Editor’s Note: Nicole Hemmer is an associate professor of history and director of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Center for the Study of the Presidency at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics” and the forthcoming “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s.” She cohosts the history podcasts “Past Present” and “This Day in Esoteric Political History.” The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a clear strategy for building support for his presidential bid: chum the waters with red meat for the Republican base, then follow his rhetorical punches with legislative and executive action. From banning books in school libraries to flying migrants to blue states to firing a progressive prosecutor, DeSantis has displayed a Trumpian knack for driving media coverage.
But his agenda in Florida — which he now envisions as a blueprint for the rest of the United States — is not just about PR stunts: He has used his power as governor to translate provocation into policy with alarming speed. In doing so, he has emerged as a new kind of Republican governor: one who has used his state to demonstrate that he can institute a more effective and aggressive version of former President Donald Trump’s politics.
And in pursuit of these so-called culture wars, DeSantis has vastly expanded the power of the executive in Florida, which has been one of his central goals since taking office. “I want you to give me a binder of all the authorities of the governor,” he says he told the state’s general counsel shortly after becoming governor. “What can I do as a matter of constitutional right without anybody checking me?”
It turns out, quite a lot. In addition to filing complaints to shut down drag shows and firing a prosecutor he disagrees with, DeSantis has leaned on a pliant legislature, which has signed off on an agenda that allows him to seize control of municipal services and development for Disney and ban subjects taught in schools. Such significant power grabs signal an attitude toward government power that goes far beyond fights over culture, playing instead into an embrace of illiberalism that has increasingly defined much of the Republican Party.