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DeSantis out-dumbs Trump on 'law and order' with criminal justice reform claim

The upstart GOP candidate turned to tried-and-true (but untrue) scare tactics to fearmonger over 2018's bipartisan First Step Act.


Common sense tells us a criminal justice reform bill passed by a bipartisan Congress and signed into law by a Republican president can't reasonably be called a "jailbreak bill."

Yet that’s how Ron DeSantis chose to describe 2018's First Step Act to right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro on Friday. Registering sensible, bipartisan reform as a liability is a sad commentary on the 2024 presidential candidate as well as Republican primary voters.

As its name suggests, the First Step Act — signed into law by Donald Trump and supported by Republicans and Democrats alike — was a first step toward making small criminal justice improvements, like curbing some drug sentences, aiming to reduce recidivism, and expanding compassionate release. It was hardly revolutionary. Still, DeSantis vowed to repeal what he misleadingly called the “jailbreak bill” (which, by the way, he supported an earlier version of while he was still in Congress).

That deceptive descriptor is the latest evidence that the Florida governor likes to roleplay the "law and order" fantasy rather than govern. Indeed, the "tough-on-crime" talk fits well with the murderer’s row of backward bills he has supported while running his state off the deep end, using the awesome power of the law as a political cudgel rather than as a tool to help people. Shrinking at the prospect of minimal justice reform is right at home with DeSantis’ far-right portfolio of unleashing guns onto the streets while stripping away women’s rights, intimidating minority voters, and fighting a corporate mouse.

Even the likes of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who's dead wrong about much else, called DeSantis "dead wrong" about the legislation that Lee and other Republicans supported.

Making this all the more sinister, DeSantis offered his feigned “jailbreak” concern while teasing his appetite for pardoning people convicted in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. In another interview last week, DeSantis whined about the “uneven application of justice” with the purportedly lax prosecutorial treatment of Black Lives Matter protestors compared to Jan. 6 insurrectionists. An irony of this malevolent stupidity is that one of the First Step Act’s modest components was bringing uneven crack cocaine sentences more in line — though, to be sure, not completely in line — with powder cocaine sentences.

Of course, clemency for people convicted for Jan. 6 — whether bestowed by DeSantis, Trump or any other faux “law and order” adherent — would be more of a jailbreak.

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