

Maximum leader DeSantis also got his wish for a first in the nation election police force which will report directly to him. I've got a tip for them: it turns out that the Republican Party in south Florida changed the registrations of hundreds of Democrats to Republican without their permission. That's a crime. In fact, DeSantis might end up regretting this one. If the election police are on the level (which is unlikely, I know) it's almost certain they will be putting many more Republicans behind bars than Democrats. Even Trump's Chief of Staff just blatantly committed it in the last election.

And then there is the grotesque "Don't Say Gay" law which prohibits teachers from discussing the subject in grades K-3. But because it uses the new vigilante system of civil law harassment, and is written so poorly, it will result in a chilling effect on all school districts and will result in small kids with gay parents being treated like aliens and many LGBTQ kids being shoved in the closet. If you doubt their intentions, just listen to DeSantis' vile press secretary:

Those of you who are of a certain age will hear the echoes of one of Florida's original homophobic crusaders Anita Bryant whose "Save Our Children" campaign was based upon the noxious lie that gays were "recruiting" the nice Christian children of the sunshine state.

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Under pressure, the CEO of Disney, the state's largest employer and a major DeSantis donor belatedly objected to the bill and spoke to the Governor about it. DeSantis didn't budge and Disney announced that they will be suspending all political donations in the state of Florida after which the governor had a full blown meltdown:

Florida Republicans believe these Commie Symp mega corporations have no right to criticize them.

There was a time when business property rights were sacrosanct in the GOP as a matter of principle. But in the new authoritarian right, if a business doesn't toe their bigoted line, the government "won't stand for it."

Donald Trump is still likely to get the nomination and we can only hope and pray he doesn't win. His dictatorial impulses are well known. But Ron DeSantis is the future of the Republican Party and he's figured out how to take all that right-wing hate and grievance and put it into practice. You don't want to know what he could do on a national level. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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