Commissioner of Agriculture, Democrat Nikki Fried was back in the news this week for the wrong reasons. As a result of one of the many unforced errors related to Fried we have previously discussed on this site, the Commissioner was reprimanded by the bipartisan ethics commission this week.
It’s increasingly obvious Fried, despite some snappy campaign videos and some good comms packaging is not ready for prime time. Add to that the complication that despite claiming she’s a “lifelong” Democrat, she has some very recent history supporting Republicans, it’s all adding up to a candidacy that is fraught with danger should the Democrats choose to nominate her.
Whether the criticism of Fried is fair or not is really irrelevant. As 2021 has worn on Governor DeSantis has become increasingly authoritarian in his methods he has lacked a basic seriousness in his rhetoric. The Governor’s clownish behavior and public buffoonery might mask the reality, which is that unlike former President Trump, he’s a deadly competent leader.
As a personal note, I realize that despite historically being associated with progressives, I am of the belief ideology is growing less important in US elections. What is at stake now is we fighting an existential threat to the American Republic and the USA’s leadership role in an increasingly globalized world coming from the DeSantis-aligned Republicans not just here in Florida, but across the nation.
As a result, I am becoming more intolerant of forces on the left that create false equivalencies between the parties (yes, I concede I used to do this myself and even at times compared Donald Trump economic populism favorably with that of corporate centrist Democrats, but given where things have gone recently especially in the COVID world, I no longer feel we have that luxury to be picky about ideology, and those that still do are probably in a vacuum on social media or elite chattering classes – they are living politically in a pre-COVID world.) and am losing patience with those who believe issues are driving the electoral choices of voters – it’s growing more obvious with every passing focus group I observe, or poll I read beyond the top lines, this is simply not the case any longer.
But this isn’t about my preferences or what many of us may consider fairness or double-standards, it’s that of the voters and the more ambiguous DeSantis can make ethical issues with regards to Fried, the more difficult it will be for Democrats to mount an effective campaign against him. Democrats have very little margin for error when it comes to messaging and anything that could muddy the waters needs to avoided.
Given that Democrats have found every conceivable way to lose statewide in the last two decades, the standards internally need to be tightened and potential nominees need to be highly scrutinized before the primaries. We learned with Andrew Gillum that if Democratic elites and activists turn a blind eye to obvious flaws based on perceived ethical transgressions in a potential nominee, the results in November can be an unexpected disaster.
For Democrats, it’s difficult to create a narrative of ethical contrast with Governor Ron DeSantis, if your torch-bearer is constantly finding herself in some sort of trouble. Whether real or perceived, this trouble can sink electoral chances, as we’ve seen time and again.
This isn’t just about the Governor’s race. It’s becoming more difficult to see Democrats beating Ron DeSantis, who has effectively co-opted Donald Trump (for now) as the leader of the national GOP in terms of rhetoric and shock value. Preventing DeSantis creating a GOP wave that sets the Democrats even further behind in Florida is of primary concern – DeSantis is not only a rock star on the right, but with President Trump off social media and making limited FOX News appearances, he is THE star on the right. That means turnout will be high and the Democrats could be overwhelmed by it, causing down ballot problems.
Governor Ron DeSantis currently represents an unprecedented threat to the health and safety of all Floridians as he casually ignores the death total in this state from COVID and openly aligns with anti-vaxxers. This Governor has made it impossible for communities to implement their own standards for virus mitigation and has sacrificed the greater good for that of individual agitators – turning neighbor against neighbor, employee against employer and parents against teachers in an unprecedented effort to placate right-wing forces nationally.
The Democrats have two other potentially outstanding candidates for Governor in State Senator Annette Taddeo and Congressman Charlie Crist. While both would be underdogs against DeSantis, neither has quite the baggage and trail of unforced errors Fried does at the moment.
Fried’s surrogates like to point out that Charlie Crist was a longtime Republican officeholder. However, Fried has openly supported GOP candidates more recently than Crist.
Taddeo’s record ideologically is a positive one most Democrats and many independents could get behind should she be nominated. Both at this point in time look more viable options than Fried, though it must be said Fried’s potential upside is probably higher than both.
In 2022, Governor DeSantis will continue to represent a threat to the health, safety and yes, the freedom of community-conscious Floridians.
Longer term, he could represent a mortal threat to the American Republic as we’ve known it, and the global standing of this nation within the larger international community of liberal democracies. Florida Democrats have an obligation to get this nomination right, and run as a vigorous a campaign against DeSantis as possible. At this point in time, that probably means nominating someone other than Commissioner Fried.