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DeSantis' slavery gaffe is his Dean Scream moment
Is recovery even possible for the onetime herald of a post Trump GOP?
I am not the first to point out that Gov. Ron DeSantis has a Dean streak running through his campaign.
Twenty years ago, Howard Dean was the dynamic frontrunner of the Democratic Party, poised by pollsters to beat out John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Joe Liberman in the New Hampshire primary six months away. Between July and the Iowa caucuses in late January 2004, John Kerry muscled himself into a win, as “the comeback kid.” John Edwards took an unlikely second, leaving Dean a bitter third at 18 percent. Then, “the scream.” We know how it ended, with Kerry trouncing Dean by 10 points.
CNN reporter Kit Maher asked DeSantis about Florida’s new Black history standards, specifically about middle school instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” It was a loaded question, for sure, but really an easy pitch to swing at. DeSantis not only swung and missed, he hit himself in the head with the bat in the process.
Maher tweeted DeSantis’ answer: “You should talk to them about it. I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved in it.”
“They’re probably going to show some of the the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into, into doing things later in life.”
“DeSantis continued,” Maher tweeted:
“The reality is, all of that is rooted in whatever is factual. They listed everything out. And if you have any questions about it, just ask the Department of Education…these were scholars who put that together. It was not anything that was done politically.”
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Of all the thumbless, stupid, hamfisted things to say in response to a question about slavery, that’s one for the campaign-meets-iceberg hall of fame. If DeSantis is looking for his “Dean scream” moment, this is likely it. Answering a question about slavery with anything other than broad condemnation is just stupid, and only slightly more offensive in the pantheon of political suicide than saying how some Jews benefitted from the Holocaust.
DeSantis is not a dumb guy. But he can’t help himself in giving stupid answers to softball questions that he believes are traps by hostile reporters, so he goes all lawyer and ends up joining the exclusive club populated by Howard Dean, Ed Muskie, Gary Hart, and Newt Gingrich: politicians who suicided their campaigns with their own words or monkey business.
Now the dogpile begins… The Hill headline reads “Christie: DeSantis reaction to slavery curriculum in Florida ‘not leadership’.” Even gormless Vice President Kamala Harris got a dig in.
“Come on — adults know what slavery really involved,” Harris said. “It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby from their mother. It involved some of the worst examples of depriving people of humanity in our world. How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?”
Making Harris, speaking without a teleprompter, sound good, is the sign of a campaign about to suck itself beyond the event horizon, to be forever frozen in time as the world moves on to better candidates.
Of course, it’s possible—anything is possible—that DeSantis’ campaign can recover from this self-immolation. It’s also possible that Donald Trump can host a “Barbie” viewing for 10,000 eager MAGAites. But the two things, to me, seem to share the same level of likelihood.
Yes, DeSantis, who can’t climb past Donald Trump on his best day in his best poll, in any state, appears to have done himself in here. You can’t get past a slavery gaffe of this proportion. Even if a politician was somehow slippery and savvy enough to do it (only Donald Trump has that level of necromancy), I wouldn’t want them in the White House or within 100 miles of it.
And don’t tell me that Joe Biden commits worse gaffes. Maybe Biden’s gaffes are equally as bad—and have sunk his presidential campaigns in the past. But we all know that the sole reason President Biden is president, is because there was nobody else left to run. So, if Gov. DeSantis becomes the only Republican in the race—let’s say Trump is locked up, Gov. Christie is kidnapped by aliens, and the rest disappear into an Ayn Rand cult hidden in the Rocky Mountains—then, sure, I’m open to the possibility of a DeSantis nomination.
Other than that, the man is Dean scream fodder.