May 25, 2023

Ron DeSantis is running for president.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Image: Gage Skidmore
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Image: Gage Skidmore 

Plus, our latest YouTube video.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

🇺🇸
We're breaking down Ron DeSantis's presidential candidacy. Plus, a new YouTube video on the porn ban in Utah.

Were we wrong?

When inflation first hit, I wrote about my belief that corporate greed might be playing a role. Then, I flip-flopped, saying I had changed my mind and had been convinced it was not part of the inflation calculus. And now... Well, I'm not so sure. In tomorrow’s subscribers-only edition, we are going to explore the question of "greedflation" and re-examine some of our past arguments.


Quick hits.

  1. U.S. officials said Ukraine was likely responsible for this month's drone attack at the Kremlin (The intel). Separately, the head of Russia's Wagner group said more than 20,000 of his troops died in the battle for Bakhmut. (The numbers)
  2. The state of Texas is suing President Biden, saying a phone app to help migrants set up appointments at the border is encouraging illegal immigration. (The lawsuit)
  3. Trent Saggs, the Republican mayor of Riverton, Utah, announced he would challenge Sen. Mitt Romney in the 2024 Senate race. (The challenge)
  4. The January 6 rioter who famously reclined in then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's chair received a sentence of more than four years in prison. (The sentence)
  5. Fitch Ratings is reviewing whether the United States should retain its top credit rating as Republicans and the White House struggle to reach an agreement on the debt limit. (The ratings)

Today's topic.

Ron DeSantis. Florida's Republican governor officially announced his 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday; first by releasing a campaign launch video, then appearing in a live audio space on Twitter, and finally going on Fox News to be interviewed by Trey Gowdy. DeSantis has been widely expected to enter the race for the Republican nomination and is polling better than any of the other challengers to former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner.

DeSantis is a Harvard Law School graduate who previously worked as a teacher at a private boarding school in Georgia. Born and raised in Florida, he attended Yale University for his undergraduate degree, where he was captain of the school’s baseball team. During his second year of law school, he was commissioned as an officer in the Navy and assigned to the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG) as an attorney. He worked at the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay where he oversaw treatment of detainees before being deployed to Iraq as a legal advisor with a team of Navy Seals.

After his time in the Navy, DeSantis worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida before being elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, where he helped form the Freedom Caucus and led congressional opposition to President Barack Obama's second term. He was re-elected two times before a failed attempt at running for a Senate seat, a race he withdrew from when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced his plans to run for re-election. DeSantis ran for governor in 2018 with the endorsement of then-president Donald Trump, then defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.4%.

As Governor of Florida, DeSantis has garnered national attention for championing conservative positions on some of the most hot-button culture war issues. He has said Florida is where "woke goes to die," feuded with Disney over the organization's opposition to the parental rights bill (dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by critics), and once organized a flight of migrants to Martha's Vineyard in an attempt to pressure Democrats into taking action on immigration. He has also championed laws that give more power to parents to remove books from schools.

While many other high-tourism states were implementing stringent covid measures during the pandemic, DeSantis resisted mask and vaccine mandates, keeping businesses and tourism destinations open. He has also signed laws banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, eased restrictions to carry concealed firearms, and pushed bills that attempt to ban "critical race theory" in public schools (though such lessons had not been part of Florida's state curriculum). He also signed the Fairness in Women's Sports Act, which bans trans girls and women from participating in middle school, high school, and college women's sports in Florida.

During his time as governor, Florida's population has grown and the economy has flourished. The state's unemployment rate is around 2%, below the national average, and DeSantis has pushed to keep tax rates for corporations and individuals low across the state. Crime rates in Florida have hit 50-year lows during his tenure, though some have credited the trend to a new method for tallying crime that has muddied the picture.

While DeSantis’s record as governor has been celebrated by supporters, questions remain about how he’ll fare on the national stage. DeSantis has faced questions about his position on Ukraine, and has delivered mixed messages about how he would handle the war as president.

On Wednesday night, his presidential announcement was upended by over 20 minutes of technical glitches on Twitter before things got smoothed out. He was interviewed by Twitter CEO Elon Musk and Republican donor David Sacks, before taking questions from various conservative personalities who support him in the race. He then went on Fox News for an interview with Trey Gowdy.

Currently, DeSantis is 34 points behind Trump in Republican primary polling, according to FiveThirtyEight, though he’s the second choice for roughly half of Republican primary voters. A separate poll from the progressive think tank Data For Progress found about a third of likely voters haven't heard enough to say whether they like or dislike DeSantis, a sign he can still move a lot in the polls.

Today, we're going to explore some reactions to his candidacy from the left and right, then my take.


What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left criticize DeSantis's record, saying he obsesses over culture wars while Florida underperforms in many areas.
  • Some argue that DeSantis implemented a far-right agenda in Florida that most national voters won't want.
  • Others say he is only scratching the surface of the damage he can do.

In TIME Magazine, William Kleinknecht said pundits focus too much on the culture wars, and nobody is talking about what DeSantis has really done to Florida.

"Even a cursory dip into the statistics of social and economic well-being reveals that Florida falls short in almost any measure that matters to the lives of its citizens. More than four years into the DeSantis governorship, Florida continues to languish toward the bottom of state rankings assessing the quality of health care, school funding, long-term elder care, and other areas key to a successful society," Kleinknecht said. Teacher salaries are among the lowest, unemployment benefits are stingier than any other state’s, and wage theft flourishes.

"In 2021, DeSantis campaigned against a successful ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage, which had been stuck at $8.65 an hour," Kleinknecht added. The "core missions" of his government is starving programs for ordinary citizens to maintain low taxes on the wealthy and corporations. As a result, "Florida had the 16th worst health care among the 50 states. It’s no wonder that Florida ranks below the northern blue states in life expectancy and rates of cancer death, diabetes, fatal overdoses, teen birth rates, and infant mortality."

In USA Today, Rex Huppke says DeSantis promises to "Make America Florida," which "sounds more like a threat" than a slogan.

"The governor has implemented a far-right, culture-war-heavy agenda in the Sunshine State and ruled like a power-hungry autocrat, bolstered by a Republican-controlled legislature," Huppke said. He has "barred Florida teachers in kindergarten through third grade from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity," which "was then expanded" through eighth grade and then "became a complete K-12 ban" in April. He's launched a "crusade" against Disney, the state’s largest employer and tourist magnet.

"Disney has now sued the governor for 'a targeted campaign of government retaliation,' and recently pulled out of a planned $1 billion development near Orlando that would’ve brought 2,000 high-paying jobs to the state," Huppke wrote. "That mess ties in nicely with DeSantis’ borderline fanatical ‘war on woke,’ in which he has staked out firm opposition to things like diversity, LGBTQ rights and pretty much anything that might make straight white people mildly uncomfortable." He has signed a six-week abortion ban and a law "allowing people to carry a concealed gun without training or a permit."

In MSNBC, Florida state senator Shevrin Jones said DeSantis was just scratching the surface of the harm he can do.

"I have seen firsthand how DeSantis’ policies hurt our state’s families," Jones wrote. DeSantis has prioritized the wrong things "at every turn." He says his agenda is "a 'blueprint' for the rest of the country and claims that his policies are making Floridians 'more free,' but the opposite is true. The governor’s 'Florida Blueprint' has been a disaster for everyday Floridians — from the property insurance crisis that is pricing people out of the state or forcing many who stay to dip into their retirement funds just to stay afloat, to the draconian attacks on our rights and freedoms."

How is Florida 'more free' "when politicians are regulating our bookshelves and censoring educators from teaching historical truths?" Jones asked. "What kind of blueprint for the nation is it when Florida, once considered the ideal for retirees in their golden years, according to AARP, ranks dead last in the country for long-term care for elderly people and people with disabilities?"


What the right is saying.

  • The right mostly welcomes DeSantis, though they are divided between him and Trump.
  • Some argue DeSantis's record is superior to Trump's, and is a strong alternative.
  • Others say Trump still has a lot of appeal and criticize DeSantis's launch.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said DeSantis offers an alternative from Trump and Biden, the "divisive oldsters who desperately need each other" to win a second term.

DeSantis has an "impressive resume: son of middle-class parents, Yale baseball captain, Harvard law school, Navy veteran including a tour in Iraq, and a three-term Member of Congress. But he has made his mark politically with his record as the two-term Governor of booming Florida." His legislative record is "as impressive as you'll find." That includes "near-universal school choice, $3.3 billion for Everglades restoration, tort and insurance reform, paycheck protection for workers in public unions, tax cuts, insisting on free speech in higher education and resisting woke ideology.

"His greatest achievement was his handling of the pandemic," the board said. "After the initial panic and shutdowns driven by President Trump and Anthony Fauci in Washington, Mr. DeSantis did his own homework on Covid health risks and the costs of economic and school lockdowns." He reopened schools in 2020, a "sharp contrast" from Trump who "indulged the lockdown lobby" and kept Fauci on the job through the end of his term. DeSantis also "won re-election in 2020 by 19 points in a state that has traditionally been a nail-biter," while "Trump hasn’t won anything for himself or the rest of his party since his inside electoral straight in 2016."

In American Greatness, Nicholas L. Waddy said that while Trump possesses "numerous liabilities," there are three big reasons he is an attractive choice for 2024.

"First, Trump has a well-developed rapport with Republican voters, who admire and trust him. No one can duplicate this visceral connection between Trump and Trumpers," Waddy wrote. "Second, Trump has a record of victory and, shall we say, near victory, against weak Democratic opponents." He shocked the world in 2016 and outperformed most polls in 2020, "very narrowly losing in three key states" that would have swung the election. Leaving aside "justified qualms" about the fairness of the election, Trump almost prevailed and helped Republicans narrow Democrats' House majority in 2020, and then retake it in 2022.

"Third, Trump appears to have learned a thing or two from the slings and arrows that have been hurled at him since 2015," Waddy said. "His latest campaign for president thus far has been more disciplined and error-free than any he has run before. What’s more, should Trump ascend once more to the presidency, there is ample reason to hope he will, given the experience he’s accumulated, perform more effectively, and perhaps with greater resolve in his efforts to defang the deep state."

In National Review, Jeffrey Blehar said DeSantis's campaign launch on Twitter "didn't work."

"It does matter a fair amount, not just because narratives about public figures with powerful enemies tend to solidify quickly, but because the nature of the event’s failure points up weaknesses DeSantis’s campaign will have to address," Blehar said. "The technical difficulties that delayed the start of the event for a half hour were almost comically predictable," but will be forgotten within 24 hours. More problematic "was the format," a Q&A where "DeSantis would hit powerful points about his record in Florida" 20 minutes apart, "with gormless air in between devoted to discussions of esoteric technological issues of interest to absolutely nobody except cryptocurrency speculators."

There was also a "lack of spotlight," as DeSantis was diluted by Elon Musk and David Sacks who spent time "blathering" and were the subjects of praise from guests who chimed in. Finally, there was a lack of humor, and "I don’t know if DeSantis knows how to tell a joke, or even improvise a quick one-liner, and I’ll confess at this point that I’m afraid to see him try," Blehar said. This wasn't some death blow, but it was a "missed opportunity," and DeSantis will "not get opportunities better than this" from here on out.


My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • DeSantis is qualified and has very strong conservative bonafides.
  • I'm not sure how his focus on fighting "wokeness" is going to play nationally.
  • He is trying a relatively untested strategy — one where a conservative is leaning into the power of the government.

Yes, DeSantis’s launch was a bit of a train wreck. But I think it said more about Twitter and Elon Musk than about him, and in my opinion DeSantis's record, his odds, and his political X-factors are far more important to his prospects in the long term.

I said on Tuesday that I "liked" Sen. Tim Scott, which many readers took as some wholesale endorsement of his politics. All I meant was that he is likable as a person — he has charisma, he's well liked by his colleagues, and he has a good reputation for being a decent and honest person, regardless of where you land on his political positions.

I do not think DeSantis has those qualities.

His biggest obstacle is going to be what happens when he's on stage next to Trump, and if last night was any indication I think he's going to get bulldozed. Our elections are more like voting for a prom queen than electing a class president. DeSantis is going to have to puncture the aura of Trump and win over a chunk of his voters to have any chance in a primary. I haven't seen anything from him as a retail politician to make me believe he can do that. As a friend texted me last night during the Twitter launch, he sometimes seems to exude "negative charisma."

What DeSantis does have is a strong conservative record and about as many qualifications as one can ask for in a presidential candidate.

That record is recapped extensively above so I won't rehash it all here, but if you're a bonafide conservative then DeSantis should be very appealing. He is undoubtedly qualified: Congressional, executive, and military experience; high approval ratings as governor of a large and politically diverse state; has passed dozens of bills on gun laws, abortion, taxes, the death penalty, education, and trans issues. He gets stuff done, which is a great brand to have as a candidate.

If you're a liberal, he’s your worst nightmare: A conservative who can competently use the levers of government and is willing to use those levers to bully purported bastions of liberal ideology — even corporations like Disney — for perceived slights against him.

What I'm curious about is what happens when DeSantis steps into the real limelight? He's already waffled on his positions about Ukraine. I've been critical of the book bans and parental rights bill he pushed in Florida, and I don't think that legislation is going to be nationally popular. He is the "anti-woke" champion, which will be appealing for many Americans exhausted by ultra-progressive ideology, but I think we overestimate how much culture war issues like the use of pronouns in school matter to average voters in presidential elections.

2024 is likely to be an election about the economy, immigration, abortion, guns, and health insurance, which is a lot like our last few elections. It will also be about democracy, and eventually DeSantis is going to have to decide if he wants to get in bed with Trump on the 2020 election — which will determine whether some independent and moderate Republicans vote for him.

It’s also true his record as governor will face more scrutiny. DeSantis has yet to face the music for Florida's high rate of uninsured people, its mediocre education rankings, and its extremely loose gun laws that — no matter how you feel — are largely out of step with the majority of Americans. We’ve mostly heard from the pro-DeSantis Republicans in Florida who are boosting him nationally — but what will state Democrats say? Minorities? Immigrants? LGTBQ Floridians? How will their perceptions of living in DeSantis’s state impact voters’ opinions of him nationally?

Then there's abortion. On the issue that is probably the strongest driver of Democrats' electoral success over the last two years, DeSantis has staked out a very conservative position. He just signed one of the strictest abortion bans into law in Florida, even though more than two-thirds of Floridians think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Sensing an opening, even Trump — who has bragged about facilitating the fall of Roe v. Wade — criticized the law as "too harsh."

This illustrates what could be DeSantis's biggest problem: He sings the traditional conservative tune about keeping government out of people's lives, but has basically done the opposite in Florida. He has not just used the government to cut restrictions on guns or lower taxes, but to intervene in personal choice — banning books, prohibiting abortions, restricting certain topics in schools, limiting free speech, and so on. This is relatively new and untested ground for many Republicans, and I have no idea how that brand will play when he goes national.

So, yes: He has the experience and the record to win over Republican voters, and he has clearly tapped into something that resonates in Florida. He is certainly the biggest threat to Trump in a primary. But I'm still quite skeptical of how his record will play nationally, and how his likability will stand up against Trump when it comes time for voters to decide. There is, in other words, a lot of uncertainty in the 2024 cycle. But at least we can finally stop speculating about whether DeSantis is actually going to run.


New video!

Did I ever think I'd be doing a YouTube video about Pornhub being inaccessible in Utah? No, I didn't. But this story is a fascinating look at government regulation, and how that regulation can impact a gigantic industry like pornography. This is a story we didn't touch in our newsletter, but broke down extensively in our latest YouTube video:


Your questions, answered

We're skipping today's reader question to give our main story some extra space. Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form

Under the radar.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, has become the latest school district to do a trial run for later start times for teenagers. Research has shown teenagers naturally fall asleep and wake up later than younger students, yet most schools in the United States open earliest for high schoolers and latest for elementary school kids. Despite the CDC suggesting an 8:30 a.m. start time, U.S. schools start on average at 8 a.m., which is also much earlier than other school systems globally. Albuquerque's school board, after reading an article in Scientific American about the science behind teenage sleep, bumped their opening time from 7:25 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. Minneapolis and California have already pushed back school start times. You can read more on this legislative push in Scientific American.


Numbers.

  • 54.3%. The percentage of Republicans who say they'd support former President Donald Trump in a primary race, according to FiveThirtyEight's averages of polls.
  • 20.6%. The percentage who say they'd support Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • 5.3%. The percentage who say they'd support former Vice President Mike Pence.
  • 4.2%. The percentage who say they'd support Nikki Haley.
  • 3.5%. The percentage who say they'd support Vivek Ramaswamy.
  • 1.6%. The percentage who say they'd support Sen. Tim Scott.

The extras.

  • One year ago today, I wrote a personal essay titled "We are broken" after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the Ron DeSantis presidential announcement.
  • Complex readers: In a head-to-head matchup between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, 52% of Tangle readers said they'd vote for Biden, while 20% said they'd vote for Trump. 27% said they were unsure, wouldn't vote, or would cast a third party ballot (or "other"). Meanwhile, in a head-to-head between Biden and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), 50% of Tangle readers said they'd vote for Scott and 37% said they'd vote for Biden, while 13% said they were unsure, wouldn't vote, or would vote third party (or "other"). 41% said they'd vote for a generic Democrat and 35% said they'd vote for a generic Republican, while 23% said they weren't sure, would vote third party, or wouldn't vote (or "other").
  • Nothing to do with politics: RIP Tina Turner. Here is an all-time video of her and Mick Jagger during the 1985 Live Aid in Philadelphia.
  • Take the poll. How do you feel about Ron DeSantis? Let us know.

Have a nice day

A man who was paralyzed in a 2011 cycling accident is standing and walking again after doctors implanted a device in his brain that reads brainwaves and sends instructions using electrical impulses to his spine to move certain muscles. 40 year-old Gert-Jan Oskam was told he would never walk again after breaking his neck. But after 10 years, he can stand up and a have a beer with friends and even get around with a walker, thanks to a "digital bridge" device developed by neuroscientists in Switzerland. The device uses wireless signals to reconnect the brain with muscles once rendered useless. And scientists believe the device will be more effective the sooner after an injury and may even help regenerate neural connections. The Guardian has the remarkable story.


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