Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is now officially out of the 2024 Republican presidential primary race after his overhyped run for the White House crashed and burned following a distant second-place finish in Iowa last week. There’s no overstating the harm and danger his policies and rhetoric will continue to pose, both in his state and across the nation.
Florida will continue to hurt from his self-defeating policies, including the anti-immigrant S.B. 1718 law: Now that he is no longer interviewing for a bigger job and can focus on Florida, DeSantis would be smart to acknowledge immigrant workers are critical to his state’s economy and repeal this law – especially when considering it was passed by sycophantic Republican state lawmakers back when they thought he had a realistic chance to snag the GOP presidential nomination. But he won’t be doing that anytime soon.
As we’ve previously noted, DeSantis’ signature anti-immigrant law was scaring away immigrant workers essential to Florida’s economy and recovery from natural disasters even before its implementation last summer. The bill’s own GOP supporters in the state legislature would eventually admit that workers were “starting to move to Georgia and other states.” Some workers still in Florida have been cruelly targeted under the draconian legislation. Raquel Lopez Aguilar, a roofer and dad of two children in the Tampa area, was arrested after driving a group of other roofers to work.
The state was already facing critical worker shortages in industries such as agriculture, hospitality, and construction. DeSantis’ crackdown now means these shortages “may take years to close” according to economists.
S.B. 1718 also chased away the recovery workers that had helped the state recover from natural disasters in the past. Following passage of S.B. 1718, Resilience Force Executive Director Saket Soni revealed that more than half of the organization’s workers said they would not travel to Florida to aid in Hurricane Ian recovery. “They felt very fearful,” Soni told CNN. “No amount of money would be worth it if it meant they would be incarcerated or deported.”
DeSantis encapsulated the GOP’s descent towards extremism and violence at the border: We cannot forget that one of DeSantis’ main contributions to the national stage included normalizing deadly violence at the southern border, as part of his relentless effort to define himself as an anti-immigrant hardliner for GOP primary audiences. This included turning a pledge to commit summary executions of alleged cartel members at the southern border into a disturbing applause line.
But when questioned by a reporter on how he’d know who to target in these possible drone strikes against our neighbor and ally Mexico, DeSantis said he would know by just looking at them. “Same way a police officer would know,” he told interviewer Dasha Burns. “Same way somebody operating in Iraq would know. You know, these people in Iraq at the time, they all looked the same. You didn’t know who had a bomb strapped to them. So those guys have to make judgments.”
This was chilling. DeSantis was not just calling for extreme racial profiling, he was campaigning on explicit calls for deadly violence and opening the door to racist vigilantism.
“I fear that, once again, these comments will lead to real world violence directed at people because they look or sound a certain way,” Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice, said at the time. Just a couple months later, a different southern governor with national aspirations and an anti-immigrant reputation, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, would publicly lament that Texas couldn’t shoot and kill migrants at the border. In shocking remarks initially reported by Heartland Signal, Abbott complained to right-wing activist and former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that the “only thing” Texas isn’t doing is “shooting people who come across the border because of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder.”
Meanwhile, the silence from Texas Republicans like Monica De La Cruz and Mayra Flores in response to Abbott’s comments has been deafening. While they choose to say nothing, we cannot remain silent when political leaders like DeSantis and Abbott embrace extremist ideology that dehumanizes non-white migrants as threats that must be met with violence.
The repercussions from DeSantis’ run also go far beyond immigration: He believed the anti-LGBTQ laws he pushed in Florida with the help of staffers like Christina Pushaw were going to help carry them to the presidential nomination. While this state-sanctioned bullying of transgender children and other vulnerable Floridians didn’t pay off electorally elsewhere for DeSantis, “it has been successful in passing legislation making life immeasurably harder for trans people in many states,” journalist Evan Urquhart wrote at Assigned.
“Thus, the whimpering end of Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign which started the anti-trans moral panic is far from the end of Republican attacks on transgender rights,” Urquhart continued. “Already 2024 has seen more legislation attacking the trans community than 2023 had at this time, which itself was much more than 2022, which was more than the country had ever seen before. Now that the beast has been fed, it will rampage out of control, and no one can predict when, or if, the destructive politics of hatred DeSantis’ candidacy unleashed will end.”
DeSantis’ demagoguery also targeted Black Floridians, moving to ban AP African American Studies by offensively claiming that the course lacked educational value. When the NAACP issued an advisory warning against travel to the state due to hostile policies, staffers like Pushaw mocked it: “Does this mean no Urban Beach Week?” DeSantis also shockingly claimed that some Black people benefited from slavery. Facing blowback, DeSantis instead doubled-down. He then dared to show his face at a vigil after a racist gunman who authorities said hated Black people shot and killed three Floridians at a Jacksonville store in August.
“The governor of our state of Florida has created an environment ripe for this,” slammed state Rep. Angie Nixon.
DeSantis may be out, but the threats he represented remain: Just this week, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson used his massive social media platform to call for vigilantism at the border. Meanwhile, House Republicans are fanning these nativist flames by refusing to address immigration and the border in order to keep it as an issue to exploit. To anti-immigrant leaders, it’s all about politics, tapping into nativism and holding onto power. But as we’ve seen, there are real-life consequences that can follow, and it’s often the most vulnerable of communities that will pay the price. Urquhart summarizes: “Now the candidate’s balloon has burst, but the panic rages on.”