Photo: Ron DeSantis speaks at a conference of the far-right group Turning Point USA. Credit — Gage Skidmore
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his run for the presidency last night in a virtual event with right wing billionaire Elon Musk, launching a highly-anticipated bid for the Republican nomination. While he will spend tens of millions of dollars presenting a crafted public image, his most important appeal is to the ruling class. The case for a DeSantis presidency goes something like this: He will be a more stable and competent representative of the interests of the capitalist class than Trump, while still being able to energize a large enough section of society around a reactionary program with a “populist” presentation that he can power the Republicans to victory in 2024.
DeSantis’ political career started in the 2012 election, when he won a seat in Congress representing Florida’s 6th district. Prior to that, he was a lawyer and a lieutenant in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He served at the notorious U.S. torture center at Guantanamo Bay, putting his legal expertise to use justifying some of the most infamous activities of the U.S. government in the so-called war on terror. He wrote in his memoir that he had been hoping for a Guantanamo assignment because it “seemed like a good opportunity to make an impact.”
Since becoming governor of Florida in 2018, DeSantis has become most known for the bigoted, ultra-reactionary measures implemented by the state government at his direction. Under the banner of combating “critical race theory”, the DeSantis administration pushed through policies that prohibit schools from teaching the history of racism in America or its present-day reality. A range of voter disenfranchisement measures targeted especially Black Floridians – making it harder to register to vote, more difficult to vote by mail, and even creating a whole police body to investigate non-existent voter fraud that is designed to have a chilling effect on people exercising their right to vote. In response to the historic surge of the movement for Black lives in 2020, DeSantis championed a law that would criminalize protest and open up protest organizers to charges under the RICO statute.
DeSantis has also become a symbol of anti-LGBTQ hate. The Florida state government has banned gender affirming healthcare for trans youth and many trans adults, and even goes so far as to criminalize supportive parents of trans youth. The “don’t say gay” laws passed in Florida were a model for the nationwide trend of measures enacted to effectively ban any discussion in schools of the very existence of LGBTQ people. A component of this push is book bans, a blatant violation of free speech rights that aims to censor material that does not fit in with the right wing’s bigoted world view.
Seizing on the opportunity opened up by the Supreme Court’s outrageous Dobbs decision, DeSantis signed into law a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. This absurdly short time frame is effectively an outright prohibition on the procedure. And DeSantis is proud of this – his campaign is actively contrasting his hardline stand with other Republicans who are hesitant to emphasize opposition to abortion rights because it is a widely unpopular position.
When right wing, ruling class politicians like DeSantis emphasize these types of “culture war” issues, it is a tactic to divide and rule. If a section of the working class can be convinced that other groups of workers or oppressed people are their main enemy, then they will give a free pass to their real enemies on Wall Street. DeSantis is not giving voice to the “everyman” who is fed up with “woke culture” — he is a servant of the ultra-rich who will go to any length to defend their interests.
DeSantis is so devoted to the profits of big corporations and their executives that he was willing to inflict death and suffering on huge numbers of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus devastated Florida, the governor had a single goal in mind: “reopen the economy” so that corporations could keep making money. For this to happen, workers would need to go back to the job despite the grave danger. DeSantis, like Trump, repeatedly cast doubt on the most fundamental scientific facts about the disease, openly opposed basic public health measures like masking and social distancing, and undermined the effort to vaccinate the population.
The results were predictable and tragic. With the most powerful figure in state government urging people to simply go on with business as usual, over 86,000 residents died from the disease. Adjusted for population, Florida suffered a worse death rate and infection rate than 75% of other states.
Looking at who is funding DeSantis’ political career, it’s no wonder why he is willing to so callously put profits over human lives. This February, after it became obvious to everyone that DeSantis would be running for president, he received a check for $2.5 million from Jeffrey Yass. Yass is a billionaire stock trader who ranks among the 50 richest people on the planet. A week after Yass, the billionaire owners of grocery distributing giant Reyes Holdings donated $2 million to DeSantis.
For his 2022 reelection campaign for governor, DeSantis enjoyed $2 million of support from the Club for Growth. This is an ultra-right group dedicated to shredding taxes and regulations on corporations, and was co-founded by Harlan Crow – the billionaire real estate mogul who is embroiled in scandal over gifts to Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. Property management corporation Debartolo Holdings contributed $500,000.
Among DeSantis’ most ardent backers are insurance corporation executives. They have bankrolled his political career to the tune of $3.9 million, in addition to $6 million donated to the Florida Republican Party since DeSantis became governor. And their investment paid off – the DeSantis administration created a taxpayer-backed fund to prop up insurance companies, and made it harder for customers to sue insurance companies when their claims are baselessly denied.
A system that offers the nauseating choice between DeSantis, Trump or Biden needs to be brought to an end. None of the candidates from the two corporate parties have any interest in offering real solutions to the profound crises facing the working class.