John Oliver On The Dangers Of Meatball Ron’s Woke Math
A month ago, Karl Rove wrote that there was a lot of skepticism about Trump’s campaign launch. “His rambling, hour-long mid-November announcement was widely panned. There have been few endorsements and no trademark rallies. He’s trailing Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida and New Hampshire polls and is having fundraising difficulties. All this leaves an impression of— dare we say— low energy. However, Trump could still be the Republican nominee. He’s a known quantity. His committed following is larger than any prospective GOP rival’s. He’s been underestimated before by many— including by me on numerous occasions. He has time to up his game. But will he? There’s also a downside for each of Trump’s strengths. He’s well-known, sure, but also overexposed. His shtick is old, his speeches boring. More and more Republicans want to turn the page: Only 31% in the Dec. 11 USA Today/Suffolk University poll wanted him to run again.”
Alone in the spotlight, it’s hard for Trump to do what he usually does in an election— go on the attack. When he attacked his primary opponents in 2016, he was punching up and it made him look strong. Now as a former president, he’s punching down and it makes him look weak. It was a mistake to launch assaults against two prospective opponents, DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. Objects of his scorn should ignore the gibes unless they see a great opportunity for political jiu jitsu. DeSantis pulled off a particularly effective take down when Trump attacked his Covid record, saying Floridians must approve of it since they re-elected him by a massive 19 points. The subtext: Donald Trump is a loser.
Last night, Rove’s favorite candidate, Meatball Ron, was the main topic on Last Night Tonight. John Oliver proposed at the start to take Trump out of the picture for the sake of a clear look at DeSantis. “Let’s examine DeSantis on his own merits and look at just some of what he’s done to and for the over 20 million people of Florida.” Because it’s sometimes less than he claims, sometimes less than his critics claim and sometimes worse than you may know.”
Oliver emphasized a common criticism of DeSantis, namely that he “doesn’t like hearing anyone’s voice but his own… Since becoming Florida governor, he’s made shutting down dissenting voices something of a feature.” Instead, he’s been on Fox an average of nearly once a day— with producers allowing him to pick the subjects he wants to talk about!
And the track record? Oliver showed that DeSantis “Has done some terrible stuff,” like banning transgender medical care for minors, signed a 15 week abortion ban, while asking the legislature to give him a 6 week ban to sign (which they are going to do). But, Oliver reminded his audience, “Lot’s of Republican governors have done things like this. What makes DeSantis extra popular the right is his willingness to wage big symbolic culture wars. He bragged that he made Florida ‘the free-est state in America,’ while defending its residents from the greatest scourge of our time.” That would be woke-ism, which Meatball Ron calls “a form of cultural Marxism,” “the new religion of the left,” promising that “Florida is where woke goes to die… DeSantis spends a lot of energy decrying wokeness and empty virtue-signaling, although he also seems to spend a huge amount of time doing the right-wing version of exactly that… It’s gone way beyond empty, hateful proclamations. DeSantis has also signed a bunch of attention-grabbing bills that seem designed to delight conservatives and enrage liberals and while the announcements of these bills tend to get a lot of national media coverage, the actual implementation of them can get far less scrutiny.” Many of these laws have been stopped from going into effect because courts are finding them unconstitutional. Oliver summed up by noting that noting that “the free-est state in America is only free to the extent that anyone wants to behave in exactly the way that Ron DeSantis thinks they should” and terming Meatball Ron “a petty autocrat and a bully, a man with no interest in hearing dissent, questions… all in all a man who is— and I do not use this term lightly— just a fucking meatball.” He was just in California
A few days ago, Maeve Reston and Hannah Knowles reported how DeSantis is taking his war on woke-ism into deep blue states, having found a comfort zone by “brawling with liberal governors and mingling with donors as he tiptoes around a direct conflict with Donald Trump.” He was in California yesterday, making a pilgrimage to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Gavin Newsom said, “Welcome to the real freedom state.”
As he has sought to sharpen the contrast between Florida and blue states, DeSantis has been eager to highlight his state’s crime rate, to cast his economic policies as a magnet drawing people to Florida, and to highlight his state’s decision to keep children in school during the pandemic as a critical driver for student success. But those comparisons are often more nuanced than he would make them appear.
…While Trump remains popular within the GOP base, DeSantis has become a familiar figure in Republican circles in California. DeSantis argues that his refusal to bow to the “oppressive biomedical security state” during the pandemic played a role in encouraging more Americans to move to Florida and he contends that his approach will ultimately produce better outcomes in student achievement than in states such as California, Illinois and New York, where schools were closed longer.
DeSantis refers to those states in his book as “lockdown jurisdictions that destroyed jobs and businesses and failed to ensure that all students could be in school,” adding that “the costs in these states reverberated across all segments of society, as they struggled to recover from the lockdowns while Florida flourished.”
Newsom, in turn, is relishing the chance to debate. “Just look at the data— California residents are safer, healthier… than those unfortunate enough to have you as their Governor,” he said in his statement.
Newsom’s office pointed to data comparing California’s mortality rate during covid to that of Florida to bolster their case that California’s approach saved lives. The comparisons of crime rates is more complicated, in part because the FBI recently transitioned to a new data collection system.
…Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said DeSantis’s “dangerous and hateful agenda has no place in Illinois” and that “every candidate hoping to hold public office in the land of Lincoln should condemn this event.” New York Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat and former police officer, tweeted: “Welcome to NYC, a place where we don’t ban books, discriminate against our LGBTQ+ neighbors, use asylum seekers as props, or let the government stand between a woman and health care.”
Former Republican congressman David Jolly told NPR he knew a different Ron DeSantis when they served in Congress together. He explained that “DeSantis was part of the House Freedom Caucus, a group focused on cutting government spending. ‘At the time,’ Jolly says, ‘I described them as the shutdown caucus.’ DeSantis and other members used government shutdowns to push for policy changes and spending reductions, even moving unsuccessfully to depose John Boehner as House speaker. Jolly says the most impressive thing about DeSantis were the connections he made as a freshman congressman with some of the nation's top Republican donors. Jolly says, ‘It's always been a question to me: how he did it. And I believe it was just the commitment to fundraising and the raw political hunger of moving beyond the House.’”
Jolly says DeSantis used Trump to build his name recognition but after being elected, he moved on. Jolly compares DeSantis to Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky who famously said, "I skate to where the puck is going." Jolly says of DeSantis, "He saw it was going to be Donald Trump's party and he skated to Donald Trump very quickly."
DeSantis' rise to national prominence got a boost with the arrival of the COVID pandemic. In the first months, he largely followed guidance from the Trump White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He shut down Florida's beaches, bars and nightclubs. Schools were closed.
When the vaccine became available, he championed it in almost daily news conferences and in a live broadcast where a 94-year-old World War II veteran received his shot on Fox News.
But shortly after that appearance, in February 2021, DeSantis' approach to COVID began to change. He'd already ordered all schools reopened for in-class instruction. He soon signed laws banning face mask and vaccine mandates by businesses and government.
Republican Aaron Bean served in Florida's Senate under DeSantis and is now a member of Congress. He has nothing but praise for how the governor responded to the pandemic. "He went against the grain," Bean says. "You can't say Florida now without saying the 'Free State of Florida' because Governor DeSantis has led the way."
With his hiring of a new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, DeSantis completed his transition from vaccine proponent to vaccine skeptic. He endorsed recommendations by Ladapo that healthy children under 18 not be vaccinated. Ladapo and DeSantis have also said men age 18 to 39 shouldn't receive the mRNA vaccine. Nationally recognized public health experts say that recommendation is wrong and based on a faulty analysis.
Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says DeSantis politicized the public health crisis. His policies, Hanage believes, led to an increase of deaths in Florida from COVID. "If you compare it with California, New York, Massachusetts and the United Kingdom," Hanage says Florida is "the only one to have more deaths since vaccines were available, than before. The only one of them."
In analyzing data compiled by John Hopkins University, Hanage found that in Florida, 60% of the total deaths occurred after vaccines were available. In the other places, the number of deaths after vaccines became available are 40% of the total or less.
…As governor, DeSantis has extended his authority beyond state agencies and laws into local matters— exerting control over school boards, county health policies, even businesses that hold drag shows. To the delight of supporters, he's quick to attack any who challenge him, from the media to the state's largest employers. After Disney's CEO said he'd work to overturn a law, DeSantis signed a bill ending Disney World's self-governing status in Florida.
With his efforts to control even local policies, he's left behind the commitment to limited government he once had as a member of the Freedom Caucus. Former Congressman David Jolly says, it's a lesson he took from Donald Trump. Jolly says, "What Donald Trump brought to the party was to really crush that orthodoxy of small government and instead say the ends justify the means. And so, whatever it takes to achieve conservative results."
It doesn't matter if it takes big government, Jolly says. To DeSantis, it doesn't even matter if courts have said it's unconstitutional.
Last year, with an eye to federal law and Florida's constitution, lawmakers drew up new maps for the state's 28 Congressional districts. DeSantis didn't like the result and demanded lawmakers draw new maps that ended up eliminating two districts that favored Black voters.
Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, an African American lawmaker from Orlando, says, "I was completely dumbfounded, blind-sided." It was the first time anyone could recall a governor in Florida taking control of redistricting.
Republican legislative leaders pushed through the governor's maps and they were immediately challenged in court as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. But the maps remained in place for November's election, and helped Florida Republicans pick up four additional seats in Congress.
Thompson says DeSantis' motivation in targeting black voters is clear. "I think he has an interest in making sure that only certain individuals vote. And that those people are people who are supportive of his agenda," she says. "And then making it difficult for anyone who does not support his agenda, making it difficult for them to vote."
DeSantis doesn't shy away from battles involving race. He's banned Critical Race Theory from the schools even though it's a subject not found in Kindergarten through 12th grade curricula. He also drew national headlines when his education commissioner said he'd prohibit the use of an AP African American studies course in Florida.