Can Either Party Hold It Together Until November?

The Republican Party of the Sunshine State, the NBC News reporter Matt Dixon writes in SWAMP MONSTERS: Trump vs. DeSantis — The Greatest Show on Earth (or at Least in Florida) (Little, Brown, 323 pp., $30), is now “the party of Florida Man,” the mythic entity that wears “Mickey Mouse ears while riding an alligator through the Everglades.” It’s an important advent in a place that has become a laboratory for the national culture wars with Gov. Ron DeSantis as its chief scientist. DeSantis has outdone many of his more extreme colleagues in the G.O.P. He has restricted sex education in Florida schools — topics from homosexuality to menstruation are now taboo — and picked a fight with Disney over the company’s supposedly “woke” values. He has also lowered the number of jurors required to recommend the death penalty.

“Swamp Monsters” is driven by the warm and cold relationship between Governor DeSantis and one of his state’s residents, Donald J. Trump. As a relatively anonymous member of Congress in 2017, DeSantis nimbly endured the president’s erratic moods and loyalty tests. A year later, he had managed to become a Trump protégé and was elected governor.

But nothing gold can stay. Last year, as the presidential contest loomed, DeSantis surged in the polls against Trump and the Republican primary was billed as an epic face-off. Dixon’s book is an enjoyable, if horrifying, soap opera of the political and personal fallout that led us there. We learn that Trump felt hurt, in 2018, when he heard that DeSantis had laughed churlishly on the set of a pro-Trump ad in which the aspiring governor guided his young daughter in stacking toy blocks to “build the wall.” Trump also grouses when DeSantis fails to corroborate a lower death toll after a hurricane in Puerto Rico. By 2020, Trump tells a cheering crowd that he’s going to “fire him somehow.”

Dixon finished his book late enough to see DeSantis’s poll numbers flag. Some have insisted that the Florida governor’s precipitous decline and ultimate defeat are evidence that “anti-woke” antics don’t work on the broader electorate, but “Swamp Monsters” suggests that American conservatives are not done with them yet. “Florida,” one lobbyist tells Dixon, “is the new pinnacle for freedom. The pinnacle of the Republican movement. No state is more important in post-MAGA Republican politics.”

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