How the media are trying to morph DeSantis into a scarier version of Trump
When many journalists and pundits joined the Resistance – not that most would put it that way, but that is precisely what they were doing – they justified it by telling themselves that Donald Trump posed a uniquely dangerous threat to the republic.
The usual rules of objectivity had to be suspended, they reasoned, because Trump, as candidate and president, was an impulsive authoritarian who had to be stopped.
Implicit in this rationale was that crusading against Trump was like battling a hundred-year flood, the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again in our lifetimes.
But now, with Ron DeSantis emerging as Trump’s principal challenger, much of the mainstream media is starting to build a case that the Florida governor could be even worse.
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DeSantis is being portrayed as a more disciplined and effective purveyor of Trumpism, without the insult wars and grievances that limited his effectiveness.
In other words, the war on Trump was always rooted in his conservative ideology. By an amazing coincidence, the other Republican with a serious shot at the White House also happens to be a frightening figure who must be opposed at all costs.
Turns out the Resistance is mobile and malleable.
DeSantis, says NBC historian Michael Beschloss, “really has tried to turn himself into a local Mussolini” with “brutal tactics.”
Molly Jong-Fast, in Vanity Fair, says “there’s a fair bit of evidence to suggest DeSantis is as dangerous as Trump — if not more.” Beyond that, “he’s already governed the Sunshine State like a banana republic.”
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Mussolini. Banana republic. Scary. You’d never guess that DeSantis just won a landslide reelection victory, including a big victory in Miami-Dade County, the first GOP governor to do that in two decades.
It’s true, as National Review says, that the Left is demanding “the media draw an equivalence between DeSantis and Trump.” And they don’t need much prodding. It’s as if the fourth estate rolled out an arsenal to use against Trump – ballistic missiles, cluster bombs, warehouses of ammunition – and now are just redirecting the weapons against the Florida governor.
After six years of telling the world that Trump is the craziest, most pathological leader in American history – and feeling vindicated after Jan. 6 – the media still wants to stop him. But they are sufficiently worried about DeSantis that they are starting to carpet-bomb him as well.
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Margaret Sullivan, the former Washington Post columnist, writes “it’s appalling to see the media lavish him with so much fawning coverage.”
Huh? I must be living in an alternate universe, especially given the mutual hostility between the press and DeSantis, who grants few interviews.
But there is one narrow sense in which that’s true: the horse race. The media have given DeSantis an enormous buildup as Trump’s strongest challenger, the only contender on the horizon who could beat him, despite the former president’s substantial lead in all recent primary polls.
In covering DeSantis as an emerging national figure, journalists of course should aggressively scrutinize his record and his Florida policies, including the anti-woke culture war battles he delights in waging. But that’s not the same as vilifying him personally.
Yet breaking with the pack has its dangers. The Week’s Damon Linker wrote a column for the New York Times headlined “My Fellow Liberals are Exaggerating the Dangers of Ron DeSantis.”
“A DeSantis presidency would be bad in many ways, and my fellow liberals should fight with all they have to prevent it,” Linker says. “But Mr. DeSantis almost certainly would not be worse than Mr. Trump… And if Mr. DeSantis does get the nomination, progressive overreaction toward him in the primary contest could ultimately undermine the case against him in the general election.”
The backlash against Linker was fierce.
“The furies descended on him online,” observes right-leaning Times columnist David Brooks. “The gist was that it is shameful to merely say DeSantis is bad — you need to say he is a fascist, pure evil! If you aren’t speaking in the language of maximalist exorcism, you’re betraying the cause.”
The cause is to morph DeSantis into a younger but equally spine-chilling Trump. The wall of media opposition to Donald Trump back in 2015 and 2016 was not, it turns out, a singular event. It was a form of war-gaming that now is targeting another Republican with a very different temperament but very similar political goals.