Over the weekend, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who has been waging a fledgling 2024 presidential campaign — used violent rhetoric to suggest that he’d go after federal employees he felt were disloyal to him should he become president.
“We’re going to have all these deep state people, you know we’re going to start slitting throats on day one,” DeSantis said during a New Hampshire Public Radio interview on Sunday with former Republican senator Scott Brown.
DeSantis’s reference to the “deep state” is rooted in the baseless conspiracy theory, widely shared among the far right, that government employees, who remain in their positions, worked against former President Donald Trump during his time in office — a theory that is not based on any factual evidence whatsoever, experts say.
DeSantis’s comments likely aren’t meant to be taken literally. However, they do demonstrate the candidate’s willingness to use threatening and divisive language to court a base of GOP voters who have increasingly embraced the possibility of violence to achieve their political ends.
Late last month, in an interview published on right-wing site Real America’s Voice, DeSantis used similar rhetoric when referring to his choice for the Department of Defense, saying:
I think the idea that you take a flag [officer] or general officer who recently retired and put them as [secretary of Defense], I think it is a mistake. … You know, they may have to slit some throats. And it’s a lot harder to do that if these are people that you’ve trained with in the past or that you know.
DeSantis’s comments come as he has attempted a “reboot” of his campaign in recent weeks after failing to garner enough support from GOP-leaning voters to present a real challenge to former President Donald Trump, who is also running to be the party’s 2024 nominee. Polling published by The New York Times this week shows the Florida governor lagging far behind Trump — while he still comes in second place among a field of other choices, DeSantis only receives the support of 17 percent of Republican voters in the primaries, the poll found, while Trump receives 54 percent support.
Even if the two candidates are polled head-to-head without any other opposition, Trump polls at a two-to-one margin versus DeSantis, garnering 62 percent support in the survey versus DeSantis’s 31 percent support.
It’s possible that DeSantis is trying to “out-Trump” the former president, imitating Trump’s violent rhetoric during his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns to make himself a more viable candidate in the primaries.
“You can’t out-Trump Trump, right? And that’s what he’s really been trying to do,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) said last month on MSNBC. “His attacks on teachers, on schools, on LGBTQ+ Americans, I think, go way too far in the state of Florida. And I think that they are a profound political miscalculation and an overcompensation.”
Like Trump, DeSantis’s words and actions echo those of noted fascists. This past spring, DeSantis met with fascist leaders of Hungary, including Hungarian President Katalin Novak, an ally to far right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Henry A. Giroux, a member of Truthout’s board of directors and the current McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department, denounced DeSantis’s fascist politics in a December op-ed.
“DeSantis’s lies, policies and embrace of historical revisionism cannot be separated from either an egregious fascist history or the current attempts by the GOP to erase migrants and Black and Brown people from history in order to prop up a white nationalist agenda,” Giroux wrote.
Ron DeSantis has made clear in both his statements and policies that fascist politics is alive and well in the United States. … DeSantis has waged a war on immigrants, targeted gay and transgender youth, purged voters, banned books in Florida schools, limited what teachers can say about racism and other critical elements of American history, and used state power to punish businesses, evident in his ruthless and vindictive attack on Disney. He has also used policing to punish Black voters who disagree with his policies, courted Christian nationalists, supported a white nationalist agenda and waged a war on higher education.
“There is little doubt that DeSantis has turned Florida into a laboratory of fascist politics,” he concluded.
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