DeSantis doesn’t miss an opportunity to make the most of an opportunity — for himself | Opinion

Gov. Ron DeSantis is out and about this week, visiting Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and various conservative news outlets in his pursuit of the Republican nomination for the presidency.

Meanwhile, as if to make up for the fact that several GOP members of Congress from Florida have endorsed Donald Trump, the DeSantis campaign is aggressively seeking endorsements from state legislators.

Those lawmakers may well wonder if their projects in the state budget are at risk of a gubernatorial veto if they don’t fall in line as obligingly as they did during the legislative session.

When DeSantis returns and peruses the state budget, his actions will signal whether he’ll be as vindictive with legislators who cross him as he has been with Disney, which is now being hounded for daring to disagree with him on a policy issue.

Meanwhile, voters in the early primary states are left to ponder what to make of DeSantis. Is he a visionary leader of “the free state of Florida” or just another political opportunist who sensed that some GOP voters are seeking an alternative to Trump?

To evaluate that question in fairness to DeSantis, it should be noted that few words in English emit more positive vibes than “opportunity.” Moreover, we tend to admire folks who take advantage of the opportunities they’ve been offered.

Certainly DeSantis did so when his hard work and determination earned this son of a middle-income Florida family a bachelor’s degree from Yale, a law degree from Harvard and a commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy.

Oddly, however, several words related to “opportunity” — notably “opportunist” — have acquired negative connotations. One dictionary defines an opportunist as “a person who takes advantage of every chance for success without thinking about the effects on other people.”

So, if DeSantis is an opportunist, what kind of opportunist is he? Several chapters in his decade-long political career offer clues. His first big opportunity came in 2012, when the GOP-led Legislature’s congressional redistricting plan created a Republican-dominated district that had no incumbent. He ran and won.

During his three terms in Congress, DeSantis helped organize the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans whose views were initially shaped by the Tea Party and by their hostility to the Obama administration’s agenda.

Now the Freedom Caucus has become even more extreme. For instance, it immediately announced its opposition to the debt ceiling deal reached during the last-minute negotiations between President Biden and House Speaker Keven McCarthy, and DeSantis chimed in, urging its rejection. Wednesday, the deal passed in the U.S. House 314-117.

This kind of brinkmanship involving a potential financial disaster is troubling, and it would be even more troubling if DeSantis were now the president. It also brings to mind the aforementioned definition of an opportunist as a person who acts “without thinking about the effects on other people.”

That kind of heedlessness was evident in 2018. Term limits kept Gov. Rick Scott from running for re-election, so DeSantis saw an opportunity to jump into the governor’s race against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Putnam knew that migrants’ labor is a vital resource for Florida agriculture, so he avoided echoing the virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric infecting our nation’s politics. The impact on farmers apparently was not DeSantis’ concern then, nor is it now. He just couldn’t help noticing that Trump had gained ground politically by exploiting immigration issues, so he seized the opportunity.

By echoing Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and touting Trump’s endorsement, DeSantis narrowly defeated Putnam in the primary and the Democrats’ nominee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in the general election.

During DeSantis’ first term, when the pandemic hit, he saw another political opportunity. Noticing the public’s pushback in states that strictly enforced the federal government’s COVID edicts, he distanced Florida from the feds’ unpopular demands regarding masking, school closings and business shutdowns. Instead, he began gaining national attention touting his version of a “Free Florida,” a version, incidentally, that many pro-choice women dispute.

In 2021 DeSantis spotted yet another political opportunity that basically fell into his lap. A Virginia controversy demonstrated that parental involvement in education is a very exploitable issue.

In Virginia’s governor’s race that year, little-known Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who had blundered during a debate by declaring “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

DeSantis noticed the fallout from this remark and began deeply involving himself in education issues, pushing for major revisions in the K-12 curriculum and in the state’s colleges and universities.

Once again showing little concern for his actions’ “effects on other people,” he also engineered a hostile takeover of the “woke” New College, where longtime administrators and others were summarily fired and replaced by his cronies and admirers.

Many presidents who served during the 20th century had “the vision thing” and are now remembered for what their creative leadership achieved — national parks, the New Deal, the Marshall Plan, the Interstate Highway system, the Camp David Accords and so on.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine what a President DeSantis might bequeath future generations because, during much of his political career, his opportunism has been that of a reactionary, pouncing on opportunities that arose when other politicians succeeded or failed.

If DeSantis the opportunist has a vision for how he’d govern from the White House, how he’d deal with important national and international issues and what kind of beneficial legacy a DeSantis presidency might bequeath to future generations, he has yet to share it.