Most of the results are in from the 2022 midterm election, and the much-hyped “red wave” and the potential for Republican domination in Congress never materialized. But one Republican outperformed most of his party this cycle, winning reelection in a landslide: Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
Now, as arguably the only big Republican winner of the 2022 midterms, DeSantis has been floated as the Republican star, the 2024 presidential candidate that can save the party from Donald Trump’s unpopularity. His candidacy has been deemed “inevitable” by The Washington Post, and “the hottest thing going in the Republican Party,” according to CNN. The prevailing theme seems to be, finally, a “normal” Republican frontrunner again!
There’s just one problem: DeSantis is no “moderate.” He is brash, bigoted, and wields the rhetoric of populism as a cudgel to reify white, patriarchal, heteronormative power. He may be an alternative to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, but he is alternative in name only.
Take abortion, for instance. While DeSantis didn’t totally ban abortion, he just signed a 15-week ban into law — a draconian, extremist position that endangers the health and lives of the most marginalized. Florida doesn’t allow Medicaid funding for abortion care. It remains one of the few states left in the Southeast where abortion is legal at all; neighboring states like Alabama and Georgia have abortion bans on the books (though Georgia’s was recently blocked by a federal judge). This puts inordinate pressure on the capacity of Florida abortion clinics, which means booked-up schedules and fewer available appointments for abortion seekers. A 15-week abortion ban imposes a strict time limit on an already time-sensitive procedure.
Florida has other restrictions on abortion –– it bans state Medicaid and Affordable Care Act coverage of abortion care, and has a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, which forces patients to come to the clinic twice before an abortion can be performed. Coupled with the onslaught of patients coming from states where abortion is already banned, it could push some patients, especially low-income folks who need to raise the funds to pay for an abortion, past the 15-week cut-off.
DeSantis’s abortion policy isn’t “moderate,” and neither is his approach to much else. After all, this is the man who rammed through the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that, just months ago, was decried as “dangerous” and “wrong” across outlets like Healthline and NBC News. He directed the state medical board to ban gender-affirming health care for trans youth, banned trans girls from participating on sex-segregated sports teams, and has engaged in egregious voter suppression efforts, arresting 20 formerly incarcerated people in one day who were granted the right to vote in a 2018 state referendum. Moreover, he signed a law that banned state university professors from talking about racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression and discrimination, a law so horrific that the U.S. district judge who blocked it called it “positively dystopian.” Now, because he won big in a state racked with gerrymandering while the rest of his party seemed to flounder at the polls elsewhere, he gets to be the torchbearer for a more “moderate” Republican party.
We’ve heard this tune before. In 2000, George W. Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative,” framing himself as an outsider with a different approach to conservatism. Instead, he led the country into two major tragic wars that would long outlast his administration, tried (unsuccessfully) to gut Social Security, and in 2004, ran on banning same-sex marriage.
There is nothing moderate about arresting marginalized people for voting, or endangering the lives of pregnant people, trans youth, Black and Brown people. If DeSantis is what passes for moderate today in the U.S., then moderate is just another word for oppression, masking itself as reasonable political discourse. But for a party that has staked its legacy on a twice-impeached con man and his army of election-deniers and conspiracy theorists, openly harming anyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender man, it’s par for the course.
Gov. Ron DeSantis may very well win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. And if he does, the legitimacy granted to him by pundits and the media alike, framing his as a more reasonable option to Donald Trump, could help him win election. And the suffering of the marginalized will be a feature, not a bug.