The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ron DeSantis’s vile stunt outdoes Greg Abbott in trolling cruelty

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Photos by Brandon Bell and Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

It’s all so terribly unfair. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has bused more than 10,000 migrants to Democratic strongholds. He has been doing this for months. That’s right: He cleverly figured out that dumping migrants into the laps of elite liberal hypocrites would trigger an epic Fake News freakout. He was the GOP governor who braved liberal and media outrage first.

Yet suddenly, fellow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has upstaged him with a single incident. Transporting some 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard has made DeSantis into the Fake News’s biggest new trigger, all for moving a measly 0.5 percent of the migrants that Abbott shipped!

Does that sound absurd? Well, it’s true: Abbott’s allies and advisers are “stung” and “annoyed” by DeSantis’s stunt, according to the New York Times. Abbott’s office didn’t get a heads-up that DeSantis chartered planes to pick up migrants in San Antonio, sources tell the Times, after which he flew them to Florida and then Massachusetts.

Heck, DeSantis isn’t even from a Mexican border state! Yet he poached Abbott’s migrant Fox News fodder right from under his nose. As the Times put it:

Mr. DeSantis grabbed the attention of right-wing America, using Mr. Abbott’s tactic, on Mr. Abbott’s turf, to bigger and more dramatic effect.

Why this stunt catapulted DeSantis ahead in the right-wing trolling sweepstakes sheds light on the ugly incentives pulling on GOP politicians with higher ambitions these days. Note that DeSantis recognized he had to associate himself more tightly with the border, as the Times reports:

In Florida, Mr. DeSantis mused to donors last year about Mr. Abbott’s good political fortune to share 1,254 miles of border with Mexico and complained that he didn’t have the same to use as a backdrop, according to one person familiar with the conversation.

So DeSantis simply sent planes to Texas to scoop up migrants, to demonstrate that he’s every bit as determined as Abbott is to dehumanize them.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

Indeed, new details about DeSantis’s scheme show how he excelled in that mission. Some Venezuelan migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard explained to The Post how badly they were caught off guard.

One migrant, for instance, says they weren’t told the island was their destination until the plane’s descent. A second says that once there, they sought to figure out how to access populous areas, but were shocked to discover they were “surrounded by pure water.”

That was likely the point: Create maximum chaos and disorientation to catch liberals and Democrats off guard, triggering their supposedly latent, hypocritical disdain for having migrants in their own midst. It failed: The island welcomed and supported the migrants, whereupon right-wing media simply pretended it had succeeded in exposing liberal hypocrisy anyway.

Ultimately, what really indicts the vile trolling exercise is this: One of its leading rationales is baloney. Its perpetrators claim the stunt is designed to show blue states the burdens arriving migrants impose on border areas. As DeSantis put it: “The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day are brought to their front door, they all go berserk.”

But blue areas are already dealing with a large proportion of migrants who are seeking asylum, and have for a long time.

At my request, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University (TRAC) analyzed the numbers of asylum seekers awaiting hearings at immigration courts around the country. As of late August, nearly 750,000 people are awaiting asylum hearings in total, TRAC calculates, relying on court records.

Broken out by state, more than 125,000 people are awaiting hearings at the immigration court in California, and more than 110,000 people are awaiting them at the court in New York, per TRAC. Meanwhile, approximately 98,000 are awaiting hearings at the court in Florida. For Texas, it’s around 75,000.

The largest remaining groups are mostly awaiting hearings in courts in blue states such as New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland, though some are waiting for hearings at courts in red states.

The upshot? The “burden” of migrants is already widely dispersed. Susan Long, co-director of TRAC, says that while asylum seekers initially arrive in border communities, that’s only the beginning.

“For most, the next leg of their journey takes them to communities all across the country,” Long tells me. “The two states with the highest current number of pending asylum cases are California and New York.”

It is not certain that all those awaiting hearings at a particular state’s court are in that state. But Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, calls this a reasonable “proxy” for gauging their geographical distribution.

“Blue states have had skin in the game for a very long time,” Reichlin-Melnick tells me. “Asylum-seeking migrants often go to places where there are already-strong immigrant communities.”

Defenders of these stunts might say border communities deal with sudden influxes, and that sending migrants without warning to blue areas replicates that. But Democrats want to make migrants’ processing at the border more orderly and efficient, and are advocating reforms to that end.

Meanwhile, shipping migrants along as a surprise gotcha is dehumanizing, and adds needless chaos to something that will happen anyway: Many will go to those same blue destinations (indeed, a few welcomed the free ride).

Such nuances don’t matter to the likes of DeSantis and Abbott. After all, the rewards for generating own-the-libs spectacles for right-wing media are very great indeed. So the race to the bottom will continue. That is, if there actually is a bottom.

Loading...