Who is Ron DeSantis?
Until last night, most Americans had never heard of the relatively obscure Florida congressman and newly minted Republican nominee for Governor. This morning, DeSantis morphed from unknown to infamous when barely 12 hours after Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum made history by becoming Florida’s first Black Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, DeSantis made the following remark: “Florida does not need to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”
Predictably, there were many DeSantis defenders who pretended to not understand the racist history of white folks referring to Black folks as monkeys, apes, gorillas, or coons. From slavery through Jim Crow and beyond, from 1619 to 2018, these animals have been and are still used as surrogates for the “n-word” throughout the United States.
(Racist imagery through the ages)
DeSantis’ defenders have taken to traditional and social media to suggest that he meant no harm and was not racist in the least in his slight. I beg to differ because DeSantis, like yours truly, is a trial lawyer; a graduate of Yale undergrad and Harvard Law, his legal career has included stints as a Navy Judge Advocate General lawyer, where he was assigned to a tour in Iraq with a Navy SEAL. DeSantis later served as a federal prosecutor in the Middle District of Florida. An author and op/ed writer for newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, it is easy to conclude that DeSantis, clearly, understands the power of words.
Whatever his intention, DeSantis, by invoking the painful legacy of racism, has served notice to Andrew Gillum and his supporters that the race to the November 6th finish line will be turbulent due to the race of his opponent.
(Gillum, on stage with his wife, R. Jai, accepting the Democratic nomination for governor)
Still, the second question that both Florida voters and non-Florida residents alike keep asking is where did DeSantis’ meteoric rise come from? The simple answer is this: President Donald Trump!
You see, most “establishment” Florida Republicans were strongly behind long-time state legislator, congressman and current Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. Putnam, a sixth generation Floridian, was ROUTED by DeSantis for one reason: President Donald Trump.
(A 2012 photo of Ol’ Hobbs talking Florida Gators football with fellow UF grad, Adam Putnam)
For all of Trump’s considerable flaws, one cannot deny the hold that the president has on his own party. With his Republican approval rating hovering at 90 percent, the simple fact is that when Trump speaks or Tweets his support for a Republican primary candidate, more often than not, that candidate wins.
DeSantis earned Trump’s admiration over the past year and half due to his steadfast criticism of Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s Russian Collusion probe, his support for Trump’s controversial move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, and by his congressional voting record that has sided with the Trump administration 94% of the time.
Cognizant that Trump loves “loyalty,” DeSantis now dons the role of not only the Republican Gubernatorial nominee, but as Trump’s proxy in Florida. But the truth of the matter is that when Florida Republicans weighed the DeSantis vs. Putnam race, ideologically speaking, very little separated the two men as far as being small government, pro-life, tax cutting, immigration averse conservatives.
Curiously, the one area that could have posed trouble for DeSantis was this past summer when he criticized Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s decision to not file charges against vigilante Michael Drejka for murdering Markheis McGlockton, 22, allegedly due to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. While DeSantis professed his support for SYG, he stated his belief that Sheriff Gualtieri did not correctly apply the law. Putnam, on the contrary, expressed his support for both the law and the sheriff’s right to make that call.
(Pinellas State Attorney Bernie McCabe has since filed murder charges against Drejka, pictured here)
According to the Congressional Record, DeSantis has little to show for his three terms in Congress. DeSantis was a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group that is often praised by conservative pundits like Sean Hannity for making its bones in 2015 by nearly shutting down the federal government due to is disapproval of then President Barack Obama’s stances on immigration.
The Freedom Caucus, much like Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy, also invoked the anger of “establishment” Republicans for their recalcitrance; former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, removed to tears per usual, resigned his post rather than face a Freedom Caucus coup in 2015.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, in five years in Washington, DeSantis only co-sponsored “…34 bills that crossed the finish line, a mixed bag involving meaty issues like national security, veterans or international affairs, but also including 11 bills to rename specific government offices after distinguished veterans and three to create new commemorative coins, such as for the anniversary of the moon landing.”
Florida Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Putnam supporter, made light of DeSantis’ “light” resume by exclaiming, “You know what those (DeSantis) bills are? Naming post offices, naming legislation after Merle Haggard..It’s embarrassing.”
Indeed, DeSantis’ record leaves much to be desired. It certainly pales in comparison to his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, a man who has spent well over a decade fomenting policies in Tallahassee that have made it vibrant economically, improved the quality of life for its citizens through public and private building projects that have revitalized and expanded its downtown, and strengthened ties to its three centers of education, Florida A&M University, Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College. Not to mention that contrary to President Trump’s Tweet this morning, under Gillum’s watch, crime has been reduced by 15 percent overall–and violent crime is down by 24 percent.
(Ol’ Hobbs braving the Florida heat at the kickoff for Gillum’s bus tour last week)
For these reasons, DeSantis, with no strong record of accomplishments of which to boast, has no choice but to resort to appealing to the lowest common denominators to low information voters, which are fear mongering, race baiting and dishonest distortions of Gillum’s record. Couple this with the fact that right’s favorite “Boogey Men,” Sen. Bernie Sanders and Billionaire George Soros, are on Gillum’s side, and suffice it to say that the next 70 days in Florida may provide constant reminders of Florida’s Jim Crow past, and a harbinger of things to come during the 2020 presidential election cycle as Democrats and Republicans continue to shift from the center to their extreme polar opposites.