(Trigger warning: This article includes vivid descriptions of torture and mentions of sexual assault.)
Now well into his second term as governor of the third-most populous U.S. state, Ron DeSantis is poised to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Polls may not show it now, but DeSantis may very well defeat President Joe Biden in the 2024 election. As a former Congressman, a Harvard-educated attorney, and two-term governor, his administration would be far more effective at ruthlessly weaponizing the full resources of the federal government against marginalized populations than Donald Trump’s chaotic, mercurial, and incompetent regime, and it’s critical that DeSantis be kept as far away from the White House as possible.
DeSantis hasn’t officially declared his candidacy, but he’s already put out a campaign-style autobiography, with a book tour including the early presidential primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. The term-limited governor’s presidential ambitions are made even clearer when seeing how he’s neglected his state in order to fashion himself as a grand statesman. In April, while the city of Fort Lauderdale was inundated by catastrophic flooding, DeSantis traveled to Tokyo to meet with Japan’s prime minister.
“[DeSantis is] the governor. This is our home. This is what he governs,” Fort Lauderdale resident Cheryl Lovejoy, who lost her home in the floods, told local media while DeSantis was in Japan. “He should be interested and on point with what’s going on here.”
“[DeSantis] took a 19 hour flight to Japan, but couldn’t take a 1 hour & 50 min flight to Fort Lauderdale,” tweeted state senator Shevrin Jones.
Donald Trump’s evil has been well-documented, from his tacit support of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville to his administration’s forced hysterectomies of immigrant women in federal detention camps. But DeSantis’ evil streak is just as worrisome and deserves thorough scrutiny and sunlight from the beltway media.
Ron DeSantis’ glaringly evil record
Last weekend, Gov. DeSantis tweeted his support of Daniel Penny, who was recently charged with second-degree manslaughter after he put a mentally ill homeless man in a fatal chokehold. DeSantis’ tweet likely led to Penny getting millions of dollars in donations for legal support. Gov. DeSantis referred to Penny as a “Good Samaritan,” which is a reference to one of Jesus’ parables in the New Testament. However, DeSantis’ use of the phrase, particularly in the context of Penny, darkly suggests something far more sinister than the Bible story.
In the parable, the Good Samaritan (“Samaritan” was considered a slur at the time) went out of his way to help a man who had been robbed and beaten by bandits, putting him on the back of his donkey, carrying him to a local inn, and paying the innkeeper for the man’s stay. Jesus then encouraged his disciples to “go and do likewise.” By invoking the Good Samaritan parable, DeSantis may have been subtly encouraging his supporters to “go and do likewise,” by committing additional acts of right-wing vigilante violence. As Occupy.com has previously reported, the green-lighting of vigilante violence against undesirables is a hallmark of fascism. DeSantis’ signing of a 2021 bill making it legal for drivers to run over protesters with their cars could be seen as another endorsement of right-wing vigilante violence against the far right’s political enemies.
More recently, DeSantis has been busy carrying out his long-stated mission of snuffing out discussion of equity in Florida’s public education system. On Monday, he signed a bill into law effectively defunding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programming at public universities in the Sunshine State, arguing that educating people about DEI is a “distraction from the core mission” of universities. The bill also limits how race can be discussed in classrooms, saying educators can’t “distort significant historical events” or “teach identity politics.” It remains to be seen whether or not teaching about historical events like the Tulsa Massacre or the Red Summer of 1919 could be in violation of that law.
This bill is likely to follow the same path as DeSantis’ previous unsuccessful attempts to prevent the teaching of DEI in public schools: His so-called “Stop WOKE Act” was blocked by the federal judiciary, and his administration’s appeal was also unsuccessful, with the original injunction being upheld in March by the 11th Judicial Circuit for infringing on the free expression of ideas within classrooms.
But what’s even more evil about DeSantis’ crusade against DEI education are the values that drive him to do it. Last December, when a judge asked the Florida governor’s general counsel to define “woke,” he described it as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” DeSantis’ chief lawyer added that the governor doesn’t believe systemic injustices exist. What makes this so evil is that DeSantis graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law School in 2005, where critical race theory – which examines how racial injustices have been baked into the American legal system from chattel slavery to Jim Crow and beyond—has been taught since the 1970s. He’s well aware that systemic injustice exists; he’s simply indifferent to it.
Another clear example of DeSantis’ indifference toward injustice can be found in his time as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the U.S. Navy between 2006 and 2007, when he was stationed at Guantanamo Bay. Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni citizen and former detainee who was released in 2016 without charges, wrote that he recognized Ron DeSantis’ face as the JAG official present during one particular session when he was strapped to a chair and force-fed with a tube through his nose – a practice the UN has since condemned as torture. Adayfi wrote about the force-feeding experience in his memoir:
“Guards pushed me into the chair. They tightened the chest harness so that I couldn’t move, then strapped my wrists and legs to the chair. Every point of my body was tightly restrained—I couldn’t move at all. One of the male nurses stood in front of me holding a long, thick rubber tube with a metal tip. Another nurse grabbed my head and held it tightly while the male nurse forces that huge tube into my nose. No numbing spray. No lubricant. Raw rubber and metal sliced the inside of my nose and throat. Pain shot through my sinuses and I thought my head would explode. I screamed and tried to fight but I couldn’t move. My nose bled and bled, but the nurse wouldn’t stop.
“When they were done feeding me, the nurse pulled hard on the tube and ripped it out of my body. It felt like a knife coming through my nose and it bled badly. Blood ran everywhere. I couldn’t breathe and my stomach was so full I thought I would explode.”
“He was watching, and I was really screaming, crying,” Adayfi told The Independent. “I was bleeding and throwing up. We were in the block yard, so they were close to the fence.”
“As soon as I saw [DeSantis’] picture I know[sic] him very well because he spent a long time there, maybe six months or eight months,” Adayfi added. “Most of the people in there, once we see them, we don’t forget them.”
Donald Trump’s evil could possibly be attributed to his ignorance, but Ron DeSantis isn’t ignorant: He’s been thoroughly educated on systemic injustice, and now as a public official, he’s made clear his intent to use his political power to exacerbate those injustices, rather than correct them.
Donald Trump: Ron DeSantis’ achilles heel
While DeSantis is showing all the signs of someone earnestly putting together a presidential campaign, he’s likely decided the smarter political move is to move quietly while former President Trump’s legal problems accumulate.
In early May, a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation in the case brought by journalist E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her. This comes after the former president was indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Investigations over Trump’s alleged attempt to rig the counting of votes in Georgia, his alleged mishandling of classified documents, and his alleged incitement of the deadly January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol are all ongoing and could result in additional indictments in the coming months.
Still, Trump has continued his 2024 presidential campaign undeterred, casting himself as a victim of political persecution by the Deep State, and is polling ahead of DeSantis by as much as 32 points according to a recent Fox News poll of likely Republican voters. Trump hasn’t shied away from attacking the Florida governor, and a Trump-aligned super PAC has been spending seven figures on ads attacking DeSantis for his past votes to cut Social Security and Medicare.
As someone who was elected to his current office by riding Trump’ coattails, DeSantis has to walk a political tightrope: Responding too forcefully to Trump’s attacks could alienate him among the legion of Trump supporters whose votes he needs to be successful. On the other hand, letting Trump continue to use him as a punching bag without responding would make him look weak to Republican primary voters.
In my own experience as a flood insurance adjuster who drove all over Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian during October of an election year when DeSantis’ name was on the ballot and Trump’s was not, I still saw far more signs, billboards, and other public displays of support for Trump than I did for DeSantis. Fox News found similar anecdotal evidence that DeSantis’ base of support is weak compared to Trump’s when they went to a Florida diner and had difficulty finding anyone who would support DeSantis over Trump. Gov. DeSantis was also unable to wow Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman—a billionaire Republican megadonor—during a recent visit to Tallahassee to assess DeSantis’ strength as a national candidate. Schwarzman has so far held off from pledging any money in the 2024 GOP primary.
However, if DeSantis is somehow able to capture the Republican nomination, he’s favored to win the general election. A poll from late April found that while President Joe Biden would comfortably defeat Trump with 319 electoral college votes, he would lose to DeSantis in a close race, with the Florida governor edging him out with 286 or 296 electoral votes, depending on Wisconsin. That poll had DeSantis winning the swing states of Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
Right now, Donald Trump is, ironically, Democrats’ single best weapon against DeSantis. If Trump continues dominating the polls, and if current timeline projections for the investigations against him are accurate, he could very well lock up a plurality of delegates and win the nomination, before a mountain of guilty verdicts and prison sentences put him behind bars by November of next year. Even if DeSantis won the nomination, a March op-ed in the Wall Street Journal made the argument that Trump could accuse the Republican Party of rigging the election against him and convince enough of his diehard supporters to defect, all but assuring the GOP’s defeat in 2024.
There are plenty of valid arguments to be made about the Democratic Party’s lack of vision in allowing an octogenarian status quo president to run for a second vanilla term in the face of proto-fascist threats like Ron DeSantis. But Trump could end up doing all the hard work for Biden by eating DeSantis’ lunch before spending the rest of his life in a prison cell.