The GOP is the party of Ron DeSantis. The Florida GOP and the national Republican Party now both have DeSantis as their titular head. As DeSantis emerges as an authoritarian leader in Florida and the star of the right-wing media ecosystem nationally, his predecessor as Governor, Rick Scott and Florida’s Senior US Senator Marco Rubio are growing increasingly invisible – and irrelevant.
In the Spring of 1995, Bill Clinton had to plead his case to reporters who contended he was irrelevant in the wake of the GOP electoral sweep the previous November. Clinton proved later that year with a slew of vetoes he was in fact still relevant. No doubt Scott and Rubio both US Senators remain relevant legislatively because the Constitution makes them so. However, both are rapidly descending into complete political irrelevance in a party defined first by Donald Trump’s tin-pot dictator act and now Ron DeSantis full on authoritarianism coupled with his recent embrace on anti-vaxxers.
On the former point, Senator Rick Scott said to WIOD radio last month-
“I believe that the role of the government is to educate, that’s our biggest role, to give people information,”… “I don’t believe the government should be mandating things. I think the government should be giving people information to make informed decisions and I believe the private sector has the right to make their own decisions.”Rick Scott WIOD August 2021 interview
Rubio to reporters around the same time.
“I don’t believe we can mask our way out of this,”… “I think the masking debate is a waste of time because only a vaccine surge is going to turn back a hospitalization surge.”
These comments were both made in August at a time where my own contacts were telling me high-ranking Republicans (including Scott) were growing increasingly frustrated with DeSantis tenor on COVID as well as his dominance of the news cycles each and every day (which is something I can personally speak to, I have never been more exhausted following the news than I have been the last few months during DeSantis peak megalomania).
Ever since late July, DeSantis has flirted openly with anti-vaxxers while pushing a message of “freedom” around opposing the wearing of masks. DeSantis has gone from promoting vaccinations like in the below tweet to openly undermining vaccines and their effectiveness.
Yesterday at an event in Archer, DeSantis stood by the podium when both of the below quotes were uttered by press conference participants and even interjected in the transition between the two statements:
“the vaccine changes your RNA”
“my body, my choice.”
What has become increasingly clear as DeSantis becomes a nightly fixture on Fox News, and has an incredible amount of cache with the likes of The Daily Caller, The Federalist, Town Hall.com, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, NewsMax and other right-wing publications is that HE dictates the narrative and the agenda for both Florida and national Republicans. Other voices are being drowned out and the legion of angry MAGA-types nationally have gravitated over to DeSantis, lauding him as a hero who defends “freedom.”
While DeSantis is all powerful both taking authoritarian steps at home and acting as the leading spokesperson for the Republican Party nationally, Florida’s two Republican US Senators are fading from relevance politically. No doubt they are still all-powerful in terms of being US Senators within that body, but in Florida, they have little relevance to the narrative nor the daily proceedings on COVID.
It is true that businesses in Florida are almost certainly more comfortable with the market-driven Rick Scott than the constantly meddling-in-the-private sector Ron DeSantis and rank-in-file (real) conservatives probably see Rubio as a much more consistent and honest voice of mainstream conservatism than DeSantis*. But none of that really matters in 2021, at least not in terms of politics. COVID in Florida has served to further consolidate Ron DeSantis hold on the GOP and right-wing talking heads.
The endgame as we’ve said for months here is for DeSantis to use this public health crisis to further consolidate power over state and local government within Florida as well as the power to regulate private sector in his own personal hands, while enhancing his national brand.
In this sense, DeSantis is winning the pandemic like no other public official in the country.
* it is worth noting DeSantis ideology of undermining vaccines and sticking it to the private sector, believe it or not based on some anecdotal evidence gathered both by myself and some friends actually appeals to a small number of far left hippie-types. This is probably a very small percentage of people but they are out there – anti-vaxxing has had its origins on the left for those who never really studied the movement.