There have always been two types of gaffes in political campaigns – the thoughtless slip of the tongue by a candidate who’s mentally moving from some introductory matter to the main point of a statement, and the carefully staged event that somehow just doesn’t turn out as intended.
But now, Gov. Ron DeSantis has pioneered a third type of self-inflicted wound, with a Twitter spot touting his legislative achievements in forbidding children at drag shows, banning teachings about gender and sexuality in public schools and purging library shelves of books that make some parents uneasy.
But what was meant to imply that Donald Trump was squishy on gay issues backfired badly.
“To wrap up ‘Pride Month,’ let’s hear from the politician who did more than any other Republican to celebrate it,” the DeSantis War Room tweeted on the last day of June. That’s followed by a clip of Trump saying he would “do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.”
Not mentioned is the fact that Trump was referring to the murders of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The tweet features “LGBTQ for Trump” T-shirts sold by his campaign, and his comments that he’d be OK with Caitlyn Jenner, the former male Olympian, using the ladies room at Trump Tower or transgender women competing in the Miss Universe pageant, which he used to own.
Content aside, the visual impact couldn’t be more in-your-face if DeSantis personally shook up a can of Bud Light and sprayed Dylan Mulvaney with it. The governor is depicted in the macho “Top Gov” flight suit he wore in an ad for his reelection race last year and, at another point, we see lightning bolts flashing from his eyes.
Interspersed in the one minute and 13 second video are clips seemingly meant to compare the governor with the fictional characters of Patrick Bateman, the supposed serial killer of “American Psycho” and Tommy Shelby, the gang leader-turned-member of Parliament of “Peaky Blinders.” (The makers of that television series “strongly disapproved,” by the way.)
Maybe the video is meant to reassure uncommitted Republicans that DeSantis enjoys being a guy more than Trump, who paid both a porn star and a Playboy playmate to shut up about him and once gave a trash-TV host advice about grabbing women by the … well, you know.
But for a lot of viewers, the ad comes off as an unforced error, illustrating a willingness to “punch down” at people who already aren’t real popular among conservative voters.
Remembering the old days of politicians’ ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease
It used to be a lot easier for candidates to put their feet in their mouths.
Or remember Bill Clinton saying he tried marijuana but didn’t inhale, Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” or John Kerry’s explanation of Iraq war funding — “Actually, I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” The latter remark made Kerry look like he couldn’t decide whether to be wishy or washy on the most important issue of 2004.
Then there’s the carefully planned event that just makes people laugh.
Mike Dukakis wanted to look tough, running against World War II pilot George H.W. Bush in 1988, so the Democrats put him in an armored personnel carrier. Dukakis looked more like Rocky the Flying Squirrel than Rambo.
Handlers wanted to soften Nixon’s image so they had him casually strolling a beach. But he showed up in business attire, complete with wingtip shoes. Not exactly Jimmy Buffett, but that one might not have been as big a goof as the media reported – being a stiff was one of the few things people liked about Nixon.
That’s what makes the DeSantis Twitter thing so puzzling. First, with his legislative record, he had no need to pile on with the anti-gay rhetoric. Second, nobody supporting Trump (or undecided between him and DeSantis) will be won over by this stuff.
But mostly it’s odd that this was no poor word choice or public event that went awry.
This tweet had to be planned by the DeSantis brain trust, professionally produced and edited, no doubt with some changes made, and finally reviewed by well-paid campaign consultants who reviewed every image and assessed every word, and then showed it to the candidate himself.
And they put it out there anyway.
Bill Cotterell is a retired Capitol reporter for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.