'Weak and desperate': Ron DeSantis’ 'ruthless drive to silence critics' recalls Richard Nixon
Ron DeSantis (Screen Grab)

The politician who far-right Florida governor Ron DeSantis is typically compared to the most is a mentor and past ally: former President Donald Trump. These days, Trump is a scathing critic of DeSantis, attacking him as "Meatball Ron" and "Ron DeSanctimonious."

But back in 2019 and 2020, Trump and DeSantis were allies — and DeSantis proclaimed his devotion to the MAGA movement and Trump's "America First" ideology. Although DeSantis has yet to formally announce a presidential run, Trump obviously expects to be competing with him for the Republican nomination in 2024.

In an article published by the Daily Beast on April 12, journalist Jake Lahut compares the 44-year-old Florida governor to another controversial politician: the late President Richard Nixon.

"Like Trump, DeSantis has relentlessly attacked critics in what he calls the 'corporate press,' even going so far as to claim that media outlets were rooting for last year's Hurricane Ian to do more damage in the state," Lahut observes. "But when it comes specifically to the playbook of quashing dissent, the governor's spiritual forebear might be a better fit for a different former president — Richard Nixon — a dynamic that could add a sharp edge to a potential DeSantis 2024 run."

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Lahut notes that DeSantis shares Nixon's disdain for the media.

"Nixon famously bullied reporters, avoided coverage, and used his government to go after specific journalists — wiretapping their phones or pushing for IRS audits on his most hated individuals," Lahut explains. "Although the Florida governor wasn't yet born during the Nixon years, his reputation for dwelling on personal slights and his ruthless drive to silence critics bears a closer resemblance to the 37th president than the 45th."

Trump was the 45th president of the United States (Joe Biden is the 46th), and during his four years in the White House, he wasn't shy about demonizing reporters and describing the press as "the enemy of the people." But as Lahut points out, Trump has had a love/hate relationship with journalists and has often used them to publicize his activities.

"While Trump clearly vilifies 'the fake news,' he also embraces many individual reporters, obsesses over coverage, and will even sometimes participate with stories and outlets that may be unfriendly," Lahut reports. "DeSantis seems more like Nixon; he's not interested in granting access to anyone but the most flattering journalists — and is more likely to not open up even when a story could be good for him. In perhaps the clearest sign of his view toward the press, in February, DeSantis mounted a push to weaken state libel and defamation laws to pave the way for more lawsuits against media outlets."

A Republican strategist, presumably interviewed on condition of anonymity, told the Beast that DeSantis' "Nixonian" conduct makes him “look very weak and desperate.” The strategist warned, however, that the Florida governor's followers can be ruthless when it comes to going after critics.

"Clearly, they are threatening people indirectly," the interviewee told the Beast. "You have a very enabled group where they think they can throw veiled threats at people because they see their leader doing it. It's the weaponization of government, and now, they're weaponizing this campaign against anybody who pushes back against their idol."