The Worst Things Ron DeSantis Has Ever Said

In recent years, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has become a rising star in the sphere of conservative politics in America. He has also generated a substantial amount of buzz as a potential presidential candidate in 2024.

If you've been anywhere in or near America since, oh, 2015 or so, you probably have an idea what this means: that he has made a name for himself by using language and pursuing policies that could politely be described as "controversial." Critics and voters alike have likened his language and those policies as racist, homophobic, anti-trans, and lacking in scientific merit.

DeSantis also aligns closely with former President Donald Trump on his stances, although the latter is usually more blunt and ineloquent in his speech and controversial opinions. Still, DeSantis' comments on everything from gun control to COVID to the LGBTQ+ community have served to spread misinformation, divide, and alienate.

Ron DeSantis trots out an anti-Islam dog whistle

During the time Ron DeSantis, then a member of the United States House of Representatives, was campaigning for Senate in 2015, the Paris terrorist attacks occurred — a series of coordinated attacks in which 130 people were killed, and scores more were injured. Days afterward, DeSantis addressed the crowd at the Republican Sunshine Summit in Florida, a speech during which he made the following statement: "I think we have to identify the enemy and call it by its name — and the enemy is an ideology rooted in militant Islam" (via Orlando Sentinel).

Now, it is true that militant Islamist groups have been responsible for plenty of acts of terrorism — but these groups constitute the fringe of a religion that has nearly 2 billion worldwide adherents, and to invoke such loaded phrases as "the enemy" in describing the fringe is to risk painting the entire religion with the same brush. It bears mentioning, as well, that DeSantis has had nothing to say about the threat of far-right extremist terrorism, much of which is rooted in white supremacy. 

In 2019, Congress introduced a bill intended to crack down on domestic terror groups, which explicitly acknowledged that "White supremacists and other far-right-wing extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States," while pointing out that since 2001, white supremacists have been responsible for more fatal terror attacks than any other ideological group.

Spreading misinformation on gun violence

By any reasonable metric, the U.S. has a severe problem with gun violence. According to the CDC, the 45,222 gun deaths that occurred in 2020 were easily the most on record; a 2022 study in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice concluded that between 1998 and 2019, the U.S. accounted for fully 73% of mass shootings globally. Multiple studies have shown that strict gun laws have the effect of greatly reducing gun deaths, according to research done by RAND; it's also been determined that over three-quarters of mass shooters obtain their weapons legally, as per a study compiled by the National Institute of Justice. This did not stop Ron DeSantis, at a January 2013 town hall, from uttering this blatant falsehood: "Very rarely do firearms restrictions affect criminals. They really only affect law-abiding citizens" (via St. Augustine Record).

At another town hall the following month, DeSantis was put on the spot by parents of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, during which Adam Lanza (who used guns legally obtained by his mother) killed 20 children and six adults. Asked by one of those parents, Mark Barden, how he intended to address the issue as a lawmaker, DeSantis would say only that Lanza shouldn't have "been allowed to use a gun." Following the town hall, Barden was blunt in his assessment of DeSantis' response. "He didn't really answer the question," Barden said. "We didn't really expect him to" (via HuffPost).

Discouraging vaccination against COVID

When it comes to fearmongering and spreading misinformation about the effectiveness and/or potential pitfalls of COVID-19 vaccines, Ron DeSantis hasn't exactly needed help. Despite the wealth of studies showing that the vaccines help prevent infection (in regards to both previous strains and the dominant Omicron variant) and significantly reduce the risk of serious illness or death (both in the previously infected and otherwise), DeSantis has gone on record with statements directly contradicting both of these facts.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, DeSantis — who previously toured Florida promoting the COVID vaccine in 2021 but appears to have had a change of heart — has been known to use press conferences to trash vaccines, saying in November 2021, "COVID vaccines are not preventing infection, okay, it's just not," and proclaiming in January 2022 that there is "a lot of distrust in some of these government officials because remember, they would say just six months ago, COVID shots mean you will not get COVID. That's just not factually true." While it is true that some politicos, including President Joe Biden, have overstated the effectiveness of the vaccines, many of these statements were made before said effectiveness was fully understood, and the fact remains that straight-up discouraging vaccination against the virus is wildly irresponsible at best.

Saying the quiet part out loud, part one

Few Democratic politicians raise the ire of Republicans quite like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic socialist who grinds a lot of gears by virtue of that description alone. Being well-informed, articulate, and having clear policy ideas seems to get on the nerves of politicos like Ron DeSantis, who took aim at Ocasio-Cortez during a 2018 campaign event after she won her nomination to the House of Representatives. "When you look at this girl," DeSantis said, "Ocasio-Cortez, or whatever she is, I mean, she's in a totally different universe" ().

There are at least two things that are seriously wrong with that, starting with the characterization of a female political opponent as a "girl" and ending with language that is literally dehumanizing with respect to said opponent. But in characteristically concise and bitingly sarcastic fashion, Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter shortly after DeSantis made his remarks to deflate the future governor's vitriol. "Rep. DeSantis, it seems you're confused as to 'whatever I am,'" she tweeted. "I am a Puerto Rican woman. It's strange you don't know what that is, given that [more than] 75,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida in the 10 [months] since [Hurricane] María."

Saying the quiet part out loud, part two

Just a couple of months after blurting out what could quite easily be construed as a racist dog whistle when referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ron DeSantis appeared to say the quiet part out loud again, in even more egregious fashion, when railing against his Democratic opponent in the Florida gubernatorial race during on appearance on Fox News. In his attempt to paint the progressive-leaning Andrew Gillum, who is Black, as a far-left whack job, DeSantis used some extremely unfortunate language, saying, "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. That is not going to work. That's not going to be good for Florida."

Now, as you may be aware, there is a specific word contained in that remark that has an ugly racist history, and it's difficult to believe that DeSantis is not aware of this, also. DeSantis' spokesman hand-waved the remark in response to the predictable backlash, saying that it was "absurd" to characterize it as racist. But appearing on Fox News in the aftermath, Gillum himself concisely disagreed. "[Republicans] no longer do whistle calls," he said. "They're now using full bullhorns."

Mischaracterizing Critical Race Theory, part one

So, for context, let's get this straight right off the bat. Critical Race Theory is an academic framework, over four decades old, that examines institutional and systemic racial disparities in American society and the means by which people of color have long been placed at a disadvantage due to the inherent biases present in those systems. This framework is used to examine racial issues in some (not all) graduate-level college courses; that is to say, nobody is "teaching CRT" (as it is commonly abbreviated) to kindergartners, or even high schoolers.

Don't try telling this to Ron DeSantis. In a December 2021 statement posted to the Governor's website promoting his "Stop W.O.K.E." act, he stated: "We won't allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other. We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards." He also took aim, for some reason, at workplace sensitivity training, saying, "We must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired 'training' and indoctrination."

Mischaracterizing Critical Race Theory, part two

Critical Race Theory is pretty much exclusively in the domain of college graduate students who are specifically studying racial issues in a historical context in order to examine the extent to which racial disparities still exist in a post-civil rights movement America, and why. But in recent years — particularly since then-President Donald Trump latched on to the concept in 2020 — CRT has been trotted out regularly as a conservative bogeyman, and Ron DeSantis has often been first in line to offer unprovoked, uninformed attacks.

Later in December 2021, DeSantis doubled down on the missive offered on his website in a speech to supporters at a Wildwood, Florida rally. "Nobody wants this crap, okay?" he said. "This is an elite-driven phenomenon being driven by bureaucratic elites, elites in universities and elites in corporate America, and they're trying to shove it down the throats of the American people. You're not doing that in the state of Florida" (via The Miami Times). Of course, nobody is doing any such thing in any state, but that has never stopped DeSantis from using the non-issue of CRT to score political points with his base.

Invoking the ultimate catch-all in the fight against digital currency

In January 2022, the Federal Reserve published a paper exploring the possibility of implementing a digital currency — a "digital liability of a central bank that is widely available to the general public" and is "analogous to a digital form of paper currency." One of the main ideas behind this is to replace unbacked, unstable cryptocurrencies with a digital currency that enjoys the same federal backing, and therefore stability, as paper money — but this idea, even though it is merely a proposal, which is by no means certain to be realized, raised the hackles of Ron DeSantis.

In an April 2023 speech, DeSantis blatantly mischaracterized the proposed implementation of digital currency, pushing the idea into the realm of sinister conspiracy theories. "They're gonna try and impose an ... agenda through [digital currency]. You go and use too much gas, they're gonna stop it, they're not going to honor the transaction because you've already bought more than what they think [you should]," he said. "You want to go buy a rifle they're gonna say no, you have too many of those, you can't do it." This is ridiculous on its face, but he went further by invoking a catchphrase from earlier in the year, saying, "Florida will never, ever surrender to the woke mob because our state is where woke goes to die." 

Characterizing gay people as child predators

In March 2022, Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that had drawn national attention, and for good reason. It carried the innocuous name "Parental Rights in Education," but its many detractors assigned to it a different name: "Don't Say Gay." Essentially, the law criminalizes any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity, in the language of the bill "in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."

It can be argued that such a bill is reactionary at best and completely unnecessary at worst, since sex education doesn't begin that young — but in a statement during a press conference, which was subsequently published on the Governor's website, DeSantis made it pretty clear that he believes the law was necessary to thwart a wicked liberal agenda. "Parents' rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation," he said. "[Parents] should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old." The blatant misuse of the word "sexualize" notwithstanding, nobody ever argued that teaching sex education of any kind to kindergartners was appropriate, but those types of straw man arguments sure come in handy for those who wish to equate LGBTQ folks with child predators — and, as it happened, the Florida Board of Education voted to expand the law to include grades 4 through 12 in April 2023.

Dehumanizing trans people

In March 2022, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a trans woman, won first place in the NCAA women's first-division swimming championship, and in the process became a lightning rod for those who insist on manufacturing controversy over trans athletes, and trans people in general. You may have noticed that conservatives have been stepping up their attacks on the trans community in recent years, and Ron DeSantis is certainly no exception.

A couple months after Thomas' win, DeSantis used a public appearance to trash her victory in crass, inaccurate terms, as reported by The Florida Phoenix. "You have a swimmer that swims on the men's team for three years and then, all of a sudden, says they're gonna identify as a woman swimmer and swim against the women," he said. (This is not true; Thomas skipped a season and had been on hormone replacement therapy for nearly three years at the time of her win.) DeSantis then continued, "And then they give that the national championship over these women who've been training for a long time." Yes, he actually referred to Thomas as "that" — yet another example of dehumanizing language coming from the mouth of a public figure who should know better.

Sounding off against those pesky gun licenses

In March 2023, Ron DeSantis gave a speech during which he asserted his support for a bill that had drawn reactions of horror and outrage from gun control supporters — one which would allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without so much as a permit. In defending the bill, he said, "A constitutional right should not require a permission slip from the government. It is time we joined 25 other states to enact constitutional carry in the state of Florida" (via NBC News).

The next month, DeSantis signed the bill into law — just days after a mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, that left six people dead. Florida's new law flies in the face of hard evidence that common-sense firearm restrictions, such as background checks and licensing, are effective in decreasing gun violence, as per journal Urban Health — but on this issue as with many others, DeSantis is out of step with the people of his state, the vast majority of whom support stricter, not looser, gun laws. As of April 10 — just days after DeSantis gave his speech — there had over 160 mass shootings in the United States in 2023, more than the number of days that had elapsed in the year, per the Gun Violence Archive.

Blatant lies about his 'woke' opposition

Ron DeSantis, those in his orbit, and many modern conservatives in general seem to have a fuzzy understanding of what "woke" ideology is, although they are convinced it embodies everything wrong with America. The slang term originated in the Black community decades ago and essentially describes a state of being informed of, educated about, and sensitive toward issues of social justice. If DeSantis is to be believed, though, it pretty much just means "un-American for the sake of being un-American."

During a press conference in April 2022, DeSantis painted the entirety of those who strive for social justice with one huge, slanderous brush, saying, "This woke ideology, to me, it's cultural Marxism. I mean, if you look what they're doing, they're tearing down statues of Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln and taking George Washington's name off schools. That is what they want to do." These statements range from wildly inaccurate to lacking in proper context, but DeSantis didn't stop there. "There's a reason why they want to do it," he said. "They want to erase history and delegitimize our institutions and the founding of this country, and they want their woke ideology to be the foundational ideology of our country." In uttering these blatant falsehoods, which demonize his perceived domestic opponents and serve to undermine the very concept of democracy, DeSantis paints a grim picture of him as potential president.