No comment: DeSantis ducks question on Trump/Pence dispute over January 6

Good lord. I haven’t seen DeSantis choke on his words this way since he was asked whether he’s received a third dose of America’s groundbreaking, life-saving vaccines.

Refusing to state an opinion about a dispute as salient as this one might strike some as a little … what’s the word? Ah, right: Gutless.

He’s going to have to answer this question, or at least give a convincing non-answer, sometime between now and 2024. He might as well start now.

Occam’s Razor: If DeSantis sided with Trump on whether Pence should have overturned the election, he would have said so here. There’s no penalty in the GOP, particularly among the niche of the party that DeSantis will be courting in a future primary, for being pro-coup. There is a penalty for taking sides against Trump. Which, I assume, is what DeSantis would have done if somehow forced to answer and why he decided that silence is golden instead.

I wonder what he’ll say when he eventually does contrive a response to questions like this. Probably “Who cares about a coup attempt? The past is the past.” Or “I think reasonable people can read the Electoral Count Act differently.”

Not “Obviously the president can’t stay in power indefinitely simply by having his own running mate refuse to certify his defeat.”

DeSantis ducking this question is an interesting contrast with Chris Christie deciding to lean into blaming Trump for January 6. That’s mainly a function of their respective positions within the party in 2022 and whom they imagine their bases to be. DeSantis is the frontrunner in 2024 if Trump doesn’t get in so he’s running the ball on subjects like January 6 (and vaccines), aiming simply not to fumble. Christie is the long longshot who needs to catch up quickly so he’s airing it out, hoping to connect with some meaningful niche among the Republican primary electorate. What that niche might be, I … just don’t know. But it’s nice to have him telling hard truths about the insurrection that Republican voters keep trying to tune out, whatever his motivation.

Speaking of DeSantis trying not to piss Trump voters off, I was surprised this morning to read about Florida’s new abortion law. It’s a Mississippi-style ban on the procedure after 15 weeks, which is a major improvement over most U.S. abortion law (assuming SCOTUS allows it to stand) but by no means the most aggressive pro-life legislation American states have passed lately. That would be Texas’s law, which allows for civil enforcement against abortion providers for terminations performed after six weeks of pregnancy. The DeSantis approach to 2024 so far has been to not let any of his conservative rivals outflank him on grassroots priorities, but he has been outflanked here by Greg Abbott. And not just on any priority but on social conservatives’ highest priority. And some of them have noticed:

The momentum behind the 15-week ban in Florida offers a glimpse into what activists on both sides say is an emerging strategy in some GOP-led legislatures to acclimate voters to a post-Roe world. The objective, these activists say, is to portray the Mississippi-style ban as a sensible compromise — even though a 15-week ban represents a dramatic rollback of the standard established by Roe, which protects the right to abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb, around 22 to 24 weeks. Fifteen-week bans have been introduced recently in West Virginia and Arizona, and just like in Florida, both are moving swiftly through the legislature, even as Texas-style laws in other states have stalled…

One prominent antiabortion lobbyist, Andrew Shirvell, executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, has publicly called on DeSantis to join fellow GOP Govs. Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota and Greg Abbott of Texas to back stricter bans. To date, the strongest abortion law signed by DeSantis, who is up for reelection this year and widely seen as a potential presidential candidate, is a 2020 measure requiring parental consent.

“We’ve had pro-life majorities in our legislature for close to 30 years and a Republican governor for decades. There is really little excuse for this,” Shirvell said. “If you believe that abortion is murder, then you need to act like it.”…

Shirvell accused DeSantis of trying to “have it both ways”: backing an abortion ban to appease the GOP base, but keeping it quiet to avoid alienating moderates.

In fairness to DeSantis, he and Abbott aren’t precisely similarly situated. Florida was Trump +3 in 2020; Texas was Trump +6. A more conservative state can get away with a more conservative abortion law without endangering the majority party. WaPo also notes that a 40-year-old state privacy law has been interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court to protect a right to abortion, which may have made a Texas-style six-week abortion ban a nonstarter legally. DeSantis is on the ballot this fall and an aggressive posture towards banning abortion could alienate some of the centrists who’ve otherwise been won over by his COVID policies. So he’s apparently triangulating, endorsing a ban that’s more restrictive than current law but uncharacteristically not as aggressive as ones signed into law by other Republican governors.

It’s a defensible play. But if Trump doesn’t run in 2024 and DeSantis and Abbott both get in, Abbott is going to bludgeon him with the relative weakness of Florida’s abortion ban. Once Roe is gone, pro-life governors will be expected to deliver maximum benefits for the pro-life movement — even if the politics of their own states aren’t naturally conducive to that. And any aspiring Republican presidential candidate will have to pledge to use the full legal force of the federal government to hamper blue states from carrying out abortions even though the post-Roe regime should, in theory, leave the subject to state control. Which is why I suspect DeSantis will inevitably push for a Texas-style abortion ban in Florida, presumably after he’s safely reelected. He can’t leave himself exposed to attack from the right in 2024 on a litmus test as important as this.

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