Jackie Calmes: Ron DeSantis proves that cruetly is a Republican trait

Florida’s governor has been referred to so often as “Donald Trump with brains” by fellow Republicans and the journalists who quote them that he might as well be identified as Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Brains). But what about a heart?

Well, DeSantis doesn’t have to turn Tin Man around and look for one. As he seeks re-election on Nov. 8, perhaps en route to a presidential nomination, there are times when a heart isn’t needed in the Republican Party. In fact, it is discouraged. The party’s aggrieved constituents yearn for authoritarian strongman types (contenders don’t have to be men, as Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake proves), Trumpians who outdo any marginalized group they fear climbing the political ladder.

Fresh from his national notoriety for rounding up four dozen mostly Venezuelan migrants — in Texas! — and she flew to Martha’s Vineyard with false promises of jobs, DeSantis made national headlines again this week for yet another gruesome political stunt.

The Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald released video clips from local police officers’ body cameras that captured the August arrests of nearly 20 Florida residents for illegal voting. All were former felons who thought they had been licensed to vote and had state-issued voter registration cards to prove it.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

The scenes are heartbreaking – those arrested are blind, battered, confused in their homes. But that cruelty is the whole point for DeSantis and his ilk. They want to be the enforcers against perceived threats to the right, politicians who will do anything to “own the freedoms.”

In contrast, not long ago, another Republican aspiring president, George W. Bush, called himself a “compassionate conservative” to win votes. The nickname was not to please his lowest base; Bush used it to appeal to independents, moderate Republicans, and even some Democrats as he worked to break away from the mean brand of Newt Gingrich republicanism.

That’s not the DeSantis way. For a sort of split-screen reveal of his MO, watch the videos from Florida showing three of the 19 arrests on August 18, most of them by black voters, and then turn to a clip from DeSantis’ press conference, in which the fears are announced.

The governor, surrounded by uniformed law enforcement officers and roaring with applause, is all gung ho machismo as he touts the first scalps taken by his new electoral crimes and security office, which he created to crack down on alleged, but virtually non-existent voter fraud in Florida.

“That was against the law,” he says, outraged by the former criminals’ vote, “and they will pay a price for it.”

Meanwhile, officers left to do the dirty work of actually making the arrests offer almost apologetic apologies as they approach stunned but docile citizens, handcuff them, and drag them to jail. A man identified as Tony Patterson, 40, consistently maintains his innocence: “I thought criminals could vote. That’s why I signed a petition, I remember that. Why did you let me vote if I couldn’t vote?”

“I’m not sure, mate,” replies the officer. “I do not know.”

“Oh my god,” Romona Oliver, 55, exclaims repeatedly as police, who stopped her on her way to her car to go to work, explain why they arrested her. She stutters that she did nothing wrong. An officer says quietly, “Wait, listen. I know you were caught off guard. I understand, don’t you?” He tells her that she will be booked and released quickly. “You can go right out,” adds another officer reassuringly.

As the handcuffs continue, Nathan Hart, 49, protests that he was encouraged to register to vote when he applied for a driver’s license after leaving prison, even after telling the clerk he was a convicted felon. “Then there’s your defense,” an understanding officer tells him.

The confusion among DeSantis’ goals that day is understandable. Blame the governor and the Republican-controlled Florida legislature.

Four years ago, Floridians voted overwhelmingly to amend the state constitution to restore the right to vote to felons who had served their sentences. This is what most people remember: “When I came out, the guy told me I was free and free to vote because I had served my time,” Oliver tells police in the video. But the state’s Republican politicians, unhappy with an expansion of the franchise, are setting conditions for the restoration of the franchise, and the state’s law says people convicted of murder or sex crimes, like those arrested in August, are not are automatically entitled to vote.

The law also states that a person must “willfully” commit voter fraud in order to be found guilty. More often than not, people accidentally vote illegally, and they usually get a slap on the wrist, if anything.

“What’s wrong with this state, man?” Patterson lamented as he was led away.

It’s not the state, it’s the governor. The question should be: what kind of person does the things that DeSantis does?

If the empathy of the officers who made the arrests that summer’s day is any indication, I imagine they went home that night trying to forget what they had to do to their fellow citizens who were serving their time and paid their debts into society and then found themselves in trouble again simply for doing their civic duty.

DeSantis was likely at his governor’s mansion, reciting his latest policy points.

“He’s always loved embarrassing and humiliating people,” a former Yale baseball teammate told the New Yorker.

And now that fondness has made him the man viewed as Trump’s leading potential rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Trump likes to brag that he “made” DeSantis by appointing him governor in 2018. He did his job too well.


https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-10-21/ron-desantis-felon-voter-fraud-florida Jackie Calmes: Ron DeSantis proves that cruetly is a Republican trait

Alley Einstein

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