DeSantis channels George Wallace
Late in his life, his body broken but his perspective perhaps broadened, George
Wallace may have regretted his career as a champion of racism. His daughter, Peggy
Wallace Kennedy, certainly thinks so. She has spoken poignantly of his contrition.
But Wallace’s reputation never recovered. The man we remember is the one who stood
in the schoolhouse door, the man who proclaimed “segregation forever,” the man who
sent state troopers with billy clubs to beat peaceful protestors on the Edmund Pettus
Bridge. History does not treat kindly those whose blind ambition and bottomless
cynicism lead them to embrace the worst of human impulses.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis should keep that in mind as he seeks to become the next
George Wallace. Aiming to out-Trump the former president, DeSantis has engaged in
hypocrisy, bigotry, deceit, misinformation and demagoguery. For his efforts, some have
named him the up-and-coming leader of the Republican Party.
Of course, that says as much about the GOP as it does DeSantis. No longer a
legitimate political party with conservative values and policy proposals, it is instead a
cockamamie collection of liars, cheats, conspiracy theorists, racists and entitled
revanchists. DeSantis aspires to lead not only that group but also the nation.
Wallace wanted to be president, too. And he had his successes. He was effectively
governor of Alabama through the civil rights years because he ran the state even when
his wife, Lurleen, served officially. He also won several primaries during his presidential
campaigns. But his victories came at a cost, not only for his legacy but also for his state,
which, some argue, has never recovered. (He was elected to a final term as governor in
1982 after he apologized to black Alabamians.)
DeSantis is busy proving that Wallace still has admirers. I thought the Florida governor’s
behavior had bottomed out back in March, when he insulted a group of high school
students who were wearing masks at an event where the governor made an
appearance. As he approached the podium where the students were standing,
DeSantis insisted, “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off.
. Honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we gotta stop with this COVID theater.” His lying
about effective public health restrictions was bad enough, but his bullying kids was
Then, a few weeks later, he picked a fight with Disney World, one of Florida’s largest
employers and an international symbol of the state’s tourism industry. The governor was
irate when Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, publicly opposed a new law, championed by
DeSantis, that restricts discussions of gay and transgender issues in classrooms. So
DeSantis revoked a decades-old agreement that gave the theme park control of its 40
square miles in central Florida, even though it might mean a huge tax increase for local
But DeSantis has now found a new low. He went to Texas and rounded up a group of
desperate migrants, where he courted them with lies about a bright future and flew them
to Martha’s Vineyard, all in an effort to “own the libs” on the issue of illegal immigration.
This is cruel, cynical and corrupt on so many levels it’s hard to count them all. Let’s start
with the fact that DeSantis was so desperate to get in on the “our-borders-are-overrun”
schtick that he went to Texas to find migrants. His own state, as he later reluctantly
admitted, is not exactly overrun.
Then, DeSantis’ operatives hired some sketchy operator, known only as “Perla” to lie to
the migrants to get them to board planes to Martha’s Vineyard. According to a lawsuit
the migrants filed against DeSantis, they were told they would be taken to a city where
they would receive employment, housing and other services.
It is also important to note that this group of refugees, who fled desperate conditions in
Venezuela, are not in the United States illegally. As asylum-seekers, they were granted
the right to remain here until their cases are heard by an immigration judge.
Despite all that — or because of it — DeSantis could be the next Republican nominee
for president. The GOP base revels in his antics.
Perhaps he doesn’t care how history will regard him. For a long time, Wallace didn’t,