Ron DeSantis wants to "make America Florida": That's a dire threat

The Trump-DeSantis race is a boon for the mainstream media. For the rest of us, it's an unmitigated disaster

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 30, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gives a political speech at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, April 1, 2023 in Garden City, New York. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gives a political speech at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, April 1, 2023 in Garden City, New York. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ron DeSantis has turned Florida into a laboratory for fascist cruelty and authoritarian oppression. Last week, DeSantis finally announced that he hopes to take this experiment nationwide by seeking the presidency.

"American decline is not inevitable," he said. "It is a choice. And we should choose a new direction, a path that will lead to American revitalization. We must restore sanity to our nation."

DeSantis' long-expected announcement was made during a special interview on Twitter with the site's owner, Elon Musk. To say that it didn't go all that well would be a dramatic understatement: The "Twitter Spaces" broadcast repeatedly crashed and had numerous other technical problems.

To many media observers, this appeared emblematic of a candidate and campaign that are already floundering. DeSantis has fallen far behind Donald Trump, widely seen as the presumptive Republican nominee, in the polls.

As an acerbic statement from the Lincoln Project directed at DeSantis put it, he is "going to get absolutely destroyed":

Your awkwardness, disdain for people, and general disgust with the process, won't help while you're shaking countless hands in distant diners or standing in the middle of a fair posing for pictures with a butter cow.

You think you are owed a win, but you've never been attacked like Trump will wreck you. Your height, your recent and sudden weight loss, your terrible political judgment, the bad advice from domineering advisors, will all be fair game to Trump. He's going to go through you like fingers through pudding. You're too weak and afraid of Trump and his MAGA cult members to fight him to win.

Donald Trump is already boasting about the horrible things he plans to do to DeSantis as he crushes the Florida governor into rubble and lifts himself back to the White House.

Liberal schadenfreude undoubtedly feels good to those who indulge in it as they celebrate DeSantis' incompetent campaign launch. But in reality, outside the pundit and journalist class as well as other overly online people, DeSantis' initial failure will mean little or nothing for prospective voters and campaign donors.

No matter how individual journalists may feel about DeSantis, his campaign announcement is unquestionably good news for the media industry. Our endless culture of campaigns and elections is closely akin to the Oscars or the Super Bowl; those spectacles generate enormous amounts of money and make media careers. In the wake of DeSantis' announcement, the 2024 Republican primary is now a dramatic contest between the main villain and protagonist — Trump, of course — and those who hope to stop him or succeed him as leader of the Republican Party and the larger white right.

Journalists may mock Ron DeSantis for his failure to launch, but his campaign is good news for their industry. Now they've got a dramatic contest between the main villain and those who want to replace him.

The mainstream news media will default once again to its obsolete approaches to covering politics in the Trump era: Horse-race coverage of who's up and who's down, an obsession with minute variations of public opinion polls, scenes at diners and county fairs, soft-focus personality profiles, town halls and debates, pundits ready to pounce on "gaffes" and "self-inflicted wounds," gossip and rumors, and all the other bad practices associated with "both-sides-ism," "objectivity" and "balance" that have collectively normalized the entire Republican fascist movement.

As media critic Jay Rosen and other experts have repeatedly pointed out, in a time of democracy crisis the news media's primary responsibility is to speak truth to power by explaining, in clear and direct terms, how a given policy or a decision by a political actor will affect the daily lives of real people. So what will it mean if Ron DeSantis gets his way and is able to "Make America Florida"?

We know the answers: Women will have their reproductive rights and freedoms taken away through forced pregnancy and forced birth. Many will suffer grievous physical and emotional harm from being unable to terminate their pregnancies or receive other reproductive health care. In short, when women's reproductive rights and freedoms are taken away, more women die.

The LGBTQ community, especially transgender people, will be terrorized on a national scale. Gender nonconforming people will literally be at risk of imprisonment (or worse) because of their identities and personhood. Nowhere in America will be safe for LGBTQ people, their families and the people they care for and love.

We will see a new Jim and Jane Crow regime of voter suppression, voter nullification, intimidation, threats and other harassment — including the criminal prosecution of imaginary "voter fraud" — to prevent black and brown people from voting and exercising their other civil rights.

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Florida's Orwellian thought-crime laws barring certain subjects from discussion and barring certain kinds of books will become the norm across the country. Teachers, librarians and other educators who violate these perverse and arbitrary laws will face fines and possible prison sentences. 

High-quality public and even private education at all levels will be aggressively attacked and undermined, with the goal of replacing it with right-wing, "patriotic" indoctrination. The inevitable result will be that Americans become even more ignorant, poorly informed and unable to engage in the types of critical thinking and creativity demanded of a healthy democratic society. What the Republican fascists, neoliberal gangster capitalists and Christian fundamentalists want are compliant citizens, mindless consumers and subservient flocks of churchgoers.

The law will be further weaponized in service of the "conservative" campaign to end multiracial pluralistic democracy, in the interest of a tyrannical minority.

America's already weak gun safety laws will be gutted entirely. Carrying concealed firearms without a permit will become an unquestioned "right." (The nearly unbelievable term for this, worthy of Orwell's Newspeak, is "constitutional carry.") Approximately 50,000 Americans die each year from gun violence. Under President DeSantis, that number will reach new highs year after year. 

As a function of its obsessive horse-race coverage, the mainstream news media will exaggerate (or create) differences between the two leading Republicans. Those differences are largely cosmetic.

DeSantis has further shredded the social safety net in Florida. Poverty kills and shortens lives. As the Rev. William Barber II summarized in a recent press release, "DeSantis may want the attention he's getting from attacking 'woke' culture, but those of us who know the harm that DeSantis' policy violence has inflicted on everyday people across Florida should not let his tactics deflect from what's happening…. The truth is DeSantis is weaponizing racism to hide behind his dangerous policies ... that only further the cycle of poverty statewide, harming Floridians of all races."

Like Trump, DeSantis has said he would pardon many, if not all, of the Jan. 6 terrorists. This means there will be more right-wing terrorism if he becomes president. In that same interview, DeSantis also said he would seriously consider pardoning Trump for his federal crimes.

As a function of obsessive horse-race coverage, the mainstream news media will exaggerate (or create) differences between the two leading Republicans. Those differences are largely cosmetic. In reality, today's Republican Party is a fascist, revanchist, white supremacist organization as well as a de facto criminal enterprise, to this point still led and controlled by Donald Trump.

Whether Trump is the 2024 nominee or not, the party will continue to reflect those values and policies. Writing at the American Prospect, Harold Meyerson explains:

Just as cosmic inflation propels the stars away from each other with ever-expanding speed, so Democratic and Republican states are also moving away from each other at an accelerating pace — the Democrats toward a more humane future; the Republicans borne back ceaselessly into a nightmare version of the past.

In an essay for Daily Kos, Mark Sumner argues that "America is spiraling toward a 'Florida Man' primary," and it won't be pretty:

[W]hat we've seen of the coming storm makes one thing clear: The most extreme right-wing authoritarian candidates ever to hold office in the United States intend to run their primary by finding new ground on the right of their opponents. ... They're not going to go there. DeSantis is trying to run to the right of Trump. Trump is trying to run to the right of DeSantis. Both may momentarily agree, but only on issues where they can't think of a more extreme position. But these two guys have a real instinct for the awful, so they won't be pinned down for long.

If America is lucky, the result will destroy the Republican Party for a generation. But no matter what, everyone is going to get hurt…. Remember all those stories in the past about "the Overton window" and the steps by which the Republican Party worked to make radical ideas more acceptable to the public? Forget them. Overton was defenestrated years ago. Trump and DeSantis will simply stake out new positions that are more and more (and more, and more, and more) awful. Then they'll turn around and sneer at the other one for failing to be sufficiently horrific.

Maybe this game of authoritarian leapfrog will lead the GOP off a cliff. It seems a likely conclusion. But it's just as likely to leave behind a long list of positions, and millions of Americans to support them, that are so much worse than anything already expressed, that we can't imagine them from our warm, comfy place here in the oh-so-stable and reasonable 2023.

This "Florida Man" primary is going to hurt. Pray that the ones it hurts most are Trump and DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis has been terrible for the people and state of Florida — even if many people in that state don't yet understand that — and he will be even worse for America as a whole. That's the story. If the American news media were acting as real guardians of democracy, they would be explaining that reality to their audience on a daily basis.

In the end, a choice between DeSantis and Trump is like an executioner asking a condemned prisoner if they want to be shot or hanged. Either way, the outcome is the same.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary Democracy Donald Trump Elections Fascism Republicans Ron Desantis