Among Never Trump conservatives, there has been a lot of debate over whether former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would be more dangerous to have in the White House in 2025. One school of Never Trumper thought argues that Trump would be more dangerous because he is undisciplined and lacks self-control; another Never Trumper argument, however, is that DeSantis would be more dangerous because he is a more focused and disciplined version of Trump. But one thing those Never Trumpers agree on is that the MAGA movement in general has an authoritarian mindset.
Conservative Daily Beast opinion columnist Matt Lewis, in a September 13 column, analyzes some of the MAGA Republicans who are being mentioned as possible post-Trump options for the GOP — namely, DeSantis and Blake Masters, who is running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona’s 2022 U.S. Senate race. And the main thing they have in common, according to Lewis, is an affinity for “heavy-handed” authoritarianism.
“Ever since Donald Trump came down that gold-plated escalator in 2015, the American right has relied more on coercion than persuasion,” Lewis explains. “This month’s National Conservatism Conference — its third edition, held in Miami — signaled an increasing commitment to this heavy-handed approach. One breakout session included a call for mandatory military service for anyone making over $250,000 a year. And a speech by Blake Masters, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, led a prominent conservative to unironically tweet: ‘Sounds like (Masters) is absorbing the Viktor Orban lesson.”'
Lewis continues, “But perhaps the most newsworthy example came when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said tech companies ‘cannot be viewed as private entities’ because ‘we know without a shadow of a doubt they are doing the regime’s bidding when it comes to censorship.’ This, of course, comes on the heels of DeSantis going after Disney — when the company opposed Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education' bill, dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ by its critics.”
The “prominent conservative” Lewis was referring to is author/journalist Rod Dreher, known for his work for the National Review, the now-defunct Weekly Standard and other publications. In a September 11 tweet, Dreher quotes Masters as saying that “libertarianism doesn’t work.”
“What happened to ‘limited government’ conservatives opposing intervention in the private sector, and opposing the state picking winners and losers?” Lewis writes. “The new right waves away such concerns, instead advocating for the government to use its awesome powers to do ‘good,’ as defined by the new right, just as it selectively embraces the good tech elites. Take, for example, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, an erstwhile libertarian, who during NatCon 3, praised DeSantis. Thiel, of course, famously funded successful GOP primary victories for Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance and Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters.”
Lewis argues that DeSantis and Masters “represent a dangerous worldview that could define the post-Trump American right.”
“Whereas Trump lacked a coherent and consistent philosophy — he flirted with populism, but Trump’s main agenda was always advancing Trump — these national conservatives are more competent, and they have an ethos,” Lewis warns.
“Trump can at least be laughed at, because he is essentially an out-of-touch old guy who says crazy shit. Likewise, ridiculous Republican lawmakers like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert spout absurd, deliberately offensive things and are constantly committing malapropisms," Lewis continues. "These Trumpers get clicks, but they are not part of the new right’s ‘brain trust,’ like the NatCons. This raises the now-trite question of whether DeSantis would be more dangerous than Trump.”
Lewis speculates that DeSantis “might be merely playing up his authoritarian persona to appease the Trumpy Republican base” but adds that “DeSantis’ remarks about private companies and ‘the regime’ at NatCon 3 do little to quell my anxiety.”
“Devout believers in limited government have reason to fear national conservatism, and so do devout believers in Christianity,” Lewis writes. “But national conservatism isn’t about philosophical ideas or spiritual transcendence. It’s about earthly power — and who wields it.”