Ron DeSantis Gives Extremist Candidates a Big Embrace

Turning Point Action image promoting "Unite and Win" rallies with Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 presidential hopeful whose bullying culture-warrior persona and embrace of former President Donald Trump have endeared him to the MAGA “America First” wing of the Republican Party, is on a road tour to give his stamp of approval to some of the most extreme and election-denying nominees to make it through Republican Party primaries.

DeSantis’s “Unite and Win” tour has been organized by the political action arm of Turning Point USA, the right-wing youth organizing group founded by Charlie Kirk, whose own political trajectory has shifted from libertarian leaning to aggressive Christian nationalism. Last week, Kirk called for Republican state attorneys general to conduct raids on progressive advocacy groups without worrying about a legal rationale in order to show Democrats that “there’s a price to pay” for holding Trump accountable.

Last weekend, DeSantis and Kirk campaigned for Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Senate candidate Blake Masters in Phoenix, where Lake gushed that DeSantis has the same kind of “BDE”—slang for “big dick energy”—as Trump. Lake’s campaign was built around Trump’s stolen-election claims, and she has vowed not to “take orders” from “an illegitimate president like Joe Biden.” The far-right Masters is the hand-picked candidate of billionaire Peter Thiel, who does not believe democracy and freedom are compatible. White nationalists have been energized by Masters’ racist “great replacement theory” rhetoric.

On Friday afternoon, the “Unite and Win” tour will hit Pennsylvania, where many but not all state Republicans are rallying around election-denier and Christian nationalism promoter Doug Mastriano despite reservations about the candidate’s connections to QAnon conspiracy theorists, self-proclaimed prophets, New Apostolic Reformation dominionists, the antisemitic founder of Gab, and a theocratic offshoot of the Unification Church that worships with AR-15s.

On a 2020 prayer call organized to try to keep Trump in power, state Sen. Mastriano denounced “weak and feckless” Republican officials for not doing more to help Trump and prayed that “we’ll seize the power that we had given to us by the Constitution and by you providentially.” He has told followers that he will become governor because “My God will make it so.” Recent reporting has unearthed additional extremist positions staked out by Mastriano, including his call to deport Dreamers—undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children—and his insistence that Islam and other non-Judeo-Christian religions are not compatible with the Constitution.

Mastriano has frequently praised DeSantis on the campaign trail, while promising to govern so far to the right that he’ll make Florida look like “amateur hour.” Former Trump campaign attorney and Rudy Giuliani sidekick Jenna Ellis, a senior advisor to Mastriano’s campaign, promoted the Pennsylvania rally on her podcast.

On Friday evening, the tour crosses the border into Ohio to campaign for U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who made a national splash as the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and has since become a living caricature of a Trump wannabe—in the words of The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols, “a contemptible and cringe-inducing clown.” Like Arizona’s Masters, Vance is backed by anti-democracy billionaire Peter Thiel. Not every state Republican is embracing Vance; the former legislative director for retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has publicly slammed the “deceitful” Vance for “following in the hate-mongering steps of Donald Trump.”

For all the far-right bluster about the danger of gun-free zones, the “Unite and Win” rallies explicitly ban firearms, other weapons, and tactical gear.

The road trip also serves to elevate DeSantis’ national profile ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run. While DeSantis is admired by Trump’s MAGA troops, the Florida governor ran a distant second to Trump himself in presidential straw polls at Turning Point USA and CPAC gatherings this summer.


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