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DeSantis Is In

Yesterday Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) filed the official paperwork with the FEC to make him a candidate for president. It was long expected and now it happened. The filing itself was routine. It's the law, DeSantis is a lawyer, and he did what the law requires.

But the actual "announcement" to the country was—what's the technical term we are looking for?—oh yeah, weird. He "announced" it on a strange Twitter app yesterday evening. We know he is very smart (Yale, Harvard Law School), but we are starting to question his political skills. If he had pre-announced a MAJOR announcement at 9 a.m. at the Florida State Capitol yesterday, every news outlet from The New York Times down to the East Cupcake Middle School Reporter would have covered it and it would have been the only news story of the day. Doing it his way, and late in the day to boot, is not the way to start a campaign against an 800-pound gorilla who is already universally known and the heavy favorite. But what do we know?

If you would like a second technical term—two for the price of one!—the event was also a disaster. Twitter spaces is a beta product, and one that was intended for classroom-size interactions (20-200 people), not TV-level broadcasts. And so, when 500,000 people showed up, the broadcast started out glitchy and then crashed entirely. Elon Musk eventually had to shut down the "meeting" being hosted from his account, and redirected people to David Sacks' account for a restart. Campaign Launch v2.0 managed to reach the finish line, but this time the viewership was only 250,000. We have a lot of computer and networking pros among the readership, and surely all of them are asking the same thing we are: "What the hell kind of computer 'professional' doesn't make absolutely certain their setup is scalable?" Meanwhile, if all DeSantis wanted was a friendly host and an audience of 250,000-500,000 people, he could have joined literally any Fox show. Even the 2:00 p.m. shows pull in that many people, and they don't glitch out, crash, and have to be restarted.

In short, everyone involved in this event ended up with egg on their faces. They are all master spinners, and they expended so much energy spinning last night, they can go ahead and get the piece of pie with their dinner. Musk and Sacks, for their part, asserted that you know you're using a new and exciting technology when you see the bugs and the rough edges. Yeah, sure. Back when Apple issued those laptops that sometimes caught on fire, or those phones that didn't work if you held them the wrong way, what everyone said was: "Wow! This is new and exciting!" Right?

Meanwhile, DeSantis' spin came in the form of a video that was hastily recorded and posted to his Twitter account:

Hi, this is Governor Ron DeSantis. I'm running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback. We announced that on Twitter spaces earlier tonight and it broke the Internet because so many people were excited about being on the Twitter space.

Uh, huh. Again, even if everything had gone well, DeSantis would have pulled an audience equivalent to your average Fox non-primetime program, or your average Friends rerun, or your average local baseball broadcast. And a lot of the viewers were undoubtedly checking in for lookylou reasons, and not because they're actually interested in what DeSantis is selling. This does not speak to unbridled enthusiasm.

What blowing the campaign announcement does speak to is a guy who's not ready for the big time. This is the subject of most of the commentary, including from DeSantis' rivals and from the right-wing talkers. For example, the staff of The National Review, which should be Ground Zero for DeSantis enthusiasm, produced several critical pieces. That included one from the site's editor, Philip Klein, in which he wrote:

Don't get me wrong; the format is a somewhat interesting way to take a deeper dive into topics. And on the substance, DeSantis obviously had command of what he was saying, and he has a good story to tell. But to the extent that there was any benefit to this, DeSantis could have done it in Week Two of his campaign, or maybe Day Two. But a candidate has only one chance at his announcement. DeSantis enters this race well behind Donald Trump and faces questions about whether he will be able to scale up from being a successful governor to becoming a winning presidential candidate. He doesn't have much margin for error—and his first action as a candidate was a huge mistake.

The other pieces we read were just as negative.

What will the Governor do to try to recover? Undoubtedly, he and his team spent much of last night trying to figure that out. One thing that he is not doing is planning an event in his home town of Dunedin, where he grew up. Politicians often do this to show their roots and how they are "ordinary" folks. In DeSantis case, Dunedin is a smallish, largely white, city in the Tampa Bay area, where his mother worked as a nurse and his father installed boxes for the Nielsen company to monitor television usage for the Nielsen ratings. That actually seems to us as a good fit for the Republican base: a middle class family in a small, white, city. Why wouldn't DeSantis take advantage of this and show "I'm just like you"? It's almost a no-brainer. But he has no plans to do so, at least at present.

Donald Trump is not taking this lying down. In addition to issuing forth with plenty of snark after last night's meltdown, he and his allies are planning a coordinated effort to squash DeSantis like a mosquito before he can even get started. Trump will start posting to his boutique social media site and get Trump-friendly people in the right-o-sphere to start taking down the Florida governor. His super PAC hired a big truck with anti-DeSantis messaging to circle the hotel where DeSantis will gather with donors today. The PAC is also running 60-second digital ads focusing on how DeSantis, a three-term member of the House, was a swamp creature who tried to cut Social Security. In addition, MAGA, Inc. is running an ad targeting DeSantis on his response to COVID. Initially, DeSantis encouraged people to voluntarily get vaccinated although he never supported mandates. But with Trump's base, even politely asking people to get vaccinated so they won't die is a mortal sin. Any suggestion that you believe in science is fatal. Once you believe in vaccinations, it's only a small step to believing in evolution or that the earth is round and revolves around the sun and that is unacceptable. (V & Z)

Is DeSantis Typecast Already?

Politico's media reporter, the inimitable Jack Shafer, has a new column out entitled "The Media Has Got Ron DeSantis Nailed." It points out that when somebody new shows up on the campaign trail, it doesn't take long for the media to come to a more-or-less collective decision about how to characterize the new character. Once the image has taken hold, it is nearly impossible to change and any attempts by the candidate to do so just make it worse. From then on, all new information is massaged to fit into the existing frame.

Richard Nixon was slippery. Lyndon Johnson was scheming. Bill Clinton was phony. George W. Bush was stupid. There was more to Nixon than treachery, more to Johnson than lies, more to Clinton than his insincerity, but that never got published. Shafer didn't want to take a position on whether there was more to Bush than stupidity. Oh yeah, then there was Michael Dukakis, the weakling warrior in a tank, Bob Dole the whiner, and Hillary Clinton as an icy know-it-all.

Now what about DeSantis? He is already being pigeonholed as Mr. Uptight who has bile running through his veins instead of blood. He could go on late night TV and handfeed a litter of kittens some milk from a bottle and be accused of animal cruelty. Once the image has been set in reporters' minds, every story is twisted to make the candidate fit the image. In DeSantis' case, he really does dislike people and nothing he does or says is going to change that perception. Trump's nickname for him, Ron DeSanctimonious, is actually pretty much on the mark. The only downside there is that the people in his base don't know the meaning of most 13-letter words.

One candidate who came to terms with the media is Donald Trump, who was quickly labeled a narcisisstic bully, a con man, a cheat, a racist, an egomaniac and a fraud. And what did he do? He embraced them all and told his base that's who he was and they loved him all the more for being honest with them.

Could DeSanctimonious [sic] try that approach? We doubt it would work. People really don't mind rascals (Clinton) or friendly dummies (W) but highly educated know-it-alls (Al Gore, Hillary Clinton) can rarely pull it off. In France, highly educated people often run for president and win, but that's not what sells in America, doubly so on the right side of the aisle. The three most intelligent Republican presidents of the last century were George H.W. Bush, who was mocked for his eggheadedness; Richard Nixon, who hid his brainpower behind his shiftiness; and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who pretended to be dumb. The Florida governor's best chance now is that Trump implodes or is convicted of multiple felonies and he is the only plausible alternative still left. It could happen, but at the moment it looks like a long shot. But of course, in politics, a week is a long time, so you never know. (V)

How Conservative Is DeSantis' Florida, Really?

Now that Ron DeSantis is running for president as the guy who made Florida conservative, one might ask: "How conservative is Florida, anyway?" We don't have to answer the question because FiveThirtyEight beat us to it. Executive summary: Kinda, sorta, in some ways.

The Florida legislature passed, and DeSantis signed, bills on pronouns, guns, tort reform and some other hot-button issues. But the real test for DeSantis is not whether Florida is a conservative state, but how does it rank against other conservative states? And how does DeSantis stack up against other governors of conservative states, like Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) or even Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-IN)?

For example, those nasty pronouns. A new Florida law states that school employees may not ask students about their preferred pronouns or share theirs unless they correspond to what is on their birth certificate. That's old hat in Alabama, which did that last year, and Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky did it earlier this year, with Iowa and Louisiana about to do it. So does signing that bill make DeSantis a true conservative leader when half a dozen other governors did the same thing, or are about to?

Florida has been a "leader" in being anti-LGBTQ, for example by banning gender-affirming care for minors this year. But a dozen red states have already done that. "Bathroom bills?" Yup, Florida made using a public bathroom that doesn't correspond to the users' sex on their birth certificates a misdemeanor, but so have four other states.

What about banning books? Florida has a new law banning books that deal with race or sexuality. Is that cutting edge? Nah. Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Montana did it last year and Iowa's governor will soon sign a similar bill.

What about guns, then? Florida has long had a "stand your ground" law that allows you to shoot someone you think is threatening you, but the real action is on concealed carry these days. In that area, Florida is playing catch-up with Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.

Abortion? When the Dobbs decision came down, 19 states had trigger laws in place that banned the procedure outright or within 6 weeks of conception. Florida didn't. Was DeSantis asleep at the wheel here? Last year Florida passed a law banning it after 15 weeks, but in the run up to his presidential run, DeSantis asked the legislature to ban it after 6 weeks, and he signed the bill on April 14, 2023. Kind of late to the party, no?

Some things DeSantis has pushed for have not been done in other conservative states—because the voters don't want them. For example, a new amendment to the Florida Constitution would make local school board elections a partisan office, with candidates putting a (D) or (R) after their names. Should the schools be more politicized? A poll shows that 65% of the voters don't want more politization of the schools and only four other states require partisan school board elections. Not even Texas, Idaho, Wyoming, or Oklahoma require this, and nobody doubts that they are plenty conservative.

And on a few issues, DeSantis is a downright liberal. About 30% of Florida is wetlands and the state is subject to devastating hurricanes, which can be mitigated somewhat by having wetlands where the water can go. In his first term, DeSantis signed bills spending $3.3 billion to protect the Everglades and water resources and in his second he allocated an additional $3.5 billion for environmental protection. God forbid that the Sierra Club gives him a "Governor of the Year" award for his environmental positions.

In short, DeSantis is not the raging conservative he wants people to think he is. He is doing pretty much the same stuff other Republican governors with Republican legislatures are doing, and Florida often is not even first to the party. How will he fare in the Indiana primary when Mike Pence says: "Great stuff Florida is doing, but what took them so long? My state, Indiana, beat them to it on lots of conservative issues." Surely the issue of "leadership" will come up in quite a few other states as well, and DeSantis is not quite the leader he thinks he is. (V)

What Is Life Like Now for Actual Floridians?

With Ron DeSantis and conservatism all the rage at the moment, the AP was interested in the question of what life is like for the average Floridian. So it assigned one of its reporters, Brendan Farrington, who lives there and who has reported on the state's politics since 1997, to take a look. Here is a summary of his report.

Surprise, Floridians are worried about the cost of living and getting property insurance, which has gone through the roof. They are considerably less concerned about who uses which bathroom. People have also noted an uptick in hate-related issues, including the anti-Semitic messages projected onto the Jacksonville Jaguars' stadium last year and a rise in people having Nazi flags and signs at events.

Teachers are afraid of doing anything that might violate the new anti-LGBTQ+ laws, even straight teachers. And gay teachers are all back in the closet and don't dare have photos of their partners on their desks for fear a student might ask who that is. Parents who agree with DeSantis are happy about the changes, but those who don't are certainly not happy with them. The result is that parents who used to be concerned about education in school are now concerned about politics in school. And school board meetings, which used to be about helping kids to read, have become very political and it is dividing people.

Librarians and media specialists are very worried about what books and media materials are legal. Can a book in which a minor character is gay be allowed on the shelf? What if some characters aren't explicitly gay, but some people think they might be? What about Bert and Ernie in a book published by the Sesame Street team? What about X-men comics? They're superheroes and the kiddies love 'em, but they are also about people who were born "different," who eventually have to reveal that to their parents, and who are usually pushed by those parents to live their lives like "normal" people. The allegory for LGBTQ+ acceptance really couldn't be clearer. The new laws make investigations of books much easier and force librarians to justify why some book was allowed when angry parents want to ban it. Who said being a librarian was for the timid?

LGBTQ+ people in general feel endangered and have sometimes been the subjects of hate attacks. With laws like the ones DeSantis signed, people who are homophobic feel they can act on their feelings and the state has their backs. That even applies to gay members of the state legislature, who feel they are back in the 1970s. Gay employees at the Walt Disney Corporation are maybe a bit less afraid because they know the company is on their side, but gay employees at other companies have more to worry about.

Democrats pine for the days when their party ran the state. As recently as 1992, Democrats held the trifecta in state government. In 1999, they lost the last leg of it and Republicans have held it ever since. They also see that DeSantis has more power over the legislature than any governor of either party in memory. He is a very polarizing figure and the polarization is seeping down to levels where it hasn't been before, like schools and libraries, and many people don't like the new polarization. (V)

There's Never Been a President from Florida

Florida was admitted to the union on March 3, 1845. Texas was admitted almost 10 months later, on Dec. 29, 1845. Texas is the second most populous state and Florida is third. Nevertheless, two presidents were born in Texas (Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson), and two others ran for president as Texans (the Bushes), while no Florida native has ever been elected president. Nor has any Florida governor or senator. In fact, among the 10 most populous states, Florida is the only one that has not produced a native son who made it to the White House. Ron DeSantis, beware. What's up here?

Politico took a look. Various politicians from Florida have run for president. Most never made it past New Hampshire and the rest floundered soon after New Hampshire. Oddly enough, Florida ought to be a good testing ground for presidential wannabes. Winning statewide office requires campaigning in two time zones, 10 television markets, and over 66,000 square miles, from the swamps of southern Florida to the Alabama and Georgia state lines. The state is full of transplants from all over the country so a successful Florida politician has met a much wider variety of people than a politician from say, Ohio. Still, no Floridian has gone all the way.

Part of problem stems from Florida's history. For the first century of its membership in the union, it was viewed as an alligator-and mosquito-infested backwater full of ignorant hicks. In the 1948 election, it had only 8 electoral votes, fewer than Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and a bunch of other states. Only after the population began exploding in the 1950s, due to widespread availability of air conditioning, did Florida start being taken seriously. In 1972, both parties held their conventions in Miami Beach. The Democrats' keynote speaker was then-governor Reubin Askew. After two terms as governor, he ran for president in 1984. He finished dead last in New Hampshire among the serious candidates, getting 1% of the vote. He dropped out the next day. In 2004, Bob Graham, a popular former governor of Florida and three-term senator tried to grab the brass ring. He missed badly. And everyone knows what happened to Jeb! and Little Marco in 2016.

Florida's image has changed somewhat over the years, but many people still see it as a gun-shaped paradise for grifters, rejects, weirdos, and people who went there to die. It doesn't get the respect that more established states with more established industries than Mouse worship get. And in reality, in education Florida is near the bottom of all the states. It is also the third worst state in the country in murder and rape.

Maybe DeSantis can overcome the Florida curse, but due to the state's image as something of a lightweight, he is starting in a hole. Combined with his (lack of) people skills, he has his work cut out for him. His ace in the hole could end up being who he is running against. You don't have to run faster than the bear. You only have to run faster than the other guy. (V)

Republican Voters Do Not Want Compassionate Conservatism; They Want Revenge

George H.W. Bush ran for president on the slogan of "A kinder, gentler nation." His son ran on "Compassionate conservatism." These are about as relevant to modern Republicans as "Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge" or "I like Ike." For better or worse, Donald Trump changed the Republican Party in 2016 with "Lock her up" and his "American carnage" speech at his 2017 inauguration. Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said Republican primary voters are hungering for revenge after 2 years of Joe Biden. They don't want a positive message of the type Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is offering. They don't want to unify the country and move forward. They want to punish their enemies and move backward. Trump understands that. The other candidates do not.

Ron DeSantis, for example, is going all-out to be anti-woke. He wants lots of laws banning anything vaguely progressive. While conservatives like that, the real red meat these days is about retribution, making the libs suffer. Pardoning all the people who tried to pull off a coup on Jan. 6, 2021 does that. Banning trans girls from playing girls field hockey in high school doesn't do that. Policy is nice, too, but it is an afterthought. It is all about personality for Republican voters. They feel humiliated by the "elite" people who look down on them and they want to show the elite who's boss by humiliating them. New laws don't do that. That Trump is their messenger is downright weird since he is billionaire real estate magnate from New York City, not a self-made man who grew up in poverty (e.g., Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC). (V)

What Did Tim Scott Do in Congress?

As noted above, Republican primary voters do not want Mr. Happy Talk. They want Mr. Revenge. This puts Tim Scott at a disadvantage to start with, on top of being Black in a party with plenty of racists. But maybe he has such a distinguished record in his 10 years in the Senate that he will convince people that he's the guy who gets things done. What has he done in his time there that makes him presidential timber?

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD), who supports Scott because he can't stomach either Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis, listed Scott's greatest legislative achievement as his support for the 2017 bill that gave $3.5 trillion to wealthy people and big corporations. Did he write the bill? No. Then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his staff cooked it up in the dead of night and then rammed it through the Senate. Scott is on the Senate Finance Committee, which along with the House Ways and Means Committee, writes the nation's tax laws, but Scott ranks fifth on the Committee, behind heavyweights like then-chairman Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who was in his seventh term in 2017, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), then the majority whip. Scott just sat quietly during meetings and did what he was told to do.

Is there a Scott Act or something else that he pushed through Congress due to force of personality? No, nothing really big. Here is the list Roll Call put together of his achievements in Congress.

  • Lynching: Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, worked with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on a law that designates lynching as a federal hate crime. Joe Biden signed it into law in March. Sure, fighting lynching is a good thing, but working with Booker, who has clout with Biden, doesn't turn Scott into Lyndon Johnson.

  • Opportunity zones: Scott was one of the senators who got his pet project into the 2017 tax bill. It provides a big tax break for corporations that set up shop in distressed areas. There are plenty of them in his home state of South Carolina, so this can be partly viewed as getting pork for the home folks. Also, giving big corporations billions of dollars in tax breaks is not universally viewed as a good thing, especially since there are no safeguards in the program. If a big corporation buys up a lot of land in a distressed area, that counts as a qualifying investment but it may not help the people who live there. In fact, it may do the opposite by raising land prices.

  • Law and order: Scott was a contributor to the First Step Act, which gave federal judges more discretion in sentencing first-time nonviolent drug offenses. Donald Trump signed it into law in 2017. But since then, Republicans have moved toward tougher minimum sentences and less flexibility in sentencing, so this was hardly a watershed event.

  • Banking: Scott is now the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee. However, like most Republicans, he is critical of government interference in the banking industry. He is hardly a voice for consumers or a supporter of stopping banks from exploiting poor people. Maybe he and chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) can work something out on housing and mortgages, but that remains to be seen. As to the bank failures earlier this year, Scott made it clear that the fault lay with the banks and the regulators, and definitely not with the Senate Banking Committee.

  • Voting record: When Donald Trump was president, Scott voted for Trump's positions 97% of the time. On the campaign trail he could say: "Vote for me, I supported Trump all the time." But with Trump himself on the primary ballot, many voters will surely decide to vote for the real deal instead of someone who merely supports the real deal. During Biden's administration, Scott has voted for Biden's position 15% of the time. So fine, he is a loyal Republican. So are all the other people running in the Republican primary, except maybe Trump himself.

In summary, Scott has not been a brilliant senator who has authored a number of important laws. He's essentially a backbencher and party loyalist. That doesn't scream "presidential timber" to us. (V)

Democrats Are Furious That Biden Is Not Demanding Tax Hikes from McCarthy

In the first week of Negotiating 101, the students learn that you should always ask for more than you expect to get so you can gracefully concede some things you "want" in return for the other side also giving up things they want. The chance that the negotiations between Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) result in any tax increases is pretty low. Nevertheless, many Democrats are upset that Biden is not asking for them and not willing to drop his demand unless McCarthy gives up on something he wants.

For example, Biden could insist on not dropping talk of tax hikes unless McCarthy stops talking about cutting the IRS budget, especially since cutting IRS' budget would result in less revenue and thus make the deficit worse. It would be easy for Biden to say: "I agree with your goal of reducing the deficit and the best way is higher taxes on rich people." But he's not doing that. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) said: "That's what sucks. We should have a 1-to-1 ratio between revenue and cuts." Rep. Dean Phillips (DFL-MN) said about the meetings: "I do not want to undermine the current negotiation, but I'm deeply disappointed that wasn't immediately met with demands for revenue increases—at least loophole closures, for goodness' sakes. That was a big mistake." Numerous other Democrats have also criticized Biden for not pushing for tax increases on the wealthy. At the very least, those demands could be bargaining chips.

The result is a lopsided negotiation. It is all about how much the Democrats have to give up of things that hold dear and the Republicans don't have to give up anything in return. It is close to a mobster saying: "Nice house you have there. It would be a pity if something happened to it." In previous debt fights, the Democrats always insisted on tax increases for the rich at first and sometimes it worked. It was never given up lightly. Maybe Biden learned the technique of minimizing your asks from Obama, who famously never even asked for "Medicare for all" during his negotiations with the Republicans about the Affordable Care Act. He could have and agreed to drop it in return for a few Republican votes, but he didn't. Maybe Biden needs to read a few biographies of Lyndon Johnson.

In other default-related news, the parties are united internally with little progress in sight. Republicans are all behind McCarthy—so far. Many of them do not believe that the government will run out of money on June 1, which is actually next Thursday, not next Tuesday as we wrote yesterday. Democrats are all in favor of a discharge bill that would force a floor vote on a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling, but they need five Republicans to join them. It may go down to the wire, and beyond. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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