Republicans Want to Keep Big Government for Themselves | Opinion

Last week Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, was forced to take an extended break from culture war trolling and migrant trafficking to attend to the wreckage that Hurricane Ian left in its wake across the state. After failing to order a timely evacuation of counties that ended up directly in the monster storm's path, DeSantis beseeched the federal government for assistance. But the once and future Mr. Austerity's abrupt about-face on disaster relief tells us less about hypocrisy than it does about the fundamental principle of Republican politics in the 21st century: only Republicans are full and equal citizens entitled to government largesse.

One way to understand the asymmetry between America's two political parties is to look at the responses to Hurricane Sandy versus Hurricane Ian. Sandy struck the East Coast days before the 2012 election, causing unprecedented flooding and damage in coastal New Jersey and New York City in particular, killing 160 people in the United States and causing a staggering $65 billion in property damage.

What did then-Rep. Ron DeSantis have to say? While he claimed to sympathize with those impacted by the disaster, he added that "you don't want to basically reward them for not doing the responsible thing," referring to inadequate insurance in many of the affected areas. DeSantis then proceeded to vote against multiple appropriations packages to provide relief to victims of the hurricane, including a $9.7 billion bill that passed by voice vote in the Senate.

Aftermath of a Hurricane
A beached boat sits on top of a pickup truck in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in San Carlos Island, Florida on Oct. 1, 2022. GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

Sandy battered two of the bluest states in the country, and so some Republicans decided to stick it to them during the worst weeks of their lives. A full 167 Republican representatives and 36 senators voted against a $50 billion relief package—cheap show votes that vice-signaled to all the cretins who detest New York City 364 days a year until it's time to don their FDNY hats on 9/11 anniversaries.

When a visibly shaken Chris Christie, New Jersey's Republican governor, gave then-President Barack Obama a friendly handshake in public, it effectively doomed his future in national Republican politics. The Fox News propaganda operation insisted on falsely calling it a "hug" for years and he was attacked for it years later in the Republican presidential primary debates. If you're thinking "So what if he did hug him?" you clearly don't understand the psychology of lib-loathing on the right.

But DeSantis going hat in hand to Biden is a symptom of a broader problem with Republican governance, and the party's attitude about the purpose of government itself. In August, DeSantis ripped students who took out loans and couldn't pay them back, saying "that's on them." Along with the usual right-wing hysteria about gender studies majors and brainwashing commie professors, the bottom line is that GOP leaders didn't want to help a large group of people who lean Democratic.

To Republican leaders, liberals, the places they live, and the things they choose to do with their lives are contemptible, undeserving of sympathy—let alone a bailout. If a corporation gives you a loan to buy a house and you lose your job and can't pay your mortgage, taxpayers will pay them back if something goes catastrophically wrong, thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Single-family homeowners? Less so.

When you, a private individual, take out a loan to go to college, your debt is almost impossible to discharge, even if you are struck by personal tragedy. Sorry, I don't make the rules of Republican capitalism.

The determination that Democrats should be treated like a reviled out-group goes to the very top of the GOP party apparatus and stretches back more than a decade. When 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin traipsed around the country talking about the "real Americans" who live outside of cities, base voters lapped up the divisive rhetoric and party elites did nothing to challenge it. Instead, right-wing media swooned as she became a party celebrity.

In 2020, former President Donald Trump initially refused to unlock disaster relief funds for California when wildfires were tearing through the state. Miles Taylor, a former Trump administration official, confirmed that in private Trump was bitter enough that Californians rejected him at the ballot box to deny aid to hundreds of thousands of innocent people. As president, Trump rarely even set foot in states carried by Hillary Clinton unless there was a golf course he liked there. He fashioned himself the president of the Red States of America and that is exactly how he governed.

You'll notice that no one in Democratic politics is talking about stiffing the victims of Hurricane Ian, even though Florida voted for Trump twice and is poised to re-elect DeSantis, one of Biden's most vocal critics and the clear non-Trump frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. That's true even for liberals who share Florida Man memes and who believe that the state's runaway development and long-term susceptibility to climate change makes it unwise to continue investing there.

It's pretty simple: Florida's residents, whoever they voted for or whatever is in their hearts, are entitled to the same aid as anyone else, unless and until the government determines that it should not subsidize the rebuilding of places that repeatedly get destroyed by natural disasters made more destructive by climate change.

But if you think that's how a President DeSantis would treat victims of the next blue state calamity, I've got some property in Fort Myers to sell you.

David Faris is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. His writing has appeared in The Week, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Washington Monthly and more. You can find him on Twitter @davidmfaris.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.