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Ron DeSantis is the political version of Clark Griswold

The Florida governor's coercive style of politics is like Chevy Chase's character's fanatical obsession with getting his family to Walley World in "Vacation."


Virtually every feature written about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a megalomania that’s become apparent to folks who’ve watched the Republican over the years. 

You’ve undoubtedly heard variations of this, perhaps framed this way: that DeSantis would be even worse than Donald Trump from a civil rights perspective, because he’s a true adherent to a right-wing worldview (whereas Trump’s adherence is more so out of political convenience). I think there’s something to this theory. 

DeSantis appears to relish the political minutiae in ways Trump doesn’t. He seems to take delight in devising and effectuating specific plans to hurt political enemies.

To me, this is more a tactical difference from Trump than a moral one. DeSantis is more technically aware of how to wield political power in nefarious ways. And, dare I say, he’s even more self-assured that these crazed political ambitions are actually wanted by the masses. 

Despite backing policies restricting voting rights, access to health care and education, press freedoms and immigration, DeSantis remains insistent that Florida is a top destination because of what he has done

Even Trump poked a hole in DeSantis’ balloon on this front, noting in a social media post that Florida was an attraction long before its current governor arrived. 

“SUNSHINE AND OCEAN, very alluring!!!” he wrote

DeSantis recently clapped back at Trump’s mockery. 

“You can call me whatever you want ... as long as you also call me a winner,” the governor said in an interview

And sure, for a certain type of political enthusiast — the type who believes in winning at all costs, even at the cost of freedom — DeSantis may seem like a godsend. But I find it odd that a man who boasts so much about winning is so clueless, or careless, about the fact that he has rigged the game in his favor. 

Apparently, DeSantis believes being feared and being loved are one and the same. But there’s something creepy about holding your opponents at (figurative) gunpoint and telling everyone this amounts to a good time for all involved. 

In that light, I’d been searching for the perfect metaphor to convey the oddity of DeSantis’ coercive politics and his jolly portrayal of these politics as desirable. 

And then it hit me: Clark Griswold, Chevy Chase’s character in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

In the movie, Clark has one goal: to get his family to the Walley World theme park. And he engages in all sorts of destruction en route to getting there, as his family frighteningly goes along for the ride. 

The film comes to a head when the family finally reaches Walley World only to discover it’s closed. Clark pulls a real-looking BB gun on a security guard and forces him to escort the Griswolds from ride to ride.

So, Walley World is executive power and Republicans are like the Griswolds being dragged along. Conservatives like DeSantis — maybe even love him — but they’re a bit concerned by his recklessness, his awkwardness and, in some cases, even his possible disregard for the law as he pursues total control.

And, I insist, the creepy “aren’t we having fun” energy is plentiful in both Clark Griswold and Ron DeSantis.

Remember, for example, that DeSantis overstepped right-wingers in the Florida Legislature last year to demand the passage of a gerrymandered map that diminished the power of Black voters even more than Florida Republicans had already planned

And he demanded that lawmakers strip Disney of its special business classification after the company’s CEO lightly defended LGBTQ people targeted by a DeSantis-backed law. Ultimately, lawmakers had to change course to avoid hurting local taxpayers. 

It’s noteworthy that DeSantis has out-crazied the Florida GOP on some fronts. And many conservatives are playing with fire by portraying him as a leader of their movement.

To the extent Republicans hitch their wagons to DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate, they’re banking their political futures on — and I want to be technical here — a certified weirdo whose social skills and ability to persuade are even less impressive than the party’s last presidential candidate’s.