As Ron DeSantis has risen to fame as the governor of Florida, many moderates and centrists have urged “Never Trumpers” and Democrats to support him in his bid to win the Republican nomination. Some Never Trumpers are indeed backing Ron DeSantis, including prominent ones like David French. Conor Friedersdorf, another moderate conservative, summed up the reasoning behind this well in an Atlanticarticle:he believes Ron DeSantis is not immoral or authoritarian, unlike Trump. The reasoning goes that while DeSantis might do objectionable things or he might support bad policies, he isn’t a bad person or anti-democracy like Donald Trump is. However, the Lincoln Project, a prominent group of anti-Trumpers, doesn’t support DeSantis. They’re right to do so and other Never Trumpers should follow their lead. While DeSantis has a more respectable veneer, a close examination of his record shows he is just as authoritarian and immoral as Donald Trump is.
Trump was attacked for his bigotry and sociopathy, and DeSantis has the same flaws. Like Trump, DeSantis is homophobic and opposes the teaching of “queer theory.” DeSantis has also attempted to whitewash the undeniably racist history of America and erase Black history by trying to force the College Board to change its A.P. African American Studies curriculum and ban it from being taught. As Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn white supremacy, so has DeSantis. DeSantis has also hired virulent sexists such as Scott Yenor, who said women who have careers are “medicated, meddlesome and quarrelsome.” Worst of all, DeSantis has shown himself to be a sociopath by using refugees fleeing from persecution as political props: in an attempt to embarrass liberals, he violated human trafficking laws by tricking unsuspecting migrants into flying to places where it was hard for them to receive assistance.
Despite DeSantis frequently portraying himself as a pro-freedom conservative with libertarian positions, he can more accurately be described as an authoritarian in most senses. DeSantis has fought civil liberties hardest in schools, such as through his infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill which bans teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity. Although this bill originally restricted kindergarten through third grade teachers, Desantis supports expanding this to all grades. Moreover, DeSantis recently took control of a college in Florida by appointing six new members to its board, in an effort to forbid it from teaching that which he claims is “woke” ideology.
DeSantis attempting to control what is taught in schools isn’t his only sign of authoritarianism. He has also enacted voter suppression laws, whose primary target is mail-in voting. Mail-in voting was utilized primarily by Democrats in 2020 and has continually been attacked by Republicans on the unsubstantiated basis that it promotes election fraud. Curtailing it is obviously a political move meant to stifle Democratic votes and keep DeSantis in power; thus, it was fundamentally anti-democratic. Most tellingly, however, he has refused to condemn the lie that the 2020 election was rigged himself and downplayed the Jan. 6 attack on our capitol. If he can’t even condemn basic authoritarianism, Ron DeSantis is no supporter of democracy.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that Ron DeSantis has no better and possibly even worse policy positions than Trump. In fact, Trump has occasionally attacked DeSantis’ policy from the left, such as by criticizing the Florida governor’s support for cutting Social Security and Medicare. It does not take a very careful examination of DeSantis’s policy to notice just how extreme many of his positions are, even within the current American political climate. For example, DeSantis explained his anti-democratic view on the war in Ukraine by saying that the United States shouldn’t be too involved in what is simply a “territorial dispute.”
Additionally, DeSantis’ policy position on transgender rights certainly harkens back to Trump’s rejection of empathy; DeSantis has attempted to tightly restrict gender-affirming medical care for trans individuals, which is life-saving in the regard that it has been demonstrated to reduce suicidal ideation. Recently, DeSantis quietly signed into law a policy that would enable permitless concealed carry, just weeks after a school shooting in Nashville. DeSantis passed an extreme six-week abortion ban, despite portraying himself as a champion of civil liberties by refusing to close schools or to embrace mask mandates as the COVID-19 crisis ravaged his state. DeSantis has also spread anti-vax propaganda, which actually makes him worsethan Donald Trump, who urged his supporters to get vaccinated.
It’s understandable that centrists are hopeful for a return to a more moderate center-right Republican Party. However, those hopes should not shine so bright as to distort the reality of DeSantis’ pseudo-Trumpism. There may indeed be a return to a moderate Republican Party someday, but with Liz Cheney being kicked out of office for not supporting Trump’s coup attempt and anti-Trump Mitt Romney being as popular among Democrats as Republicans, moderates should not assume it will happen soon.