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Why Nobody Likes Ron DeSantis
The story, in itself unremarkable (at least by Ron DeSantis standards), nonetheless gave me a fresh insight into the fash Florida governor:
The Tallahassee NAACP and civil rights attorney Ben Crump are asking authorities to drop felony voter fraud charges against a 69-year-old Black woman who was arrested last month as part of a Florida elections investigation.
Investigators allege Marsha Ervin, after serving a prison sentence for a felony conviction and being released in 2018, voted while still on probation in the 2020 general and 2022 primary elections in Florida. Her attorneys, in part, point to confusion around recent changes in state law concerning when people with past felony convictions can vote.
In recent years there’s been a trend among states of re-enfranchising felons who have served their terms. But several states have refused, and some that approved have reversed themselves.
Florida’s case is particularly fucked up: Voters approved felon re-enfranchisement in a 2018 referendum, and the following year DeSantis, no doubt working on what he imagined would be his conservative bona fides preparatory for a run for higher office, signed a law requiring those voters to prove before they could vote that they’d paid “legal financial obligations (LFO)” owed the state — obligations which were purposefully made nearly impossible to prove.
At the same time, these people were allowed to register to vote — making situations like Ervin’s inevitable. Also, DeSantis’ goons arrested Ervin at three in the morning, which was obviously meant as a lesson.
This absolutely tracks with DeSantis’ style of half-clever cruelty, as seen in his book bans, his sabotage of New College, his shipping immigrants who didn’t even enter his own state to the Northeast, etc. And like those stunts, it provokes outrage and rejoinders like Crump’s that appeal to the decency of the voters.
Yes, yes, I know — it’s a truism that Republican voters, drunk on MAGA fascism, are beyond the reach of such appeals, so we should expect them to delight in and eat up DeSantis’ vicious antics.
But guess what? After a brief spurt of approval which never approached that of Big Daddy Trump, DeSantis has seen his Republican presidential campaign go into free fall, so much so that Nikki Haley — a woman (!) of Indian descent (!!) who occasionally pretends to be something very nearly resembling critical of Trump (!!!) — has crept past him into second place in polling.
A lot of reasons have been advanced for this collapse, but the Ervin fiasco gave me a flash of inspiration: DeSantis is the Republicans’ first tryhard fascist. And while they love fascists a lot, they hate tryhards more.
We’ve talked about why MAGA people love Trump. The policies are not most of it. The cruelty, as they say, is the point, but it’s not the serious cruelty of stern-faced Nazis in old war movies. It’s more like the wacky cruelty of Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds — or in the recent Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix interpretations of the Joker, or Beavis and Butthead: Cruelty that’s sweeter for those who practice it (and those entertained by it) when it’s capriciously divorced from reason and intention.
MAGA voters don’t go for logical consistency, or even any sign that their cruel avatars are following any kind of a plan; “Make American Great Again” did not, in practice, mean anything or make anything great… OK, I was next going to say “except the pain of people Trump and his enthusiasts hate,” but you know what? The actual viciousness his administration visited directly on the helpless was mostly laid to functionaries —for example, the abuse of immigrant children, which was laid to fash creep Stephen Miller.
Likewise the neo-Confederates and Proud Boys were someone else’s doing — Trump said they were “good people,” but didn’t claim to be in control of them. (I really think Trump’s 2020 debate line about the Proud Boys, “stand back and stand by,” was a mistake because it gave that game away; even some Trumpkins may have balked at him taking that much responsibility.)
No, the pain that really excited MAGA voters was pain that was attributable to Trump only as a side effect of the mere fact of his power — like that picture of a leftist crying after the 2016 election that they reproduced a zillion times. They loved the idea of people hurt by the very fact of Trump — loved their pain and reveled in it, made endless memes celebrating it, loved it so much they denied for a long time that he’d even stopped being president.
But when Trump actually, directly hurt people they denied it happened. That’s why the Trump shit that was really purposeful, like the January 6 attack, is exactly the shit his fans feel compelled to deny. They love that he stirred up the crowd to rampage through and shit on the temple of the democracy they despise — but they can’t bear to think that he had a tight plan to overthrow it. (Otherwise it would have worked! Right?)
Trump’s capriciousness is central to his appeal. That’s why it made sense for him to adopt a hard line against abortion, very clearly for no other reason that it would make those bitches pay for having too much freedom — and then, when it became an obvious electoral loser, go: Hey, who needs it? (And attaching the stink of the anti-abortion failure to DeSantis in particular.)
One can read this as Trump cutting loose an unpopular policy, but we all know that no Republican can run as even moderately pro-choice — and Trump won’t, either, when he’s nominated. No: By blowing off the party hacks who are stuck with selling the anti-abortion hard line, Trump is showing his fans that he’s not like those hacks, mired in principle and convention and necessity. He can do whatever the fuck he wants, and make them eat it.
Now, in light of that, look at DeSantis. He keeps doing evil shit, clearly to show the Republican base that he is willing to torture liberals, foreigners, librarians, prisoners, students, gays, trans people — everyone he knows they hate. And as we have seen, the base rejects him, because he’s such a tryhard.
He keeps yelling about gay books in schools and nobody except the obvious freaks of Moms for Liberty gives a shit. He pushed so far into the fash space that before he could capitalize on the Hamas attacks he had to rush to denounce his former fash friend Nick Fuentes. He’s a challenger to a party leader who lost the last election — typically a position that gives a candidate maximum leeway and freedom — but he’s sweating as if he were an unpopular incumbent.
It’s gotten so DeSantis’ biggest fans are the Never Trumpers and the Just The Tip Trumpers — the dweebs and dinks at National Review and elsewhere who stan him because they think he’s the best chance to block Trump, who they hate because he exposed their irrelevance. They think DeSantis has a chance because they’ve noted the savagery of the MAGA crew and they see DeSantis out there, tryhardily pitching his brutal policies, and they think: Our champion is a cruel pig like the man we hate! And he works so hard! Surely the rubes will go for him!
Folks, I assure you, when MAGA look at DeSantis they see the same charmless, maladroit fuckface you do. They see a numpty who does everything out of a playbook, who can’t improvise, who can’t dance, who has no soul, no verve, no jam. As I wrote in 2015, they wouldn’t vote for Scott Walker for the same reason:
…Trump broke out. And suddenly there went Walker’s whole reason for being. It turned out his dollar sweaters and latex gloves and his lack of schooly airs weren’t what appealed to them — it was his willingness to be mean to the people they hated; and if you want a candidate to be mean to the people you hate, isn’t it much better to have one who seems confident about it?
They hate people like Walker and DeSantis. It’s frankly their most relatable quality.