So much of George Wallace’s lore is about his out-and-out segregationist activities in the 1962 election and between 1963 and 1965 as Governor of Alabama and his quixotic challenge to Lyndon Johnson for the 1964 Democratic Presidential nomination. But let me introduce you to another phase of George Wallace’s career which revolved around his 1968 and 1972 runs for President. The Wallace who stopped saying “n****,” or “segregation,” but started using code like “crime,” “anarchy,” “communist,” “work,” and in 1972 “busing.”
Wallace’s rhetoric took a polarized American and doused kerosene over a small fire, turning it into a raging one. Today Governor DeSantis has done the same here in Florida and continues to douse the fire, dividing the state further with every passing press conference or “policy” proposal.
In fact, to DeSantis eternal credit, he’s now effectively the leader of far right throughout the Anglosphere. In Britain, we see Tory back-benchers who oppose Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s responsible COVID handling (please don’t tell me about March 2020 – I concede at that point President Trump and DeSantis were more responsible than PM Johnson but will also say the PM changed at some point whether it was getting COVID or just becoming a little more wise) parroting the rhetoric of DeSantis. We even see mentions in the conservative British press of Florida’s supposed “outstanding” pandemic handling.
Over in Australia, DeSantis has become a bit of a cult figure among far right agitators. PM Scott Morrison, a conservative himself enacted some of the strongest and most effective measures to combat COVID in the world.
You see both Johnson (whom I basically have loathed for years but must give credit to when it is earned) and Morrison despite being ideological conservatives understood they had an obligation to protect the public during a pandemic. Too many Republicans in the US seemingly don’t see it that way, and for those folks, DeSantis is again the inspiration, the leader.
I will concede I have a begrudging admiration for DeSantis. I’ve never seen this state produce anyone quite as formidable as him that has the total command of the spin cycle on the right and some very smart and capable people directing his rhetorical barbs. But that makes him all the more dangerous.
What is actually true is that Governor DeSantis isn’t serious about any of this, but is reacting to hysteria on the right and creating further divisions that pit neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, parents against teachers and communities against administrators in Florida. Ron DeSantis is Florida’s Great Divider.
The reality is with every passing proposal regarding “Critical Race Theory,” commentaries by DeSantis about migrants or his continued demonizing of those who actually follow science among other things, the Governor is turning into a less serious figure from a policy standpoint but perhaps a more dangerous political foe for the center and left.
This is not to deny he is overwhelmingly popular – demagogues often are popular, but Florida has not seen a public figure in high office of DeSantis’ nature since Governor Sidney Catts who was elected in 1916.
But unlike Catts, DeSantis isn’t a racist. He just plays one every now and again on television.
In fact, Catts was violently anti-Catholic like a lot of southern Democrats of that era, so he’d reject DeSantis presence in this state. But what DeSantis is, much like George Wallace (if you disagree, feel free to contact me to discuss George Wallace’s 1958 campaign for Governor which he lost if you doubt he wasn’t a racist and just turned on a dime when he needed to pivot to win in 1962) is an opportunist using race, disease, migration, etc to create a brand based around performance art.
With Donald Trump off social media, DeSantis now controls the right-wing spin cycle more than any politician. For every naive left-wing MSNBC or CNN viewer who think (Florida-born!) Lauren Boebert or Jim Jordan are the most prominent Republicans in the country, there are a dozen viewers of FOX and readers of conservative online publications that know it is DeSantis.
The media as I tweeted in a long thread on Wednesday need to make some serious decisions about how they cover the Governor going forward. I truthfully don’t know the answers to this but threw it our there. The thread is embedded below: