Ron DeSantis Has a Secret Theory of Trump

Rather than question the former president’s actions on Covid, DeSantis goes after Anthony Fauci, “one of the most destructive bureaucrats in American history,” an official whose “intellectual bankruptcy and brazen partisanship” turned major U.S. cities into hollowed-out “Faucivilles.” Fauci is the supervillain of DeSantis’s book, the destroyer of jobs and freedoms, the architect of a “Faucian dystopia.” Trump, it seems, was not in charge during the early months of Covid, but Fauci wielded unstoppable and unaccountable power — until a courageous governor had finally had enough. “As the iron curtain of Faucism descended upon our continent,” DeSantis writes, “the State of Florida stood resolutely in the way.”

In “The Courage to Be Free,” DeSantis displays only enough courage to reprimand Trump by proxy.

In fact, DeSantis’s broadest attack against Trump is also his most oblique. In the governor’s various references to Trump, the former president emerges less as a political force in his own right than a symptom of pre-existing trends that Trump was lucky enough to harness. Trump’s nomination in 2016 flowed mainly from the failure of Republican elites to “effectively represent the values” of Republican voters, the governor writes. DeSantis even takes some credit for Trump’s ascent: The House Freedom Caucus, of which DeSantis was a member, “identified the shortcomings of the modern Republican establishment in a way that paved the way for an outsider presidential candidate who threatened the survival of the stale D.C. Republican Party orthodoxy.”

Trump has argued, not without reason, that he enabled DeSantis’s election as governor with his endorsement in late 2017 — and now DeSantis is suggesting he helped clear the path for Trumpism. The governor even notes the “star power” that Trump brought to American politics, the kind of thing critics used to say when dismissing Barack Obama as a celebrity candidate.

If Trump’s success was not unique to him, but flowed from larger cultural or economic forces that rendered him viable, presumably someone else could channel those same forces, perhaps more efficiently, if only Republican voters had the courage to be free of Trump. And who might that alternative be?

DeSantis pitches himself as not only a culture warrior, but a competent culture warrior. The culture warrior who stood up for parents and stood against Disney (yes, the Magic Kingdom rates its own chapter here). The culture warrior with the real heartland vibe (DeSantis’s family’s roots in Ohio and Pennsylvania come up a lot). The culture warrior who is “God-fearing, hard-working and America-loving” in the face of enemies who are oppressive, unbelieving, unpatriotic. The culture warrior who takes “bold stands,” displays “courage under fire,” is willing to “lead with conviction,” “speak the truth” and “stand for what is right.”

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