Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and Democratic candidate for the state’s governorship, recently compared Governor Ron DeSantis to Hitler. Fried’s deplorable comparison, sadly, was right in line with an erratic gubernatorial campaign laced with desperation and idiocy.
Fried has attempted to position herself as Florida’s savior from the supposedly despotically inclined DeSantis. The problem for her — and for anyone who runs against DeSantis for that matter — is that over the course of the pandemic the incumbent has become an extremely popular political superstar. An increasing number of Floridians want him to continue transforming the state as he sees fit. Fried, who is by no means a skilled tactician, has very few cards to play, as evidenced by the Hitler comment.
Fried’s main issue — other than her tone-deafness — is the fact that she’s staked much of her campaign on painting DeSantis as a genocidal freak who kept Florida open during the pandemic. But as even Democrats begin to shift away from unpopular lockdown policies, the premise of her candidacy has collapsed. Realizing this, Fried has pivoted to a histrionic and well-trodden playbook — frame DeSantis as the new Trump. DeSantis, according to Fried and her enablers, is no longer a wild man letting Covid run wild, but a budding fascist who, any day now, will name himself King Florida Man and commandeer Mar-a-Lago.
To hear Fried tell it, everything DeSantis does indicates the arrival of fascism on the shores of the Sunshine State. According to Fried, when DeSantis decided to reinstate the Florida State Guard, he wasn’t merely reestablishing a mostly symbolic state body, but “creating a private army.” This is obviously crazy talk, but given that Fried’s team has encouraged her wackier impulses, it isn’t a surprise. What is surprising is how early in the game she deployed this tactic, betraying just how desperate she really is.
Fried is not only at a disadvantage due to DeSantis’s popularity, but because he has become the head of a national Florida-led freedom movement. This clearly wasn’t his intention when he won the governorship. It’s pre-pandemic ancient history now, but when DeSantis barely defeated Andrew Gillum back in 2018, he wasn’t the political force he is now, and not nearly as adept at dealing with the press. Long before he became the leader of “the free state of Florida,” DeSantis was a bit of a stiff.
Yet the constant scrutiny he received during the pandemic accelerated his growth as a politician, which is to say that in another timeline, Fried would have been running against a slightly dopey and beatable governor. Yet today she doesn’t have that luxury. And since she knows — even though she won’t admit it — that she’s running against a well-financed juggernaut that can’t be beaten, she’s resorted to desperate antics, such as dressing in the supposed garb of a woman from “North Florida” and then tweeting out a selfie.
To Fried’s credit, she looks good in the picture, but in showing ample cleavage and playing up a “Florida Woman” aesthetic in a desperate bid to signal her blue-collar bona fides, she’s admitting that DeSantis has indeed remade Florida in his image, and she must play by his rules if she’s to stand any chance at all. Ironically, this type of pandering might have worked a few years ago. But as Democrats have committed to being the party of bureaucratic sterility, no one believes that Fried would be caught dead wearing extra-large hoop earrings and a Budweiser cap on her down time. The photo, just like the rest of Fried’s campaign, is pure cringe.
Fried has received some pushback for the Hitler comparison, so she’ll be forced to shift the tenor of the campaign. But the truth is that, due to the party’s commitment to hollow histrionics and the left-wing base’s unquenchable thirst for said histrionics, there’s not much room left for maneuvering. Fried’s failures as a candidate don’t just speak to her lack of political instincts but to the post-Trump Democratic environment that created her.
When one understands that Fried embodies the modern Democratic Party, it becomes increasingly clear that the pandemic has broken that party. If any smart Democratic operatives remain, they’ll study the fiasco that is the Fried campaign and steer the party away from the rudderless emotionality that drives its leaders and members.
Fried is certain to lose — if she’s even the nominee — but the Florida governorship race is a fascinating one nonetheless. It’s pitting DeSantis, who embodies an ascendant Republicanism, against his complete antithesis, a woman who, funnily enough, seems to have the impulse control of one Donald Trump.
Will Nikki Fried compare DeSantis to Hitler again? Or will she call him Castro next time? Will she show even more cleavage? Who knows? Not even wacky Nikki seems to know what she’ll do next.