Ron DeSantis doesn’t do empathy. He’s a governor who likes to talk tough on the presidential trail; such a foreign concept appears to get computed in his head as “left-wing mindset.”
Speaking to a South Carolina radio host this week, DeSantis blasted the state’s former Gov. Nikki Haley for her response to the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer who’s since been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
“It’s important to understand that the death of George Floyd was personal and painful for many. In order to heal, it needs to be personal and painful for everyone,” Haley wrote on Twitter, now known as X, on May 30, 2020, five days after Floyd died.
DeSantis, who’s battling Haley in early GOP primary states to be the main alternative to Donald Trump, accused Haley of “adopting this left-wing mindset.”
“I remember when the George Floyd riots were happening, I called out the National Guard,” he said, as Fox News reported.
“I said I’m standing with police, she was tweeting that it needed to be personal and painful for every single person. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why does that need to be personal and painful for you or me? We had nothing to do with it.”
Floyd’s death was indeed painful and personal for Americans, not only Black Americans and Democrats, but millions who watched then-officer Derek Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s knee for over nine minutes. His death, unlike other deaths of Black men by police, was condemned across party lines and galvanized even Republicans to look at police reform.
Ironically, it was the same DeSantis who said, “We need leaders who are going to fight back against the left” who also signed into law a bipartisan police reform bill in 2021. He also pushed for an “anti-riot” law in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 that civil liberties groups say can chill peaceful demonstrations.
The police reform legislation was the product of months of negotiations between Black lawmakers and Republican legislative leadership. Many reform advocates said it didn’t go far enough, but in a Legislature the GOP controls with a super majority, it was a historic achievement. The new law requires, among other things, that police officers intervene if another officer uses excessive force.
DeSantis did the right thing by allowing these overdue reforms to become law. But police reform doesn’t jibe with his brand of callousness and division. DeSantis tried to move to the right of Trump to peel off some of the former president’s voters. Now he seems to be trying the same tactic to take down Haley, who represents the biggest threat to the second-place standing he’s struggling to achieve in the polls.
Her performance in the three presidential debates has propelled her in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire — and Trump continues to lead by wide margins. DeSantis’ campaign, on the other hand, has stagnated despite a good showing in the most recent debate, held in Miami.
It’s expected that DeSantis will deploy any imaginable attack against this unexpected rival. Likewise, Haley has thrown jabs against the governor, including a misleading claim that he’s against fracking for oil and natural gas. He’s said he’s for it but not in Florida, where there’s wide opposition to it.
Can DeSantis defeat Haley by painting her as too empathetic to Americans concerned with police brutality? He will certainly try, but his own record on police reform makes it harder to land that punch.