Shirtless bodybuilders. Techno beats. Clips from American Psycho. The campaign for president has come a long way from whistle-stop tours and earnest jingles, and a new video highlighting Ron DeSantis' anti-LGBTQ record has drawn condemnation from some gay and trans right-wing media figures, with some commentators also pointing out its bizarre homoerotic subtext.
Shared by the popular Twitter account Proud Elephant on June 30 and amplified by the account DeSantis War Room just 25 minutes later, the video features clips of former President Donald Trump promising to allow transgender contestants into his Miss Universe pageant and affirming that he would allow Caitlyn Jenner to use “any bathroom she chooses” in Trump Tower. Those comments are set alongside headlines touting the “draconian” anti-LGBTQ policies that DeSantis has adopted as governor, including one stating that “DeSantis’ assault on ‘leftism’ is totalitarianism in disguise.”
The video has accumulated nearly 25 million views on Twitter alone.
While Trump’s first run for president featured what seemed like signs of a thaw in the right-wing war on LGBTQ equality, his time in office was marked by policies that enabled discrimination against queer and trans people. The Trump administration banned trans people from serving in the military, advanced an interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that would allow employers to fire people for being gay, and at one point threatened to define “transgender” out of existence.
The former president vowed in a January speech to take an even more draconian approach to trans policies if elected to a second term, including with the creation of a “new credentialing body for teachers” which “will promote positive education about the nuclear family” and “the roles of mothers and fathers.” He also promised to force people to select a binary gender marker on federal identification documents and to “ask Congress to pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female, and they are assigned at birth.”
But none of this, it seems, is enough for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose campaign team includes one political operative, Christina Pushaw, who in 2022 helped reignite false accusations that LGBTQ people seek to “groom” children sexually, and another, Ken Cuccinelli, who once promised to ban consensual oral sex for everybody. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cuccinelli says that he did not think the DeSantis video went too far.)
LGBTQ influencers and members of the right-wing media were swift to denounce the video, with Based Politics founder co-founder Brad Polumbo saying that DeSantis was “going mask off” and Fox News contributor Caitlyn Jenner calling it “a new low.” Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran pointed out that “the ad smacked of both homophobia and homoeroticism at the same time.” Daily Wire personality Michael Knowles defended the governor, acknowledging that “DeSantis is being pilloried, not just by the libs, but by the squishes on the right for an ad that people are saying is homophobic” before praising him for “threatening the sexual revolution.”
Gays Against Groomers and founder Jaimee Michell were initially quiet regarding the video, drawing allegations that their silence had more to do with financial support from DeSantis entities than principle. But then co-founder David Leatherwood resigned his position in the group — part of a larger series of senior staff departures imperiling the future of the far-right hate group.
As governor of Florida, DeSantis has signed bills preventing the discussion of LGBTQ identities in schools, targeting drag shows, criminalizing trans people using the bathrooms of their lived gender, banning gender-affirming care for minors, and making access to care far more difficult even for trans adults, leading at least some LGBTQ residents in Florida to flee their homes in the state. (Pushaw responded to one report suggesting that a majority of queer parents are considering leaving the state with a hand-waving emoji.)
DeSantis defended the video in an interview with OutKick’s Tomi Lahren, saying, “Identifying Donald Trump as being a pioneer in injecting gender ideology into the mainstream, … I think that’s totally fair game.”
Fox News had previously published a report accusing Trump of changing the rules of the Miss Universe pageant in 2012 to allow transgender woman Jenna Talackova to compete. In comparing Talackova's inclusion in the pageant with allowing trans people to compete in sports with other members of their gender, the video (and its promoters) seems to imply either that DeSantis' concerns about fairness are a fig leaf for broader bigotry, or that transgender women have an unfair advantage in beauty pageants as well as sports.
While the backlash might indicate to some that there are limits to the power of anti-LGBTQ politics in the Republican primary, it seems more likely that the strange video provided a convenient pretext for right-wing figures who regretted siding with DeSantis to jump ship as his poll numbers continue to dip.