Ron DeSantis loves using very young kids as political props
Also: Trump's latest Hannity appearance shows why the RNC is pulling out of presidential debates.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has lately been surrounding himself with kids at public events, including while signing extremely controversial pieces of legislation that stoke the culture wars and target vulnerable communities.
To be clear, it’s standard political practice for elected officials to invite children to participate in relatively uncontroversial things like Easter egg hunts or fitness programs. But that’s not what DeSantis is doing. He’s using kids to confer legitimacy upon legislation that restricts rights and harms people.
Some examples: DeSantis was flanked by kids holding “Choose Life” signs yesterday when he banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. There are no exceptions or provisions in the bill for extreme cases, not even rape or incest, something most people would prefer not to think about when they’re looking at smiling children.
He also surrounded himself with kids last month when he signed legislation threatening teachers with lawsuits if they discuss “sexual orientation or gender identity” with their students.
Less controversially — but still kinda strange —was his decision to hold hands with his daughters during a news conference about a bill he signed about the “decline of fatherhood.” Mostly, he bragged about what a great dad he is.
And early last month, in what was probably his most memorable recent interaction with young people, DeSantis yelled at some college students who were standing behind him at a news conference — because they were wearing masks, which he dismissed as “Covid theater.”
So what gives? I reached out to two DeSantis experts to try to figure it out.
Ron Filipkowski is a former lifelong Republican who was appointed by DeSantis to a panel that picks judges. He resigned from that role in December 2020, and since then has gained a large following on Twitter tirelessly tweeting videos of Trumpworld events and media appearances. He now describes himself as a Democrat.
In a DM exchange, Filipkowski joked that DeSantis constantly surrounds himself with kids because he “wants to show MAGA voters that he is as awkward and uncomfortable around little kids as Trump.” That’s hard to buy — no one is as awkward around kids as Trump — but more seriously, Filipkowski noted that DeSantis is basically trying to run a play out of the Glenn Youngkin playbook.
“His poll numbers with seniors took a significant dip last year because of his handling of Covid, and seniors are a massive voting bloc in Florida. So he had to make up that ground somewhere else,” Filipkowski said. “I think Youngkin gave him the playbook to focus on suburban moms. A lot of these culture war issues and messaging are aimed directly at them, including the use of kids behind him at his press conferences.”
I also asked historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat about DeSantis’s strategic deployment of children. (I published an entire Q&A with Ben-Ghiat last week about DeSantis’s efforts to turn Florida into a mini-autocracy — you can read it here.)
“DeSantis shows his most brutal and opportunistic sides using children as props, whether it's to try and bully them into reckless public health practices (telling them not to wear masks) or trying to use them as proof of his ‘benevolence’ as he signs into law authoritarian-style legislation that takes away abortion rights,” she told me in a DM exchange.
While DeSantis uses kids as props, his spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, has been one of the worst offenders in pushing the new Trumpworld moral panic of smearing liberals as “groomers.”
DeSantis has been surrounding himself with kids at public events for quite a while now; it’s hard not to wonder what they’ll think about it when they’re older. They’ve been used to confer legitimacy upon restrictive, intolerant policies while they’re much too young to understand those policies — it seems like one more needless, additional cruelty.
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The Republican National Committee voted Thursday to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday evening, Trump demonstrated why declining to debate is in his political interests.