By John L. Micek
In three decades in the news business, most of them spent covering government and politics, I’ve been to more than my share of press conferences.
They’re part of the gig when you’re a reporter. And you just kind of learn to make your peace with them. Some of them are informative. Most are self-serving and explicitly partisan. Some are mercifully short. And some of them, to borrow from Dave Barry, may still be going on to this very day.
But in terms of pure cynicism and rank partisanship, you’d be hard pressed to equal the propaganda event that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis orchestrated with his willing collaborators on “Fox & Friends” last month.
With a perfect set-up from host Brian Kilmeade, who waxed rhapsodic about the brilliance of DeSantis and his fellow Republicans in managing the 2020 election and the need to return to normal, the Florida governor signed into law some of the most restrictive voting “reform” measures in the country.
The bill, among other things, limits the use of mail-in voting and drop boxes, which, you guessed it, were favored by Democrats and Black voters last November, helping to put President Joe Biden into the White House.
The bill already faces legal challenges, according to the Florida Phoenix, a publication that covers Florida politics.
“Me signing this bill says: Florida, your vote counts, your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency and this is a great place for democracy,” DeSantis said.
Which is pure nonsense, given the circumstances under which DeSantis signed the bill: Local journalists were shut out of the event, which, in turn, meant the vast majority of Floridians who will be impacted by the legislation were similarly denied the chance to see their government in action.
So much for transparency and democracy.
Even with the laughably thin denial that there was nothing secret about the event, DeSantis’ meticulously stage-managed news conference reached its intended audience: A grumpy, reality-averse former president ensconced in his own personal Xanadu just a short hop away from the Airport Hilton in West Palm Beach.
Donald Trump, as we all know, monitors Fox News and conservative media obsessively, and with a sweep of his pen, DeSantis telegraphed his loyalty to the autocratic 45th president who’s still working, seven months later, to knock the legs out from the under the credibility of last November’s election result.
The event in West Palm Beach is of a piece with the closed-door news conference in March where Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed his state’s own restrictive voting bill, and whose most indelible image remains state Rep. Park Cannon, a Black woman lawmaker, being hauled away by police after trying to gain entrance to the room where the public’s business was being conducted.
From Atlanta and West Palm, it’s ridiculously easy to draw a straight line to Capitol Hill, where Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney lost her job in the House GOP leadership, not for being sufficiently conservative (she is staunchly conservative), but for refusing to bend the knee to the government-in-exile in Florida, and for refusing to push the Big Lie that the election was stolen.
In Biden’s first 100 days in office, Republicans refused to put up any votes for the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that was wildly popular among voters – including their own. But they have not been shy about rushing out to take credit for it.
It now seems baked in that Democrats will have to pass Biden’s infrastructure and family bills without GOP votes as well, even though those proposals are similarly popular, and as a recalibrated electorate looks for the government to spend more and to shoulder more responsibilities.
But rather than take heed of this change in the national mood, Republicans – who are equal parts terrified of primaries from their right, and dead-set on recapturing Congress and the White House – have thrown in with a twice-impeached autocrat who still commands a scary cult-like hold on the GOP base.
And instead of governing, Republicans have methodically moved to whittle away as much of the electorate as they possibly can by shutting them out of the polls.
All of which makes Florida’s DeSantis the perfect public face of the GOP as it is now: Obsessed with hanging onto power, fact-averse, representing an ever-shrinking coalition, and loyal, not to the American public, but to the sad, strange old man who can’t accept that he lost.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star, a brand-new news venture that covers Pennsylvania politics and government honestly and aggressively. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.