Ron DeSantis stays silent on the Trump-Ye fiasco. Now why could that be?

Most prominent Republicans have finally, reluctantly condemned Trump's dinner with Hitler-lovers. Except one

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 2, 2022 9:39AM (EST)

Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The days-long spectacle of  Kanye West's final descent into ignominy reached an odious new low on Thursday when the antisemitic rapper (who now styles himself simply as Ye) appeared on Alex Jones' "Infowars" show with his new entourage led by white supremacist Nick Fuentes to declare that he was a big fan of Hitler and "we got to stop dissing the Nazis all the time." He ended the day by posting an image of a swastika intertwined with a Star of David to his recently restored Twitter account, which was later suspended (again). Elon Musk tweeted that he had tried his best to keep Ye on the platform but the rapper finally "went too far."

Really, Elon? Ya think?

It took most Republicans more than a week to say a peep about Ye and Fuentes' dinner with Trump at Mar-a-Lago last week and most of their comments were along the lines of "Trump should show better judgment in his dinner companions." A handful, notably House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, eventually announced that the GOP "has no place" for antisemitism or white supremacy. Over the course of this week, most prominent members of the party found some way to say they disapproved of all this unpleasantness, even if it those words had to be dragged out of them. The controversy is simply too offensive to avoid altogether.

But there is one very prominent Republican who has not said a word: the other Florida superstar, Gov. Ron DeSantis. For a man who has never seen a culture-war issue he didn't want to jump into with both feet, this seems odd, especially since he's being widely touted as the answer to the party's "Trump problem." That would assume that the Trump problem has something to do with his embrace of white supremacy and bigotry in general, and there's not much reason to think DeSantis sees that as a problem.

Rolling Stone reports that the Florida governor and his team have made a calculated decision to say nothing on this issue that's roiling the political world:

"In ongoing discussions following his reelection, including this week, I've been asked to keep my powder dry," says Dan Eberhart, a longtime GOP donor — and former big Trump donor — recalling his conversations with Team DeSantis. (Eberhart is now backing DeSantis for 2024). "My understanding is that the DeSantis team doesn't see upside in kicking off the fight with Trump this early, even if it may be inevitable. Wading into the Fuentes fiasco just isn't worth it for them. The media will harpoon Trump without Team DeSantis lifting a finger."

This explanation is all about political positioning relative to Trump. It doesn't sound as if "Team DeSantis" has even given a passing thought to the question of whether this issue should be addressed on the merits. There's a good reason for that. DeSantis and his crew, much like Trump, understand perfectly well that to win the Republican nomination they will need to cater to the large and growing faction of base voters who see no problem in Trump consorting with antisemites and white supremacists and bigots of all varieties, and even openly approve of it.

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There have been several antisemitic demonstrations in Florida in recent months that had nothing to do with Donald Trump and DeSantis made no move to denounce any of it. As the headliner at the Turning Point Conference in Tampa last summer, he refused to disavow a group of Nazis who demonstrated outside the convention center with swastikas and flags that said "DeSantis Country." Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., condemned the neo-Nazis, tweeting, "This is a disgusting act of hateful anti-Semitism and doesn't belong in Florida, our nation or anywhere across the world," but the governor himself stayed silent, leading the Orlando Sentinel and the Miami Herald to call him out.

An earlier Nazi rally in Orlando last spring had DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw suggesting that the demonstrators were Democratic plants. She later deleted the tweet but an earlier post (for which she also had to apologize) about Georgia Republicans being manipulated by the Rothschild family — an ancient antisemitic trope — suggested Pushaw's true inclinations. Whether that reflected yet more cynical political strategy or heartfelt belief is unclear, not that it makes any difference.

DeSantis never responded directly, although he ultimately called the Nazi demonstrators "jackasses," as if they were just a few youthful pranksters who'd gotten out of hand. Instead he blamed the "Democrats who are trying to use this as some type of political issue to smear me, as if I had something to do with it," insisting, "We're not playing their game." As with the current Trump-Kanye controversy, he reduced it to a question of political advantage instead of addressing the issue itself.

It's not just about Nazis. DeSantis has the same reaction to non-swastika white supremacists as well. Over this past weekend a plane flew over the football stadium in Jacksonville with a Confederate flag and the unambiguous message "PUT MONUMENTS BACK." When asked about it, the Sunshine State's leader once again refused to directly confront the issue:

This is the man that Jim Geraghty extolled in the Washington Post as a "return to normal," claiming that "DeSantis would be a Republican nominee without Donald Trump's worst and most destructive impulses and habits." Apparently, coddling neo-Nazis and other white supremacists as valued members of the GOP base is not among those destructive impulses, because there is no visible daylight between Ron and Don on that score.

Ron DeSantis is also an election denier, an anti-vaxxer and a Jan. 6 conspiracy theorist. As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait reported, he marked the first anniversary of the insurrection "by wooing right-wing social-media personalities with an invitation to his office, dinner at the governor's mansion, and rooftop drinks." No one should fool themselves into believing that because DeSantis doesn't have Trump's specific personality defects he doesn't share Trump's deplorable political instincts.

We are seeing in real time the revival of overt antisemitism and racism on a level we have not seen for decades. It is the primary source of energy on the right and it's fueling the campaigns of the top two candidates for the 2024 Republican nomination for president. in 2024. In that respect, there isn't a dime's worth of difference between them.  

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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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Antisemitism Commentary Donald Trump Kanye West Neo-nazis Republicans Ron Desantis White Supremacy Ye