God may have made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, but according to the gospel of the Ron DeSantis re-election campaign, the Almighty needed one more day to complete His creation. On the eighth day, the campaign tells us, God sent Ron DeSantis to save America.
By rewriting the words of the Bible, DeSantis changes the meaning of the text.
BRIAN KAYLOR, ORDAINED MINISTER FOR WORD&WAY
In a new video ad the Florida Republican’s wife, Casey, shared on Friday, the narrator tells us that on day eight, “God looked down on His planned paradise and said, ‘I need a protector.’ So God made a fighter.” That fighter is DeSantis, the governor who will serve the people, and “save their jobs, their livelihoods, their liberty, their happiness.”
The ad is so ham-handed that one could imagine DeSantis later claiming it was tongue-in-cheek. He has not, so far. But even if it is just a tease, like many far-right and authoritarian “jokes,” DeSantis is not kidding around. The ad is dangerous and anti-democratic, and was meant that way.
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DeSantis’ premise — that just as God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to bring salvation to a sinful world, he has sent DeSantis to save an immoral America — seems so over the top that it’s hard to believe the campaign would use it. After all, DeSantis’ base of Christian right supporters believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, and that God exists in the trinity of the father, the son and the holy spirit — a concept that for two-thousand years has notably not included the governor of Florida. Had anyone other than a conservative Republican tampered with it, there surely would have been an outcry from the Christian right.
But the religious right will thrill to the ad’s message: Other people — Democrats, liberals, government officials — are taking away your freedoms, and God has sent DeSantis to vanquish them. In the ad, DeSantis is a dedicated, indefatigable “fighter” who “will take the arrows, stand firm in the wake of unrelenting attacks, look a mother in the eyes and tell her that her child will be in school. She can keep her job, go to church, eat dinner with friends, and hold the hand of an aging parent taking their breath for the last time.”
That last sequence focuses on restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those long-expired rules remain potent fodder for the Republican Party intent on ensuring their voters remain aggrieved by “tyrannical” big government (even though those rules saved an untold number of lives). The mention of church, in particular, is aimed at the GOP’s Christian right base, which spent much of the early days of the pandemic protesting and litigating Covid restrictions as government excesses meant to destroy religious freedom, rather than public health measures implemented to save lives.
Whatever DeSantis does next — shipping more migrants to Massachusetts, cracking down further on LGBTQ rights, or running for president — will be portrayed as just what God intended.
As for the notion that God anoints politicians to save America, that framing is aimed at right-wing evangelical and charismatic Christians in particular, who believe in supernatural occurrences in the political world, in signs, wonders, and miracles, and in the anointing by God of modern-day apostles and prophets. They support Donald Trump, and believe God anointed him, too. They believe that America was founded as a Christian nation, that demonic enemies are seeking to destroy America’s Christian heritage and values. And they see it as is their duty, as Christians, to engage in spiritual warfare against those enemies — hence DeSantis’ portrayal as the brave martyr who “will take the arrows” on their behalf.
This commercial isn’t a new strategy for Florida’s governor. In several appearances over the summer, he cited Ephesians 6, which reads, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” But DeSantis made one notable modification. Instead of “the devil’s,” he said “the left’s.”
“By rewriting the words of the Bible, DeSantis changes the meaning of the text,” Brian Kaylor, an ordained minister and author wrote in September. “The author of Ephesians was talking to persecuted Christians to encourage them to remain committed to the ways of God. It’s not a call to go on the offensive against other people.”
Yet that is exactly what DeSantis called for in those speeches and in the new ad. The ad does not name or identify specific enemies of freedom, nor does it use the “armor of God” language DeSantis was invoking a few months ago. But the message is nonetheless crystal clear: God sent DeSantis to save you, and a victory on Tuesday is a fulfillment of God’s will. Whatever DeSantis does next — shipping more migrants to Massachusetts, cracking down further on LGBTQ rights, or running for president — will be portrayed as just what God intended.
DeSantis’ claim of having been anointed is an assertion of raw power, a provocation to a religious base and a direct danger to democracy. The Jan. 6 insurrection was spurred in part by the zealotry of Christian nationalist supporters of Donald Trump, who said that because God anointed him, his election loss could only be explained as an assault by demonic forces, carried out as a “deep state” plot. This new ad, which lays down a marker for a possible DeSantis presidential run in 2024, builds on those dangerous impulses and provides a clear signal of how the governor plans to marshal religious fervor to campaign and to govern.