Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis
Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Ron DeSantis, Not Andrew Gillum, Is Florida's "Radical" Politician

The Florida Republican Party's attacks on Andrew Gillum will fall into two categories. GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis has already resorted to outright racism. Yesterday on Fox News, he was either intentionally using the word "monkey" to describe Gillum or was just too stupid to know the word's offensive history with black people — a hard excuse to believe from a Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer.

The party's other line of attack on Gillum is that he is too "radical" on the left to govern Florida. Unlike outright racism, that broadside is likely to play well in the mainstream media, which will question whether Gillum's progressive platform — supporting Medicare-for-all, a serious reduction in carbon emissions, higher taxes on corporations, "suspending" use of the death penalty, overhauling the state's criminal justice system, equality for women, and legalizing marijuana — can work in Florida. Analysts will question whether the state can afford Gillum's allegedly "outsider" ideas or whether his sort of platform can engender broad support among voters.

The Republican Governors Association yesterday shot out an email denouncing Gillum as "by far the most extreme far-left Democrat gubernatorial nominee in Florida history," adding that "Floridians can’t afford the costs of his radical, job-killing agenda." And reporters such as Chris Cillizza have repeatedly called Gillum an "outsider" even though he's been an elected politician since 2004.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, meanwhile, centrist pundit Greg Sargent questioned whether Gillum's "progressive" ideas could succeed, but he did note that Gillum's ideas at least seem to be pragmatic:

I will leave the prognosticating to Florida experts. But Gillum does represent a test of sorts. As Crooked Media’s excellent podcast series on the Democratic Party details, a big question for many liberals is whether a new popular majority can be built in a diversifying country by combining a refusal to back off a robust defense of minority rights in the face of Trump’s white identity politics with a kind of pragmatic progressive populist economics that promises more inclusive prosperity for all. The idea is to energize core Democratic constituencies and to win over white voters who are now alienated by both the xenophobic nationalism and the corrupt plutocracy of Trumpism.

Those all might be fair questions. But you'll rarely see similar appraisals of DeSantis' ideas, which is a shame, because his platform — supporting harsh and racist policing, anti-immigrant bile, and carbon-burning businesses, along with absolute fealty to Donald Trump — represents the absurd end of the far-right spectrum.

No one seems to have asked yet if Florida can "afford" what DeSantis is offering. There have been few day-after-the-primary op-eds about whether trickle-down economics, support for carbon-heavy businesses in the state most vulnerable to climate change, or a complete antipathy toward affordable-housing laws is "good" for Floridians. Reporters have so far treated DeSantis' ideas with kid gloves.

But the truth is that by any rational measure, DeSantis' ideas are significantly more radical than Gillum's, both in terms of how DeSantis wants to pay for his plans and their real-world impacts on most Florida voters.

Take, for instance, the two candidates' contrasting views on health care. Americans are projected to pay more to health insurers through premiums over the next ten years than they would if they paid taxes in a Medicare-for-all system. The Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank, accidentally showed this fact in its own study earlier this summer.

Every other developed nation has figured out a way to provide universal health care for its citizens without bankrupting the state and without significantly skimping on the quality of care. DeSantis has instead voiced support for rolling back Obamacare in a nation that already operates the most expensive health-care system on the planet. There are real questions about whether enacting government-run health care at the state, rather than federal, level is a smart idea, but DeSantis has shown no interest in a good-faith debate on the topic. The same can also be said for programs such as paid parental leave, which every developed nation except the United States has figured out a way to fund.

On immigration, DeSantis has shown unfettered support for Trump's border wall and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which are absurd financial drains on taxpayers that do not appear to make anyone safer by any statistical measure. Immigrants statistically commit fewer crimes than native-born citizens. Studies show that deportations have no impact on a region's crime rate. DeSantis' political action committee has also accepted more than $150,000 from GEO Group, the nation's second-largest private-prison company and ICE's single biggest contractor, which is a sign that DeSantis is amenable to letting private stockholders profit off the imprisonment of others.

DeSantis' "Issues" page also states he will "defend First Amendment speech rights against those in academia, media, and politics who seek to silence conservatives" — even though statistical data shows the most persecuted academics when it comes to free-speech rights are, in fact, those who express leftist ideas. Again and again, DeSantis' major policy proposals appear to solve problems that do not exist.

Zooming out, Florida has lived under nearly two decades of effectively one-party, GOP-led rule, and from a purely economic perspective, Sunshine State residents are doing poorly. A 2017 study estimated that 52 percent of Floridians had less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. A full 38 percent of state residents had no money to their name. Real wages in Florida have been largely stagnant over the past decade. Housing is absurdly unaffordable for the working class in major cities such as Miami. Public transit in the state's urban centers is basically nonexistent. By these measures, state Republicans have not instituted a "working" economic system for most Floridians.

To simplify another complicated issue, DeSantis appears content to pretend climate change won't make his state significantly less inhabitable. His brand of capitalism is all but certain to destroy the very land he wants to govern.

Moreover, many of Gillum's allegedly radical ideas poll exceptionally well among both Democrats and Republicans. A majority of voters appear to support Medicare-for-all, paid maternity and parental leave, and the full legalization of marijuana, for example. Gillum's platform is also significantly easier for many working-class voters to comprehend than the bizarre, incoherent centrism that the Florida Democrats have pushed for years.

Gillum has legitimate questions to answer about his record in Tallahassee, where an FBI corruption probe is poking around the contracts he might have awarded. Some of his close associates appear to be targets in the investigation, and it's possible Gillum himself might be sucked into the case. He has also not been pressed hard about why he seems to have moved left over time. He endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016, for example. Gillum in recent weeks has also accepted donations from billionaire funders such as Tom Steyer and George Soros, who might privately push back on Gillum's possible plans to, say, tax wealthier individuals down the road.

But to present Gillum as a "radical" or an "outsider" ignores how impossible life has become for many Floridians under the state's current political system. DeSantis wants to make that system even crueler to the needy, poor, and working class. To pretend that proposal isn't radical is just a lie.

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