Disgust, shock and condemnation are not an unfortunate by-product of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decisions like bringing 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
They are the desired outcome of the hardline Republican’s political approach as he seeks re-election and contemplates a possible presidential campaign designed to appeal to a radical party base that enjoys candidates who stoke outrage.
DeSantis was criticized as inhumane, authoritarian and even accused of human trafficking as the millionaires’ playground on the Massachusetts coast was forced to deal with unexpected arrivals.
In an earlier political era, DeSantis’ hopes for higher office might have ended right there. Using desperate migrants fleeing repression and economic crisis in Venezuela as pawns in a power game hardly seems compatible with American ideals of welcoming poor and hungry peoples who yearn to breathe free.
Still, it’s a commentary on today’s politics — and the incentives for radicalism and extreme gestures that define the modern Republican Party — that the Florida governor’s decision was being seen in some quarters as his boldest yet. . It again showed the uncanny knack for weaponizing cultural issues that excite popular GOP voters and how DeSantis is using his gubernatorial perch to create a record of action on the “Make America First Again” agenda. It’s a strategy that has made him a megastar on conservative television and means he would be a formidable candidate in the 2024 presidential primaries, whether his former mentor, former President Donald Trump, the champion of extreme gesture politics , it is presented as if not.
The storm over migrants on Martha’s Vineyard played out exactly according to the hardline governor’s playbook, as did past controversies over sexuality education in schools, transgender athletes, masks during the coronavirus pandemic and his promise to go after almost non-existent electoral fraud. . In this as in other cases, DeSantis took steps that some on the left and in the media considered extreme and beyond his means. Then he appeared defiant on camera, not only owning his decision, but mocking those whose criticism he turns into fuel to increase his power and appeal to the GOP base. The image of an unapologetic conservative in the face of his critics is politically very effective, at least for now, given that he does not face a wider national electorate.
But some mysterious aspects of the episode remain, including the fact that DeSantis, who runs Florida, organized flights for migrants from Texas.
And there are growing indications that migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard may have been tricked into getting on planes. CNN’s Maria Santana reported, for example, that a woman named “Perla” told three migrants who were sent to the island that they would receive help with housing and jobs once they reached their destination.
DeSantis’ shipping of migrants may be inhumane. But it has its own harsh logic.
It claims that cities like Washington, DC and states like Massachusetts are encouraging the flow of migrants because they are not fully cooperating with immigration enforcement authorities. His disdain for “sanctuary” cities and states is shared by another Republican governor interested in stunt politics: Greg Abbott of Texas. The staunchly conservative Lone Star State sent two new busloads of migrants to Washington, where they were deposited outside the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday to make a similar point. Volunteers had said they were ready to meet the group at the city’s Union Station. It was not clear whether the change of destination was motivated by the desire to make a political splash equal to the impact of DeSantis.
There are some reasons to suggest that the strategies are having an impact. The Democratic mayors of New York and Washington, Eric Adams and Muriel Bowser, have said their cities’ capacity to deal with the influx of migrants sent by Republican governors is about to be exhausted. These comments lend credence to warnings by border states that their resources are being stretched by the increase in migrant crossings. Still, advertising strategies like those pursued by DeSantis and Abbott are doing little to really solve a complex problem. Instead, they serve as a political launching pad, like the one that launched Trump into the White House with his strong anti-immigration rhetoric in 2016.
But when it comes to solving the problem, the Biden administration is not blameless either. He has long struggled to find a way to talk about border security, which, despite all the right-wing hysteria, is a real issue that worries many voters.
Harris, for example, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the border was “secure,” a comment that conflicts with the views of many voters and the evidence of nearly 2 million border encounters reported by US Customs and Border Protection in the fiscal year ending September 30.
However, the demagoguery of the migrant right only serves to further politicize the immigration issue that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama tried to solve with a coalition of bipartisan lawmakers, only to be founded on the lack of of Capitol conservatives’ willingness to compromise. In the volatile politics left by the Trump presidency, there is no chance that a serious immigration reform bill could ever pass.
In a Pew Research Center survey as of August, for example, 73% of Americans said increasing security at the US-Mexico border to reduce illegal crossings should be a very or somewhat important goal. But the issue is more important to Republicans than to Democrats, which helps explain why Republican politicians are so focused on border issues.
DeSantis left no doubt that he was motivated by a desire to abuse liberal state officials and even seek revenge on anti-Trump voters.
“All those people in D.C. and New York beat their chests when (Donald) Trump was president, saying they were very proud to be sanctuary jurisdictions, saying how bad it was to have a secure border,” DeSantis said Thursday.
“The moment even a small fraction of what these border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, suddenly they’re screwed.”
However, while it is possible to see a coherent political strategy behind DeSantis and Abbott’s migrant transportation policies, it is inevitable that both governors will exploit the tragedies of vulnerable people for political gain. In fact, the Venezuelans brought to Martha’s Vineyard are actually victims of the kind of vindictive socialist dictatorship that DeSantis can usually be trusted to condemn.
They are desperate people and, whatever the merit of their asylum, they are treated as a faceless group and not as individual humans. Christina Pushaw, director of rapid response for DeSantis’ re-election campaign, left no doubt that they are mere props.
“The residents of Martha’s Vineyard should be happy about this. They vote for sanctuary cities – they get a sanctuary city of their own. And illegal aliens will add to the diversity of the town, which is strength. Right?” Pushaw tweeted.
Still, if DeSantis hoped to highlight hypocrisy among the eastern mountains of an island full of vacation homes, he was disappointed.
The people of Martha’s Vineyard didn’t go “crazy,” as he put it. Instead, they rushed to help. Residents provided food, clothing and shelter, despite having no advance notice from DeSantis about the arrival of the migrants on Wednesday.
“We’ve been through Covid. We’ve been through hurricanes. We’ve been through this. … All of us who have stood up as Vinya, because we’re resilient,” Edgartown City Manager James Hagerty said in CNN’s Miguel Marquez.
“We take care of our own, we take care of the community, we help people.”
Democrats were quick to seize on the frivolity of DeSantis and Abbott’s tactics, even at the risk of bringing more grist to the conservative media mill.
“What they are doing is an illegal trick, it is a political trick. And it’s really disrespectful to humanity,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “It’s just cruel.”
David Leopold, legal counsel for America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group, said: “The forcible removal of a civilian population is a crime against humanity. And human trafficking is a serious federal crime in USA. Both are the hallmarks of an anti-democratic totalitarian leader.”
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns also sensed a sinister political motivation on DeSantis’ part.
“It’s basically saying you can use a human life … and put it in the position of becoming a political pawn in somebody’s authoritarian game,” Burns said on CNN’s “New Day.”
While it is clear that these migrants are being used as pawns, allegations of human trafficking ignore the fact that some migrants welcome the opportunity to transport themselves away from border states and further into the United States , before appointments with immigration and asylum authorities. hearings that could take months or even years to arrive.
But the Republican reaction to the drama on Martha’s Vineyard underscored the electrifying effect it has on the GOP base.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for re-election and was once a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, strongly endorsed DeSantis.
“Immigration is a federal responsibility, which this administration is not fulfilling. “A handful of communities and states bear the predominant burden,” Rubio told reporters. voluntary migrant offers to go to another part of the country, I think it is perfectly reasonable for a state to help him. they.”
As Rubio understands, any Republican who wants a future in the party must talk tough on immigration. For this reason, Abbott and DeSantis’ recent handovers of migrants to liberal jurisdictions are unlikely to be the last such tricks.