Nobody in the Republican Party, in fact, can successfully “run to the right of Trump” because Trump is running as an open fascist. And the only thing to the right of an open fascist is a total dictator who has utterly shattered even the façade of fascist democracy (remember that Putin and many other modern autocrats were “elected” repeatedly).
Donald Trump is running to be something between Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin — what Orbán calls “illiberal democracy” and I’m calling “fascism” — and the only way to successfully beat him, to “run to the right of him,” would be to run as an absolute autocrat like Saudi Arabia’s MBS or China’s Xi.
Which, apparently, is of interest to a large portion of the GOP base, particularly Qanon followers and, more significantly, rightwing billionaires who — like German steel industrialist Fritz Thyssen (who wrote the book I Paid Hitler) — believe themselves to be immune from the GOP turning on them once a Republican strongman leader takes over.
This is why DeSantis has been so aggressive about destroying the voting and educational rights of minority groups in Florida while ruining the careers of government employees who’ve dared speak up against him.
It’s why he’s relentless — to the point of destroying tens of thousands of Florida jobs — in his war against Disney.
It’s why he’s launched a jeremiad against queer people and given every hater and bigot in the state the ability to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Proving he can get away with such authoritarian behavior with impunity shows, he appears to believe, that he’s even more capable of being an authoritarian tyrant than Trump.
Because that’s what DeSantis and Trump are actually running for right now: both want to be America’s first fully fascist autocrat, an Americanized version of Mussolini or Putin.
DeSantis is doing his very best to prove he can defy the will of the people, as he just proved with his six-week abortion ban in Florida, and do it enthusiastically, because he’s running for the job of strongman despot rather than president. Democracy be damned.
It’s also why both he and Trump are behaving like they can say or do anything to get into the White House — because neither thinks, once he’s sworn in, that he’ll ever have to run for election again.
Like Putin in Russia, Erdoğan in Turkey, or Orbán in Hungary — with DeSantis’ early successes in Florida shutting down polling places, purging voter rolls, and arresting Black people who’ve voted; and with Trump’s embrace of open Nazis while marshaling an army of armed “election monitors” — both plan to rig our national electoral system so heavily that no future Republican will ever lose.
Just like the playbook used by Mussolini, Hitler, and Pinochet.
That’s what Trump and DeSantis are running for. They want to be Putin, or even Xi or MBS if they could pull it off. They both have all but said out loud they want to end the American experiment. (Trump actually did say it out loud, as The New York Times notes.)
And there’s a constituency for tyranny in America, one that’s large enough to swing Republican primary elections. At this point, it’s becoming clearer by the day that a Republican who still believes in democracy — a Mitt Romney type of figure — has absolutely no chance of becoming the GOP’s nominee for 2024.
Thus, the big question now and going forward toward that election is this:
“Is that authoritarian-embracing Republican constituency large enough to put a fascist like DeSantis or Trump into office in next year’s general election?”
After all, when the American people look for political leadership, they’re always looking for “The Real McCoy.” Pale imitations almost never work in US politics; in fact — as Ron DeSantis is learning — being the wishy-washy version of somebody else always works against candidates.
For example, way back in 1948 Democratic President Harry S. Truman was running for re-election (he inherited the office when FDR died) and experiencing total frustration with some in his own party who were supporting Republican policies, particularly the union-busting Taft-Hartley Act, which gave states the power to gut unions via so-called “Right to Work for Less” provisions.
When Truman vetoed the legislation in 1947, 106 Democrats in the House and 20 in the Senate voted with Republicans to override his veto; Taft-Hartley stood, and has since been the GOP’s main tool to destroy unions in Red state after Red state over the past 70+ years.
Which provoked Truman to issue his famous dictum:
“Given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican, the voters will pick the Republican every time!”
Today’s version of Truman’s famous saying is true for both parties.
Phony progressives, like “moderates” in the so-called “Corporate Problem Solvers” caucus, are vulnerable to genuine progressives, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proved when she ran against corporate Democrat Joe Crowley.
And phony GOP fascists, like Tim Scott, Chris Christie, or Nikki Haley, will always get steamrolled by real fascists like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
It’s why regardless of who enters the GOP primaries, the fascist-loving base is going to make sure their party’s nominee is someone running to be an American fascist in the style of Trump or DeSantis.
This highlights the biggest systemic problem the GOP is currently facing. White supremacists, antisemites, and women-hating men across the country were given a taste, albeit a small sample, of real “blood and soil” type Christo-fascism with the presidency of Donald Trump.
And now they desperately want more.
The crisis, therefore, for any Republican who wants to run against Trump is that they’ll have to run to the right of fascism. But what occupies that space? Pure, raw, genocidal dictatorship that completely ends America.
Consider how far we’ve already gone:
— Trump said that he’ll pardon the traitors who tried to overthrow our government, throwing down the gauntlet by openly embracing a treasonous attempt to assassinate the Vice President and overturn the Constitution.
DeSantis was thus forced to quickly echo the sentiment, adding that he’d even consider pardoning Trump himself if he’s convicted of violating the espionage act by selling America’s secrets to the Saudis or Putin.
— Trump wanted to create his own private police force answerable only to himself, much like Hitler’s SS or Mussolini’s Blackshirts, and for a while nearly did it, illegally sending out-of-uniform Border Patrol officers to Portland to kidnap and harass antifascist demonstrators.
DeSantis, however, actually did the job in Florida, creating a militia answerable exclusively to him, along with his own personal police force that was specifically designed to harass and arrest Black people who try to vote.
— Trump wanted to shut down the “fake news” reporters who kept pointing out his lies; he argued we should gut the First Amendment so news outlets and op-ed writers who offended him could be fired or vulnerable to lawsuits.
DeSantis one-upped him; he now blocks reporters from even covering many of his activities and supported a bill in the Florida legislature that would have given him and other Republicans the power to sue reporters who offended them. Killing the Florida media was too extreme even for his own legislature, but he tried, and promises as president he’ll succeed where Trump failed.
— Trump tore families apart at the southern border and almost a thousand children are still missing, having been trafficked into a shady “Christian” network of foster and adoption homes.
DeSantis outplayed him by imitating the White Citizens’ Council trick from the 1960s, when they offered Black families in the south free bus fare north with the phony promise of jobs and housing.
This is increasingly happening among Republicans running for the House and Senate, and in the states, too, as other Red state governors imitate DeSantis.
At the same time, members of state and federal legislatures and rightwing media are calling for everything from the “eradication” of queer people to using state money to fund all-white “Christian” academies and destroy public education.
There was a time in America when we would have said, “It can’t happen here.” It was a time we believed our country would never fall to cynical authoritarian hucksters.
When opponents of fascism were heralded as heroes, as the “greatest generation” winners of World War II, as role models for young people, instead of being vilified by fascist-leaning Republican-affiliated media as “Antifa.”
When, as historian Heather Cox Richardson brilliantly pointed out, the US government made movies and published pamphlets explaining what fascism was and how dangerous it would be if it ever infested our politics.
That time is gone. Now, it can happen here. And there’s a whole army of billionaires willing — enthusiastic, eager even! — to finance it.
They’re joined in this by a nationwide network of churches, organized during the Reagan administration and openly defying IRS rules, using your and my tax subsidies to encourage hate, bigotry, and intolerance across the country.
So, now America faces a series of very real choices. Do we maintain the American experiment with a democratic republic, or embrace Trump’s and DeSantis’ vision of a government that rigorously polices every aspect of business and our private lives?
— Will The Little Mermaid be the last multiracial movie Disney makes?
— Will the censorship of public school classes, intimidation of teachers and professors, and banning of books move from Red states to the entire nation?
— Will we join Uganda — marching to the tune of members of the American evangelical movement, pastors Scott Lively and Franklin Graham, and an activist group in Arizona — in making homosexuality punishable by death?
— Will our Supreme Court prevail in their assertion that billionaires buying politicians and judges is merely an exercise in “free speech” rather than naked bribery and corruption?
— Will we continue to allow Red state governors to purge tens of millions of Americans from voting rolls, shut down polling places, and intentionally create mile-long lines to vote in Democratic neighborhoods?
— Will American democracy — what’s left of it — survive this onslaught?
Nobody is riding in to save us, the way we saved the world in 1945. Neither the EU, NATO, nor the UN will intervene. Our closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada, have already declared a hands-off policy toward US politics.
This time, the answer is entirely in our own hands.