I don't know Rep. Ron DeSantis, the GOP nominee for Florida governor. I met him once. He seemed nice enough. I know he's got an impressive rÃ©sumÃ©. He went to Yale for his B.A. and Harvard for his law degree. He enlisted in the Navy and was deployed overseas as an advisor to the SEALs, among other laudable things. I'm told he's thoughtful and a decent family man.
I'm inclined to believe all of that.
I'm also inclined to believe he won his primary race this week by beclowning himself. His victory was achieved by signaling in every way possible that no one loves President Trump more than he does. "Signal" is too subtle a word. DeSantis' media strategy boiled down to taking every invitation to appear on Fox News (where I am a contributor) and slather the president with praise.
His sycophancy sailed past icky to self-parody when DeSantis released an ad exploiting his family to prove his devotion.
The ad opens with his wife Casey explaining that, "Everyone knows my husband Ron DeSantis is endorsed by President Trump. But he's also an amazing dad. Ron loves playing with the kids."
DeSantis is then seen encouraging his toddler daughter to "build the wall" with toy blocks. He reads from "The Art of the Deal" to his 4-month-old son. "Then Mr. Trump said, 'You're fired.' I love that part," DeSantis coos to the baby, behind a graphic reading, "Ron DeSantis: Pitbull Trump Defender."
Casey chimes back in, "People say he's 'all-Trump,' but he's so much more," as her husband looks down at his baby son in a red "Make America Great Again" onesie.
"Bigly. So good," Mr. DeSantis adds.
I thought it was all gross. That a conservative (claiming to favor federalism) running for governor would make being a yes-man to the chief executive of the federal government his primary qualification is appalling. But it pales in comparison to using his own children as politicized props.
I understand it's supposed to be a joke, but the underlying message was: It's funny because it's true. Or maybe it wasn't true, and cynicism, not worship, was his motivation. It was pathetic either way.
I say all this to make it clear I am not a fan of how DeSantis ran or what he symbolizes in the new, Trumpified GOP.
Still, unless there is some new evidence waiting in the wings, the effort to paint DeSantis as a racist is spectacularly, appallingly dumb.
After winning the primary, DeSantis went on Fox News to talk up his victory and his plans for the general election. He was asked about his opponent, the very progressive mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum. Mayor Gillum has aligned himself with the democratic-socialist insurgency in the Democratic Party. Gillum favors the abolition of ICE, a "living" minimum wage, single-payer health care and, of course, sweeping tax increases.
DeSantis modestly praised Gillum, while adding that he was too liberal for Florida. "He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views," DeSantis said. "... let's build off the success we've had on Governor Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state."
And then the mainstream media lost its mind, insisting that this was a "dog whistle" to white racists. Why? Because Gillum is African-American and DeSantis used the words "monkey" and "articulate."
Was it a poor choice of words? Sure, but only because the media is so determined to weaponize every alleged misstatement -- by a Republican. (Democrats get to make easily weaponized gaffes all the time.) Like Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" remark, this wasn't proof of bigotry but of liberals wanting all of their opponents to be the cartoon racists they imagine them to be. By the way, a Trump sycophant running against a black man doesn't need clever code words to attract racists. He's got that demo sewn up already.
I will admit, one of the most troubling things about a Trumpified GOP is that it makes it harder for conservatives and Republicans (not the same thing) to defend themselves in these situations. Part of me is tempted to say, "You asked for this."
But such thinking will only worsen the problems afflicting not just the GOP but the country. Indeed, one of the reasons we are where we are is that the media has been "reporting" Democratic talking points as news for years. Which is why the "fake news" battle cry has proven so effective.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.