Don't Say DeSantis | Opinion

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ron DeSantis has left the race for president, but if Donald Trump is convicted of one of the many felonies he is facing, all bets are off as to what or who comes next. 

The fusillade of evidence makes it highly probable that Trump will be convicted of trying to obstruct the 2020 election; the burning question is simply, “When?” If he is convicted before Republicans hold their nominating convention, scheduled for July 15-18, 2024, or if his strain to bully judges in their own courtroom sparks an aneurysm, GOP voters will look to the next candidate in line.

Nikki Haley’s prospects will dim after New Hampshire if she loses her home state of South Carolina, as is now predicted. Worse, in terms of 2024 viability, she is not popular among MAGA voters. DeSantis carries more MAGA approval than Haley, not least because of his campaign of hatred against gays, women, immigrants and racial minorities.

How Trump’s probable conviction will affect the RNC’s final nomination is largely unknown, in part because the Republican National Committee’s rules are ambiguous on whether states can change their votes. It depends on whether changing would be deemed “in the best interests of the Republican Party,” meaning, if it’s clear Trump can’t get elected, which would not be decided among the party faithful without serious and lingering debate (as well as probable violence. Goes with the territory).

Iowa wasn’t the blowout claimed by mainstream media

After Trump, DeSantis appears to be the most MAGA-viable candidate, his withdrawal notwithstanding. He placed second in Iowa, and even though Trump’s 51% haul of Iowa caucus votes made for a strong headline, the footnotes tell a different story.

Only about 15% of registered Iowa GOP voters participated in the caucus, and, given that they ventured outdoors when it was 30 below zero, they likely skewed fanatical. As Trump extolled his base to show up, even if it cost them their lives, many sensible (read, moderate) voters stayed home. Still, half of the caucus-goers who risked frostbite voted for someone other than Trump.

Most importantly, in an exit poll sure to keep Ronna McDaniel of the RNC up at night, 31% of those who voted said they would no longer consider Trump fit for office if he is convicted of a felony.

These are the facts that make a DeSantis candidacy plausible, even though he has stopped seeking the official party nomination. They are also why his record of extremism deserves more daylight (as well as disinfectant).

DeSantis’s unprecedented attacks on academic freedom

DeSantis-appointed boards now control topics, course materials, and lectures, not only through high school, but at the college level. Faculty departure rates in Florida have increased measurably, due to perceptions of “open hostility to professors and to higher education more generally.”

As the American Association of University Professors warned last week on X, “What we are witnessing in Florida is an intellectual reign of terror... People are intellectually and physically scared. We [gay, black, trans or left-leaning college professors] are being named an enemy of the State.”

DeSantis disregards the First Amendment

DeSantis’ drag ban was ruled overly broad, unconstitutionally vague and “dangerously susceptible to standardless, overbroad enforcement which could sweep up substantial protected speech” under the First Amendment.

Intentionally misnamed the “Protection of Children Act,” the drag ban was designed to intimidate gay-friendly businesses under threat of fines, loss of operating licenses, and criminal penalties if their shows expose a “child” to “lewd” performances, never mind that many parents choose to take their kids to drag brunch and drag queen story hour, or that “lewd” could mean almost anything to a tobacco-chewing sheriff itching to crack some skulls.

Most of all, DeSantis hates gays

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law bans all K-12 classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of circumstance or context. DeSantis used oppressive tactics to generate support for the law, calling it an “anti-grooming” bill. His press secretary sneered, “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer,” (i.e. pedophile).

The gay and transgender community now considers Florida one of the most inhospitable places to live. Florida passed more anti-LGBTQ laws in 2023 than in the combined seven years prior, solidifying DeSantis’ extremist appeal to Christian Nationalists, many of whom will switch their support to him if Trump is eliminated for whatever reason.

As the GOP moves through its nominating process and Trump’s criminal cases advance, the rest of the country should pay close attention to who is lingering in the shadows. 

Ding, dong, the wicked witch ain’t dead yet.

Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, Howey Politics, and RawStory. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.


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