As Jamelle Bouie observes, Ron DeSantis’s “culture war” — his attacks on LGBTQ+ people and African-Americans and educators and vaccines — is a big deal in itself:
By no means is any of this trivial or unimportant. Florida is the third-most-populous state. To launch a war on vaccines or use state power to harass transgender students is to make life difficult, even dangerous, for thousands of people.
But it’s also a means of changing the subject from DeSantis’s radical views in favor of gutting popular federal programs:
And yet, there is a reason DeSantis has made these issues, and virtually nothing else, the platform from which he hopes to build national power. By leaning into high-profile battles as a culture warrior par excellence for the most reactionary segment of the American public — last year, to give another example, he picked a fight with the Disney corporation — DeSantis has made himself the hero of conservative elites and the bête noire of liberals and Democrats without so much as mentioning his radical and unpopular views on social insurance and the welfare state.
As a congressman, serving three terms from 2013 to 2018 (when he ran for governor), DeSantis was one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, the most hard-line and conservative faction in the House Republican conference, now in the spotlight because of its leadership battle with Speaker Kevin McCarthy and its driving role in using the debt ceiling to force spending cuts on an unsuspecting public.
DeSantis was an especially fierce opponent of so-called entitlements and other forms of federal aid. He helped lead the effort to shut down the government over funding for the Affordable Care Act in 2013 and that same year voted to pass a budget resolution that would have cut more than $250 billion from Social Security and Medicare over a decade. In 2017, like most other Republicans, he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to cut taxes on corporations, high-earners and wealthy heirs.
DeSantis believes, according to his 2011 book, “Dreams From Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama,” that the framers of the Constitution “strived to construct a system of government that prevented government-mandated wealth redistribution.” Turning his attention to the Affordable Care Act and the federal bureaucracy, DeSantis condemns both as “administrative despotism” that have exerted “stifling constraints on the whole of society.” And while he doesn’t take direct aim at the New Deal and its offspring — the whole book is framed as an attack on the Obama administration — his arguments against redistributive policy should apply as much to Social Security as they do to Obamacare. It is not for nothing that Florida is one of 11 states that has not adopted the Medicaid expansion.
The new “populist” Republicans offer just Ryanomics with even more authoritarianism and discrimination. And while Trump will run to Ryan’s left on economics, look how he governed and not at what he says.