The Demagoguery and Dysfunctional Governance of Mini-Trump Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has more ties to former President Donald Trump than probably either of them would want you to think.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has more ties to former President Donald Trump than probably either of them would want you to think.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has more ties to former President Donald Trump than probably either of them would want you to think.

Well, isn’t this an interesting kettle of fish?

In the week that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis officially entered the 2024 presidential race, we learn he has much more in common with Donald Trump than many have already suggested.

Introducing Lev Parnas. Remember this guy? The Ukrainian American businessman and Rudy Giuliani associate, along with a business partner, were arrested in 2019, accused by the U.S. government of funneling a Russian oligarch’s money into American political campaigns (American Law 101: This is illegal). A federal court found him guilty of campaign finance crimes and other charges, and he was sentenced in 2019 to 20 months in prison plus $2.3 million in fines.

Among the campaigns Parnas donated to: that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

It gets better.

You may recall that Parnas, a longtime Florida resident, was a key figure in the events leading to Trump’s first impeachment. He, Giuliani and several other nefarious characters (including American journalist John Solomon) worked to gather damaging information on Hunter Biden in Ukraine to upend his father Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the country announced an investigation of Hunter Biden. That got Trump impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives, charged with abuse of power. He was acquitted in the Senate, however, which required 67 votes to convict.

Wait, Republicans protecting one of their own? No way, you say! “Way,” says Rep. George Santos.

Now here’s where it gets good.

At the time, DeSantis told reporters that Parnas was barely an acquaintance. No relationship with any of those people, his office said. Parnas, DeSantis told reporters, “was just like any other donor, nothing more than that.”

The news agency Reuters begs to differ. Its reporters sat down with Parnas, now under house arrest, who gave a detailed account of his relationship with DeSantis, providing “63 previously unreported text messages from DeSantis to Parnas between May and October 2018 as DeSantis campaigned for governor.”

Turns out DeSantis asked Parnas for advice on fundraising and to make introductions to donors during his “hotly contested” 2018 campaign for governor. Parnas would eventually introduce him to Giuliani, then President Trump’s personal attorney. In one text, DeSantis even suggested a tweet for Giuliani to post in support of his candidacy.

“Two sources close to DeSantis during his 2018 campaign confirmed the texter’s number belonged to DeSantis at that time,” Reuters reported.

“We became very friendly,” Parnas said of DeSantis. The donation he secured for DeSantis: $50,000. There’s even a photo of Parnas hugging DeSantis at his election night victory party.

But now Parnas feels betrayed, used by Giuliani and Trump, and ghosted by DeSantis, who he says stopped returning texts or calls once he won the governor’s race.

What, a second Trump administration and a possible DeSantis administration run by the same kinds of people? You mean this is an actual thing?

Well, DeSantis did say that U.S. support for Ukraine is not a “vital” national interest. And why, look at that! Trump said it, too!

A spokesperson for DeSantis didn’t respond to Reuters on specific questions regarding the existence of the texts and Parnas’ account of the relationship except to say it was old news “that has been proven wrong many times over” and that DeSantis gave back the contribution after Parnas ran into legal trouble.

I’ll just leave this totally-unrelated-and-in-no-way-connected headline from a Florida television station right here:

“DeSantis Signs Bill to Shield Travel Records From Florida Public Record Over Security Concerns.”

What’s interesting about all this is the timing. Did someone tip off Reuters just as DeSantis was set to officially announce his run for president? It’s possible, isn’t it? Maybe Trump called in some favors and, behold, a Russian connection to DeSantis comes to light. Is Donald looking to test out a new nickname, Russian Ron? (I kinda like Ronovavich DeSantovich, myself.)

Trump, DeSantis, Santos, oligarchs… oh, the tangled web. It’s all one giant ball of emulsified grease composed entirely of Russians and Republicans. Unfortunately, I doubt there’s enough pressure-washing to get rid of it. Then again, you can turn fat and lye into soap, and Republicans sure need lots of soap.

Meanwhile, all “patriotic” right-wing voters waving their miniature flags with such pride and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance like it’s a prayer (and not even the original version of it), decking out their trucks with “Don’t tread on me” flags and their houses with “Go Brandon” banners — soldiers of freedom who love their country soooo much — wholeheartedly support these two guys. How do you pick the complete opposite of your stance and not see it?

But that’s just the fun part.

I sometimes wonder if the presidential aspirants realize just how deep the media and opposition research outlets will dig into their past when they decide to run for president.

DeSantis has already had testyexchanges with reporters. Like Trump, DeSantis doesn’t want to speak “with” the press, he wants to speak “to” the press. A one-sided conversation wherein he doesn’t have to answer questions. Indeed, he tried to roll back media protections that, thankfully, failed.

No wonder he chose Twitter to kick off his campaign. It’s like a political safe space from reporters.

Treating journalists with hostility doesn’t make you look tough. It makes you look fragile, egotistical, unknowledgeable, dishonest, even corrupt. In a national campaign, where the stakes are higher, the reporters more tenacious and the microscope more intense, DeSantis may throw so many tantrums that he’ll start looking like a bobble-headed baby. Let’s hope journalists have the guts to stand up to him, though there are signs from his campaign of a thawing out, what one media outlet calls DeSantis Glasnost

HuffPost contributor Dustin J. Seibert has already delivered a searing indictment on the prospects of a DeSantis presidency. I quite agree. Given all he’s done in Florida, almost all by disturbingly dictatorial writ, it’s hard to imagine his conjured-up issues over wokeness, critical race theory, transgender rights, book bans, educational whitewashing and his petty war with Disney will appeal to the broader electorate.

But there is a flip side I hope journalists will consider in covering the DeSantis campaign. While all those dog-whistle issues, DeSantis’ demagoguery, vindictiveness and authoritarian tendencies have gotten all the attention, the actual gears of governance have gotten next to none. It’s less about what DeSantis has done in Florida in his nearly four years as governor and more about what he’s done to Florida. Or what he hasn’t bothered to do at all.

Florida ranks near the bottom of state rankings in health care, school funding and long-term elder care, which is particularly troubling given it has the nation’s highest percentage of retirees. (More than one-fifth of the population is over 65.)

Florida is hardly a haven for the average working stiff. DeSantis campaigned against a successful ballot initiative to raise the state’s $8.65 an hour minimum wage. (Voters in 2020 passed Amendment 2, which changed Florida’s constitution to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.)

Florida ranks 49th in teacher pay, 43rd in per-pupil funding and 48th in public school funding overall. The state’s unemployment benefits are among the nation’s worst, not having increased since 1998.

When DeSantis boasts about Florida and his campaign pitch to Make America Florida, is this what he’s talking about?

It raises a stark question: Does this guy even know how to govern? Does he actually think governing is about nothing else but culture wars? Does this Yale graduate not understand our nation’s founding principles? Is he aware of the historical parallels that suggest his behavior is the opposite of those principles?

On the campaign trail, DeSantis has proudly referred to what he calls the Free State of Florida. Really? Florida sure seems far less free than a lot of other states. Other states aren’t banning books, creating revisionist history, denigrating diversity, turning colleges into right-wing think tanks or attempting to limit press freedoms.

In Florida, parents are no longer free to decide what their kids can read or whether they can take their children to a drag event. College students have lost the choice to study certain kinds of history. Women have virtually no control over their bodies unless you think six weeks is gracious enough for them to ponder the future of a pregnancy they may not be aware of yet. People who are different are now free to be demonized by others who seem to have no grasp of the idea that America was always a place that celebrated diversity. Today it is a place that fosters divisiveness.

Would the Founding Fathers even consider such usurpations? Not before turning over in their graves.

Consider: We have a government that has taken control of the authorization of all textbooks. We have a government that has replaced academic leaders with feckless loyalists. Now the government will decide what children shall learn rather than leaving that to professional educators, threatening any academic institutions that resist.

Do you know who did all this? The Fascist government of Italy under Benito Mussolini. This is the act DeSantis wants to bring to the nation. I don’t mean to Godwin the argument here, but you can’t deny the similarity, and you have to agree these are not linchpins of a free society. Or maybe it’s just me because it seems nearly every vision of dystopia I’ve read or seen on film involves some outcome of the slew of anti-liberal policies being promoted by DeSantis, not to mention the new Republican Party.

Is it hyperbolic to call Ron DeSantis a fascist? Hey, just because a guy is banning gays, trans people and books, marginalizing minorities and limiting a woman’s bodily autonomy while seizing control of public schools and universities, demanding corporations support his policies and proposing his own army doesn’t make him a fascist. Geez. Everybody knows it only counts if he holds a rally and the attendees give him the ol’ Nazi salute.

And you wonder why the Free State of Florida has so horrifically disenfranchised those who most benefit from policies serving the broader public interest.

We cannot consider people for higher office — for any office — who prioritize fear-mongering as governance at the expense of the public good. One was enough. We don’t need another.

This is not the way to make America Great, let alone Make America Florida. It is everything antithetical to what truly has made America great.