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Ron DeSantis is desperate and exceedingly dangerous
The ad his campaign circulated, courting incels and neo-Nazis, is the most anti-LGBTQ presidential political campaign ad we've ever seen.
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Last night I was a guest on the always insightful and wonderfully unrelenting Joy Reid’s MSBNC show, The ReidOut. And I was delighted to be joined by my friend and SiriusXM colleague, Clay Cane.
The topic: The weird, unhinged, and virulently anti-LGBTQ ad that Ron DeSantis’ campaign shared on social media on the last day of Pride month, last Friday. I had described the ad here over the weekend:
He’s touting his viciously anti-LGBTQ agenda by using headlines of progressives and queer people criticizing him, and he’s attacking Trump as being pro-LGBTQ—when Trump, of course, eviscerated LGBTQ rights. The video is interspersed with hypermasculine and ominous imagery meant to convey him as some sort of warlord or superhero—badly ripping off, by the way, the Biden "Dark Brandon" meme—who will stamp out evil.
However, on closer inspection and with the help of those who cover the extremists as well as pop culture references, it turns out to be even worse than that. I described it to Joy when she said she and her team "had all day been trying to figure out what this ad is."
"I don’t even know what that ad is supposed to be," Joy said, asking me my thoughts on it. "It looks like an ad for a nightclub or something."
We all smiled because, yes, the thumping dance beat and what Pete Buttigieg had described as homoerotic imagery certainly made it seem so. And it just baffled a lot of people. But that was actually part of the point—the intended result—as those messages weren’t meant for the vast majority of people, or even the vast majority of Trumpers. They were more like a kind of dog whistle to violent young male extremists.
As I explained on The ReidOut, the ad is trying to do two things for the desperate DeSantis, who is attempting but failing to cut substantially into Donald Trump’s base.
First, the ad, somewhat laughably, tries to depict Trump as too pro-LGBTQ. This is ridiculous because Trump was the most anti-LGBTQ president in history. The ad uses some comments Trump made in 2016 that seemed mildly supportive but that, like much else with Trump, meant nothing once he became president and began slashing rights and putting anti-LGBTQ Christian ideologues on the courts.
DeSantis uses snippets of headlines and clips of TV commentators talking about how extremely anti-LGBTQ he’s been in his actions as governor of Florida to further position himself to the right of Trump on LGBTQ rights. As I stated to Joy, he’s trying to out-hate Trump. It’s a message meant for the Christian nationalist base, which has been loyal to Trump but whom DeSantis thinks he might cleave off, at least a little bit.
The second thing he’s trying to do, however, is much more ominous. The hypermasculine alpha male imagery—the body builders and the film clips—are memes used in far-right forums for years by incels and neo-Nazis. The ad actually makes a transition from contrasting DeSantis with Trump to this darker imagery with a sudden, pounding, manly-man drumbeat.
As Prem Thakker at The New Republic described it in decoding the very quickly interspersed images, which you can miss if you don’t watch it carefully:
The remainder of the video is set to a music track straight out of the coldest and most socially disconnected corners of YouTube and TikTok (the Andrew Tate cinematic universe)…
…The ad is also a strange pop-culture pastiche and relies heavily on images from films and television. There’s Christian Bale as American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman (an elite Wall Street mover and shaker, fan of Donald Trump, prep school and Harvard alum, and also, serial killer, rapist, and cannibal).
There’s Brad Pitt starring in Troy as the Greek hero Achilles (who, in the Iliad, has been interpreted to have gone on a vengeful rampage after the death of his gay lover, Patroclus).
There’s Cilian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders (a show that depicted the rise of fascism and nationalism, as well as the literal and psychological ravages of war and violence).
And, finally, there’s Leonardo DeCaprio as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, in which the actor portrayed a coked-up Wall Street fraudster who celebrates greed and fraud. (Tyler the Creator also once said he "one hundred percent would go gay for ’96 Leo.")
Again, these are references and memes that connect with incels and young white nationalist extremists, from neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes who met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago—and who’s been recruiting incels—to the Proud Boys, who’ve terrorizing drag queens and transgender people. These are violent, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic groups and individuals who organize online and offline.
They’re extremists who are an engine of the MAGA movement and an important element of the cult following that Trump has in the MAGA base. DeSantis wants that cult following desperately. The ad is trying to create a connection between him and them by reaching out to them. But it’s doing it in a way that the campaign hoped they’d pick up on while everyone else wouldn’t, either not seeing that imagery, not knowing what it is, or just thinking it’s a little crazy and fun.
Whether or not it’s successful remains to be seen—it seem like it backfired big time— but it does show how desperate and dangerous DeSantis is. Even if it helps him in the primary race, this video in the general election is a likely disaster, like so much else that DeSantis has done, including signing a six-week abortion ban.
But DeSantis—even facing condemnation from the pathetic Log Cabin Republicans, who labeled the ad “homophobic,” but whose leader said he’s still “not gonna give up on Ron DeSantis” —has doubled down on it. He said in a streaming interview with far-right Tomi Lahren yesterday that, "Identifying Donald Trump as really being a pioneer in injecting gender ideology into the mainstream, where he was having men compete against women in his beauty pageants—I think that’s totally fair game, because he’s now campaigning saying the opposite."
Trump may in fact top DeSantis yet—as Trump has been viciously attacking transgender people in videos and speeches—but this DeSantis ad has got to be the most overtly homophobic, transphobic, Nazi-courting, violence-promoting presidential political ad we’ve ever seen.
Programming note: I’ll be taking a much-needed vacation at the end of July, the 19th through the 30th, and will likely not be posting here.