The Courage to be Free review: Ron DeSantis bows and scrapes to Trump
The latest polls place Ron DeSantis and Joe Biden in a footrace for 2024. Florida’s 44-year-old Republican governor leads the octogenarian president by a whisker. More Americans like DeSantis than otherwise. Whether he can capture the Republican nomination, however, remains an open question. He has not yet declared his candidacy and trails Donald Trump in hypothetical matchups. Then again, no one else comes close.
Said differently, Trump and his legacy remain forces for any Republican to reckon with. Nikki Haley, an announced candidate for the GOP nomination, can barely mention his name. She wants to supplant her ex-boss by eliding him. A bold strategy.
DeSantis is patient. He will probably wait to announce until late spring, when the Florida legislature adjourns. For the moment, he expects us to be content with The Courage to Be Free, a memoir-cum-288-page-exercise in sycophancy and ambition tethered to a whole lot of owning the libs.
It is a mirthless read, lacking even the gleeful invective of Never Give an Inch, the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s own opening shot on the road to 2024. Predictably, DeSantis berates the left as unpatriotic and ruinous, all while prostrating himself before his former patron.
“I knew that a Trump endorsement would provide me with the exposure to GOP primary voters across the state of Florida,” he admits, discussing his campaign for governor in 2018. “I was confident that many would see me as a good candidate once they learned about my record.”
It’s all about bowing and scraping.
“Trump also brought a unique star power to the race. If someone had asked me, as a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, to name someone who was rich, I – and probably nearly all my friends – would have responded by naming Donald Trump.”
DeSantis was born in 1978. Growing up, he would have seen Trump’s fortunes plummet and his first marriage hit the skids.
Apparently, 80s and 90s success stories – Steve Jobs of Apple, say, or Bill Gates of Microsoft – failed to cross DeSantis’s radar. These days, by contrast, the governor has a heap of scorn for the giants of tech. He depicts big tech as censorious, concentrated and “woke”. He reiterates his disdain for Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and George Soros, financier and liberal patron.
DeSantis criticizes Zuckerberg’s Center for Technology and Civic Life for funding election operations. He contends that such private-public partnerships undermine public faith in electoral integrity and give Democrats a boost. He says nothing about Citizens United, the 2010 supreme court decision that set corporate money loose on US elections, other than to distinguish campaign donations from ballot mechanics. This weekend, at the Four Seasons hotel in Palm Beach, DeSantis will host a getaway for the deep-pocketed set.
DeSantis also fails to examine the ties that bound the Mercer family – DeSantis donors and Trump stalwarts – with Facebook and Zuckerberg. In 2014, Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct company then partly owned by the Mercer family, used Facebook to illegally harvest personal data. Steve Bannon, who would become Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, was a board member and officer. He denies personal culpability.
The Mercers own Breitbart News, which Bannon once led. Parler, owned by Rebekah Mercer, allegedly provided connective tissue for the January 6 insurrection. In the run-up to the riot, the network emerged as a forum for violent threats, so much so that it warned the FBI of “specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol”.
On the page, not surprisingly, DeSantis does not examine the January 6 attack. He does loudly take credit for a Florida law that would have regulated platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Here, again, he omits crucial details. Namely, federal courts found the law unconstitutional: it violated first-amendment free-speech protections.
“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” wrote Kevin Newsom, a Trump-appointed judge on the 11th circuit. “We hold that it is substantially likely that social media companies – even the biggest ones – are private actors whose rights the first amendment protects.”
Florida is urging the supreme court to review the case. Adding to the drama, Trump filed an amicus brief. The high court awaits a submission from the justice department.
True to form, DeSantis brands the “national legacy press” as the “pretorian guard of the nation’s failed ruling class” and seconds Trump’s claim that the “fake news media” is the “enemy of the American People”. Yet for all of this media-bashing in the name of supposed truth, the governor omits the role of Fox News in propagating fake news about the presidential election and defamation cases brought against the news channel.
Off the page, on that issue, DeSantis is at least mildly subversive. Recently, he featured the attorney Elizabeth “Libby” Locke at a confab dedicated to attacking the press and gutting US libel law. Significantly, Locke is representing Dominion Voting Systems in its $1.6bn defamation suit against Fox News arising from allegedly false reporting on the 2020 election. The case is set for an April trial in Delaware.
“DeSantis hosting Dominion lawyer Libby Locke! He is showing his true colors!” So shrieked Mike Lindell, AKA the MyPillow guy and Trump adviser, on Twitter.
DeSantis thinks he can have it both ways. Democrats would do well to take him literally and seriously. Last fall, he won re-election by a jaw-dropping 19 points, attracting more than two in five working-class minority voters and making serious inroads among African Americans.
His book recounts all this. So far, the Democrats have offered little by way of response. At the polls, low taxes, plenty of sunshine and Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits are a tough combination to beat.
The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival is published in the US by HarperCollins