The Courage to Be … Dull

Well, it’s certainly hard to avoid seeing Ron DeSantis these days. He’s all over the place, promoting his new book.

Have you been paying attention? Here’s a pop quiz. DeSantis’s tome is called:

A. “The Courage to Be Free”

B. “From the Panhandle to Pensacola”

C. “Available to Speak Is My Middle Name”

Yeah, yeah. “The Courage to Be Free” it is. And let me be honest with you, people. I made it only about halfway through before throwing in the proverbial towel.

That was when DeSantis was bragging about classifying the taping of professional wrestling matches as an “essential” service during Covid lockdown. And if he’d gone on to, say, tell us about meeting Hulk Hogan, we’d have been in totally different territory. But no — there are virtually no interesting stories or amusing anecdotes in the book. The defining lesson from “The Courage to Be Free” is that Ron DeSantis is really boring.

His speeches don’t seem any better. On Wednesday he gave a long address denying that his administration had anything to do with banning books. (“That’s really a nasty hoax.”) In which he demonstrated that it’s possible to be passionate in a really non-engrossing way.

This week’s State of the State speech to the Florida Legislature was another snooze. To be fair, these aren’t generally addresses you’d ever want to tape for after-dinner entertainment. But if the executive in question has national-level ambitions, his staff will generally toss in at least one quotable moment.

Nah. There was only a little anti-vaxxing. (“No Floridians should have to choose between a job they need and a shot they don’t want.”) And a lot of introducing guests, notably the happy police officers who went to Florida under a state recruitment bonus program. No mention that said program was paid for with federal funds.

We did see some tender shots of the governor waving to his wife and kids. Casey DeSantis, a former talk show host, is a very important factor in her husband’s career. Perhaps you remember the video she sent out during his re-election campaign that began, “And on the eighth day God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a protector.’”

Hard to imagine Melania Trump coming up with something like that. Hey, whatever happened to Melania, anyway? This is an excellent opening for a comparison of the two most talked-about potential Republican presidential candidates.

Wait wait wait wait!!! Why should I worry about comparing DeSantis and Trump when I’m not going to vote for either one of them anyway?

Calm down. It’s your job as a concerned citizen to know about this stuff.

Let’s take abortion. DeSantis, always an opponent, said he was “proud” to have signed a bill banning abortion at 15 weeks, and he has promised to do the same with a bill now bouncing around the State Legislature that would basically prohibit ending a pregnancy before most women have any idea they’re pregnant.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a guy who told a national TV audience “I am very pro-choice in every respect” back in 1999, but ran for president in 2016 promising to appoint a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The transformation had absolutely nothing to do with ethical evolution. It was all about his discovery, when he started eyeing the Republican nomination, that you could get a ton of applause at conservative events if you mentioned the evils of abortion.

So would you rather see the guy with political principles win? Even if you hate the principles in question? DeSantis has well-worked-out right-wing positions on everything, from vaccines to the teaching of anything about gender identity in public schools. That’s the issue that got him into a war with Disney World — and truly, you have to be pretty darned conservative to be pals with World Wrestling Entertainment but a foe of the Magic Kingdom.

Trump, meanwhile, is intensely opposed to … taxes. That really does come from deep in his heart. The rest is kind of whatever works.

And he does love connecting with the public — at least the friendly segment. While DeSantis was out promoting his book, Trump was at the Conservative Political Action Conference making a more, um, vigorous presentation. (“I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”)

When DeSantis wants to get people excited, he generally falls back on the war against “woke.” Last year, after an easy win in the Republican gubernatorial primary, he made a speech in which observers counted five assaults on wokeism in under 20 seconds.

So here are the choices. One is a rather dull potential Republican presidential nominee who wants you to think of him as a very conservative deep thinker.

The other just wants to stay in the headlines. Trump was happy to talk with reporters before his CPAC speech, even when the question was whether he’d keep running if indicted in any of the ongoing criminal investigations into his behavior. (Perhaps it goes without saying, but the answer was yes.)

OK, you wouldn’t vote for either of these guys even if the contest was for an Academy Award for best inaccurate documentary. But warm weather’s coming — time to prepare for those spring picnic conversations.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Back to top button