Republican politics have become oppositional politics: Deny the science, demean the media, own the libs. Conservatives are less defined by what they are for than by what they are against.
Donald Trump put this concept on steroids because it was beneficial to him as a strategy. He framed himself as the antithesis of Barack Obama. He was against immigrants and Muslims. He was against cultural conciliation. He was against the rapidly approaching future of America, one in which white people would lose not only their numerical advantage but also their societal primacy.
Furthermore, very few facts helped Trump, so he waged war against facts themselves. He denied, diminished and dismissed them.
And as a result, at the peak of their intransigence and callousness, his party catastrophically mishandled the pandemic. They refused to follow the science or act with caution. And, because of their reflexive opposition to the facts, untold numbers of people who didn’t have to die did.
The relationship between leader and followers in the religion of resistance was cyclical: Trump reflected the base, and they reflected him. The base began to have certain expectations from their politicians, expectations they made clear: The base must not only be followed, but also affirmed. The mob is the master.
There have been multiple peaks in the G.O.P.’s utter disregard for public safety — even the safety of their own supporters. It isn’t a single mountain but a range. The death dealing of Covid amounts to the Appalachians of ignorance.
Perhaps no politician has taken the reins from Trump with more vigor — and disastrous effects — than Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a man who thinks he could be the next Republican president. But to supplant the last leader of his party, he has to out-Trump Trump.
To accomplish this meteoric rise, he needed to do two things. First, become the darling of the Trump freedom fighters, fighting for the right to get sick and die. And second, he has to be the opposite of the establishment, in this case Joe Biden and his administration. If Biden swerves left, DeSantis must swerve right, even if the hospitals in his state are overrun and the funeral parlors reach capacity.
It hasn’t necessarily been easy for DeSantis to bait Biden. As The New York Times reported in March, Biden’s top advisers said they saw “no benefits in waging a culture war against Republican governors while they are fighting to contain the pandemic.”
But as the Delta variant became more of a threat and people like DeSantis became more entrenched, waging war against mask mandates in their states, Biden had no choice but to engage more directly. (Luckily, a Florida judge rejected DeSantis’s mask ban on Friday.)
Enticing Biden into open battle is what DeSantis wants and needs. It takes attention off the unbelievable tragedy playing out in his state, a tragedy in which he is complicit.
As The Times reported on Wednesday: “More people in Florida are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of Covid-19 now than at any previous point in the pandemic.” The Times continued, “This week, 227 virus deaths were being reported each day in Florida, on average, as of Tuesday, a record for the state and by far the most in the United States right now.”
The citizens of Florida do not even support DeSantis’s politically calculated pandemic positions. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that “six in 10 Floridians support requiring masks in schools,” and “61 percent say recent rise in Covid-19 cases in Florida was preventable.”
But there are two things more important to DeSantis than those numbers. First, a different Quinnipiac poll found that regardless of how few Floridians approve of his performance, his approval rating is still higher than Biden’s in the state.
Second, DeSantis is playing to an electorate beyond the panhandle. As long as he is still mentioned in the same breath as Biden, even if the coverage is negative, he is playing well among Republicans. As long as he is fighting Washington and Democrats and experts, it doesn’t matter to entrenched Republicans that he’s not fighting the plague.
Some bodies must be sacrificed to appease the gods of partisan resistance.
To keep the spotlight, DeSantis is employing many of the same tricks as Trump: fighting with the media about coverage, deflecting blame onto Biden and convincing his followers that folding to facts is the same as forfeiting freedoms.
As DeSantis said in early August, “We can either have a free society, or we can have a biomedical security state.” He continued, “And I can tell you: Florida, we’re a free state. People are going to be free to choose to make their own decisions.”
Yes, Florida, DeSantis is allowing you to choose death so that he can have a greater political life.
Image Credits: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press