Why GOP Voters Choose A#@holes
Cruelty is strength and compassion is weakness for many Republican voters.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is really carving out his lane in a potential 2024 campaign for the GOP nomination. He spent the last few years bullying as many people as possible — LGBTQ+ kids, teachers, the media, the formerly incarcerated and anyone who doesn’t want to get COVID. Being an unrepentant asshole is his schtick, but even for DeSantis, this week’s stunt was a new low. The state of Florida, under the direction of DeSantis, lied to a group of about 50 migrants including children, flew them to Martha’s Vineyard, and then dropped them off with no food, water, or shelter. In case you were wondering if this was a political stunt, the Governor’s Office gave an exclusive on the gambit to Fox News.
Not to be outdone, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who suffers from a case of asshole envy, bused a group of migrants to the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. — which just so happens to be Vice President Kamala Harris’s home.
Most people responded with moral revulsion at the disgusting tactic of using human beings — including children fleeing violence — as political props. Many in the mainstream political media who had the capacity for empathy and outrage surgically removed from their cortex, covered these events as political gamesmanship in an escalating battle over the hot-button issue of immigration. Part of the political analysis asked whether DeSantis “overplayed his hand?” Or hurt himself with the evangelical Christians who make up a huge portion of the GOP base?
This is all wishful thinking. DeSantis didn’t hurt his political prospects within the party. He helped them. A few days after the migrants landed in Martha’s Vineyard, DeSantis received a standing ovation while campaigning in Kansas. As CNN reported:
This is a crisis. It's now getting a little bit more attention," DeSantis said, earning a standing ovation as he talked about the southern border and nodding to the headlines he instigated when he flew 50 migrants from the border to Martha's Vineyard.
The reception DeSantis received in Kansas enforced the perception that last week's ploy accomplished more than raising awareness for the border crisis or diverting migrants who may have eventually ended up in Florida (though none said that was their destination). It also expeditiously thrust the Republican leader, who's running for reelection this fall, into the national spotlight as he weighs whether to run for president in 2024.
Yes, you read that correctly. Republican voters cheered him for hurting vulnerable people for nakedly political reasons. The response to DeSantis — and the fact that every Republican with presidential ambitions is trying out-asshole each other, answers a question left over from 2016. Did Trump win the GOP nomination despite being a raging, cruel asshole or did he win BECAUSE he is a raging, cruel asshole?
It’s very clear that being the biggest, meanest cruelest person on the block is the path to success in the Republican Party. And it’s a strategy for which Republicans have suffered few (if any) consequences. Eventually, Democrats must make Republicans pay a price for performative, overly political cruelty. But in order to do so, it’s important to understand why Republicans keep voting for assholes like Donald Trump and DeSantis.
Tired of Losing (Especially to Obama)
It’s fair to view the radicalization of the Republican Party as a direct response to Barack Obama’s election. I stipulate (if only to avoid the “‘actually’ brigade” on Twitter) that the Republicans have been a group of radicals weaponizing race for more than a half-century. But since 2008, the party has become explicitly racist, anti-democratic, and dangerous. Republicans responded to their losses in 1976 and 1992/1996 by modulating attitudinally.
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