Granderson: DeSantis sacrifices trans teens for political points. That tells you enough about him


If charisma is a gift, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is clearly working with lumps of coal. His town hall on CNN this week confirmed it, but we had a pretty good sense already.

Back in February, NPR reported that Donald Trump was viewed twice as unfavorably among conservatives as DeSantis. When he launched his presidential campaign in May with Elon Musk’s help, the governor had money and momentum. Then voters met him. What followed hasn’t been pretty.

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Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

Staff layoffs. Shrinking funds. And all of those awkward attempts at retail politics.

My favorite remains him scolding a little girl for eating an Icee in the dead of summer. Something about it having a lot of sugar. A politician doing that in California would have been weird. Doing so in Iowa — a state known for its fried butter — shows he can’t read a room or a fairground.

Now with the Iowa caucuses a month away, and DeSantis 2024 in desperate need of a jolt, he is trying to read voters. And in this desperate hour he is betting that the good people of Iowa want to see him rant against transgender teens.

Beginning with the most recent GOP debate, DeSantis has consistently found ways to mention the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation he signed shortly before announcing his campaign. The legislation goes so far as to target businesses and parents who are supportive of trans people. He characterizes the legislation as protecting children and the rights of parents … just not protecting queer children or the rights of their parents.

A Republican being anti-queer isn’t shocking. But why does this Republican think being anti-queer is the best way to distinguish himself from other anti-queer Republicans?

For the CNN town hall, DeSantis presented himself as less combative on social issues, recognizing that trying to out-Trump Trump made him a household name but hurt him politically. But don’t be seduced by rehearsed national appearances. Be informed by what DeSantis is saying to the locals in Iowa.

He is betting his campaign’s future on being anti-trans. How do we know? Because with time dwindling before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15, he keeps talking about it.

Less than a week after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Florida for “impacts of war.” However, the day after the debate, when asked about the war, DeSantis pivoted back toward attacking transgender people, CNN reported.

“When we can’t even as Republicans agree that it’s wrong to chop off the private parts of a 14-year-old kid, what is going on in this party?” he said at a campaign stop. The bigger question is why he would be discussing the private parts of 14-year-olds on the campaign trail.

DeSantis floated ways to ban transgender children from competing in sports during a conversation with the Des Moines Register recently. But Iowa already has a ban on trans athletes. Nearly half the country does, predictably all red and purple states, a trend that started in 2021. And yet, he keeps bringing it up because he believes it will give him a boost.

I used to think he was just awkward. Apparently, he’s also small.

Even conservative Caitlin Jenner — no fan of progressive LGBTQ+ politics — called DeSantis out on social media for being “so desperate he’ll do anything to get ahead — that’s been the theme of his campaign.”

Only he’s not doing just anything. He’s being quite calculating.

DeSantis turned a question about sending troops to the Middle East into an attack on the trans community. He could have pivoted to any talking point, from AI to affordable child care to good-paying jobs. Instead he chose a vulnerable minority group (less than 1% of Americans) to attack, in the hope that fearmongering and hatred would do what his personality cannot — get voters to like him.


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