Over the last five years, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has learned one lesson better than any other national Republican: If you want to go far in the Republican Party, you should emulate Donald Trump in every way possible. He’s pulled out all the stops: His home has been converted into an ersatz shrine to the former president; he’s directed his infant children to “build the wall” out of cardboard bricks and say, “Make America Great Again” in a campaign ad. He has even started talking with a quasi-Trumpian cadence and standing in that weird way where his arms are held awkwardly away from the body—a posture that makes him look a bit like an out-of-shape action figure.
DeSantis demonstrates a considerably greater amount of discipline than his idol, but he still manages to hit the same pugilistic heights. He has adopted nearly all of Trump’s policy positions—to the extent such things exist at all—emulating his fellow Florida man on Covid and immigration policy, among others.
But one of DeSantis’s achievements in his study of the Trumpian arts stands out above the rest. The Florida governor has, perhaps better than anyone in the contemporary GOP, mastered Trump’s main innovation: shitposting as policymaking. He has wrangled with Disney, one of his state’s most important employers, over made-up culture-war beefs about inclusivity and “wokeness.” On Thursday, he arguably took things further than ever, by flying dozens of asylum-seeking migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
“States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden Administration’s open border policies,” DeSantis’s communications director, Taryn Fenske, said in a statement.
There is no actual point to DeSantis’s actions beyond weaponizing his own petulance—and the fervent hope that somewhere, even if it’s just online, some libs will be triggered. It’s a policy that accomplishes nothing beyond doing a grave indecency to some needful human beings for the sake of a live-action troll job. Its only point is to garner some attention from the Fox News set by portraying people who are merely seeking safety and economic security as violent criminals and traffickers. The 50-some migrants who were spirited away are just pawns in a political stunt aimed at raising DeSantis’s profile as presidential primary season nears.
And it was a classic Trump move: pointless, cruel, designed only to provoke. Trump’s border wall—still his signature policy—remains the quintessential policy position of the contemporary Republican Party. It is, first and foremost, a troll. It does little, if nothing, to reduce undocumented immigration. It is a metaphor more than a policy, flaunting what purports to be the simple solution to an incredibly complex issue: If only the politicians in D.C. had common sense—and weren’t cowed by political correctness—they would just do what was necessary. It is, of course, not a real solution but a scam—and one to which various grifters have attached their own cons.
But these swindles are also the inevitable result of the Republican Party’s retreat from policymaking. Unable to come to any compromise on immigration—the party’s stance is now that all immigration should be reduced to nil—the GOP has nothing to offer but cheap spectacle and carnival flimflam.
And like most carny acts, it’s derivative: Trump, unsurprisingly, already scripted much of DeSantis’s geek show. In the spring of 2019, he mused to reporters about shipping undocumented immigrants to “sanctuary cities.”
“We’ll bring them to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it, whether it’s a state or whatever it might be,” Trump said. Then he went on to mention California. “We’ll give them more people. We can give them a lot. We can give them an unlimited supply, and let’s see if they’re so happy. They say, ‘We have open arms.’”
It isn’t just immigration where the right has embraced the culture of trolling and shitposting instead of actual policymaking. The party’s approach to vaccines and Covid-19 mitigation efforts has undoubtedly cost scores of lives; but it was largely formulated as a means of undercutting Democratic governors who took a more activist approach during the height of the Covid pandemic.
Conservatives are equally eager to set fire to what few beliefs they purport to hold sincerely for the purpose of getting some lulz. Earlier this year, Republicans in Congress briefly blocked their own tech policy—which would have lessened the degree to which the country relied on China to produce vital conductors—as part of a tantrum after Democrats reached a compromise on a spending bill. Policies only have value to Republicans if they “own the libs,” which means that actual policymaking is a tertiary concern at best.
But the idea behind DeSantis’s decision to send asylum-seekers to a well-known liberal haven in a blue state is predicated on a simple assumption: Those on the left who advocate for compassionate immigration policy are, actually, hypocrites who, when faced with actual undocumented immigrants to care for, will recoil and embrace the right’s fascistic approach.
Except that hasn’t happened. The migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard were cared for by volunteers at a local church. “We’re doing what churches are supposed to do and taking care of people as they show up,” one volunteer told The Washington Post. DeSantis’s move is cruel and inhumane, but it’s now the ticket to success in the Republican Party. Democrats and their liberal allies have an obvious way to counter these stunts: They can simply do the work the GOP has abandoned, demonstrate their ability to govern, and own the cons by cleaning up the messes their whiny trolls leave behind.