Ask any Republican what the Republican Party stands for these days, and the response is likely to center around some them of performance outrage. They’re against a plague of furries who identify as cats, taking over our schools. They’re against the antifa supporters who staged Jan. 6. They’re against whatever they believe can be found on Hunter Biden’s laptop. The modern Republican Party can be defined, not by any policy they are for, but by all the things its against. And what these things have in common is simple: None of them actually exist.
But just because the claimed outrage never happened doesn’t mean that they don’t have real victims. That’s especially true in Florida where outrager-in-chief Ron DeSantis has been selling everything from claims that the SAT exam is “too woke,” to claims that a child’s book about penguins contains “hard core pornography.”
That’s far from the limit to which DeSantis has taken his performance outrage. For the express purpose of generating a “liberal media meltdown” DeSantis targeted a Democratic prosecutor, fired him, and then blasted that prosecutor from the state house, on Fox News, and on every stop of his 2024 tour.
What DeSantis didn’t do was to gather any evidence to justify firing that prosecutor. That’s because there was no evidence.
As The New York Times reports, Andrew Warren had been elected twice by the voters of Hillsborough County to serve as the local prosecutor. When DeSantis climbed onto a stage last summer for one of his multiple daily press events, the Florida governor singled out Warren as one of a group of left-leaning prosecutors who had been “devastating to the rule of law” by selectively enforcing Florida statutes.
However, there was a problem. Even before he stood up to make that accusation, DeSantis knew that members of a secret hit squad had failed to find anything on which to stake DeSantis’ claims about Warren.
In fact, DeSantis had been forced to go back, by hand, and alter a draft of the executive order firing Warren to remove claims about crime statistics. DeSantis made those changes after he was informed that those sent to investigate Warren had looked through all the public records and “could find nothing in them to support the idea that Mr. Warren’s policies had done harm.”
That didn’t stop DeSantis. Instead, he played up Warren’s statements in support of a woman’s right to abortion, and scribbled in new reasons for the firing based around the idea that in failing to investigate women who may have had an abortion, Warren was “picking and choosing” which laws to enforce.
Warren sued, the case was dismissed by a judge who declared that the federal government couldn’t intervene in an internal state decision. Warren has appealed. Discovery in this case has demonstrated just how calculatedly political and groundless DeSantis’ actions actually were.
The truth is that DeSantis’s office did little more to investigate Warren than to determine that he was a Democrat and that he had made public statements in support of progressive positions. They singled out Warren on that basis, because they were looking for an example that DeSantis could use expressly to generate outrage.
Months before suspending Mr. Warren, Mr. DeSantis had ordered his staff to find progressive prosecutors who were letting criminals walk free. Under oath, his aides later acknowledged that they had deliberately avoided investigating Mr. Warren too closely, so that they would not tip him off and prompt him to reverse his policies — thwarting the goal of making an example of him. When contrary information did materialize, Mr. DeSantis and his lawyers dismissed or ignored it, the records show.
Read that carefully. DeSantis supposedly believed that prosecutors with progressive policies were a threat to public safety. He sent investigators out to net some prosecutors he could use as examples. Those investigators didn’t really investigate Warren, because they were afraid they might “tip him to reverse his policies.”
Right there, in this testimony, DeSantis’ team is admitting that they valued providing DeSantis with a target for his attack more than they valued changing the policies they claimed were a threat to public safety. If DeSantis was really convinced that Warren was the captain on the Titanic, he took steps that no one warn him about the iceberg, so that they could denounce him later at the press conference.
It wasn’t until weeks after Warren was fired that DeSantis’ aides bothered to look at the records to find all those criminals that he has surely set free. Only … whoopsie. Turns out there was no evidence of any such thing.
But, as the Times points out, just because DeSantis failed to conduct even a cursory investigation, that doesn’t mean he didn’t plan an excellent media campaign. That included not just haranguing Warren from the governor’s bully pulpit, but identifying “friendly” news outlets to get advanced notice, inside access, and everything they needed to promote the story.
DeSantis’ spokeswoman went all out to set the stage for the big event. And again, she made it clear that the point of this wasn’t to protect the public, or enforce the law. It was being done precisely to cause a “liberal media meltdown” that DeSantis could use to boost his standing with the radical right.
Just the tweet became the source for articles and, of course, speculation on Fox about just what goodie DeSantis was about to deliver.
Tucker Carlson opening his show that evening with a 12-minute grilling of Warren in a speech spent 10 minutes on claims that George Soros had destroyed the value of the British pound and created NGOs that benefit from human suffering, before wheeling around to frame Warren as a Soros disciple out to destroy democracy.
Carlson: “… today, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida—a man who, unlike George Soros, has actually been elected by American voters—decided to sack a Soros-backed prosecutor in his state who's been relentlessly politicizing the justice system in Tampa. That man's name is Andrew Warren. For six years, Warren has refused to enforce laws that George Soros doesn't like. Today that ended.“
Warren’s only real crime seems to be that he had been a critic of DeSantis’ policies on COVID-19, signed a letter (along with 91 other prosecutors) objecting to Florida’s latest abortion law, and noted that a Florida version of “stop and frisk” disproportionally affected Black people. In none of these cases, could DeSantis’ lawyers find evidence that Warren had failed to prosecute violations.
Even though DeSantis went back into his executive order and played up the abortion aspect, he had no evidence that Warren had ever failed to follow through on a case involving Florida’s laws, new or old. He just had Warren’s signature on a letter. DeSantis moved ahead on that alone, even while he was claiming in public that Warren had been selectively enforcing the law for “years.”
They had nothing. Nothing was enough. In a police state, it always is.
It’s still enough. Because DeSantis is still pointing to his firing of Warren as an example of ”the muscular and decisive way he has transformed Florida—and could transform the nation.”