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Ron DeSantis eyes a possible U.S. military offensive in Mexico

The Republican Party has come a long way since “self-deportation”: Ron DeSantis is eyeing a military offensive against our allied neighbor to the south.


As president, George W. Bush supported a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform package. In 2008, John McCain was arguably a little to Bush’s right on the issue, but the Arizona senator nevertheless had a record of having voted for early iterations of the DREAM Act.

By 2012, as the Republican Party moved sharply to the right, Mitt Romney championed “self-deportation.” Four years later, Donald Trump announced plans to build a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border. It became difficult to imagine leading GOP voices becoming even more radical.

But the party has clearly found a way.

A New York Times report on last night’s Republican presidential debate noted that during the event, “there were almost no evocations of immigration as one of the triumphant strains in the American tapestry, just a steady drumbeat of menace.” As a result, the analysis added, “proposals that were once fringe have become mainstream.”

On this front, one candidate stood out among the crowd. From the Times’ report:

Asked whether he would send special forces into Mexico to combat drug cartels, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida didn’t hesitate to swing for the fences. “Yes, and I will do it on day one,” he said.

The far-right governor went on to declare, “When these drug pushers are bringing fentanyl across the border, that is going to be the last thing they do. We are going to use force and leave them stone-cold dead.”

For those familiar with DeSantis’ national candidacy, the rhetoric was familiar. Indeed, in practically all of the Florida Republican’s public appearances, he repeats the “stone-cold dead” phrase as a go-to applause line — because the governor has apparently found that GOP audiences respond favorably to the idea of lethal violence at the border.

To the extent that substantive policy details matter, it’s worth emphasizing that most of the fentanyl smuggled into the United States is brought in by U.S. citizens, which suggests that DeSantis’ “stone-cold dead” plan would involve the killing of Americans.

But if the Florida Republican has grappled with this aspect of the issue, he has hidden his concerns well. DeSantis has a vision that entails deploying troops into Mexico, executing drug smugglers, and possibly even using drone strikes on Mexican soil.

In case this isn’t obvious, Mexico is a U.S. ally, a U.S. neighbor and our biggest trading partner.

It would also apparently become a military target in a prospective DeSantis administration.

As bizarre as this might sound, the governor’s over-the-top rhetoric has become surprisingly normal in contemporary GOP politics. In March, for example, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said the Trump administration made “a mistake” by not launching military strikes in Mexico. A month later, Politico published a report that said: “A growing number of prominent Republicans are rallying around the idea that to solve the fentanyl crisis, America must bomb it away.”

As the summer progressed, a variety of GOP senators — including Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Louisiana’s John Kennedy and Ohio’s J.D. Vance — voiced support for U.S. military operations in Mexico.

DeSantis, in other words, has quite a bit of company. As the Times’ Jamelle Bouie put it overnight, it’s “genuinely bonkers that ‘invade Mexico’ is a mainstream Republican position.”

It’s enough to make “self-deportation” look moderate by comparison.

The conventional wisdom suggests Trump’s rise to power in GOP politics changed the party’s approach to foreign policy and shifted power away from neocons and military interventionists. And while I appreciate the fact that there’s some truth to that, it’s important to recognize the fact that this same ostensibly post-neocon Republican Party seems awfully eager to launch a military offensive against the United States’ allied neighbor.

For more on the issue, I’d recommend this report from Vox’s Zack Beauchamp and this related piece from The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, the latter of whom explained why “the MAGA hysteria about bombing Mexico is dumber than you thought.”