Attempting to outflank former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign shared a homoerotic ad indirectly criticizing the former president’s past statements claiming to support LGBTQ rights.
Much of the ad, shared by the “DeSantis War Room” account on Twitter, highlights moments from the 2016 presidential campaign when Trump was either trying to distinguish himself from other Republican candidates or trying to peel away some LGBTQ support from Hillary Clinton after clinching his party’s nomination.
Whether DeSantis’s campaign made the ad or simply shared it online is unclear.
The ad shows a snippet of Trump’s speech from the 2016 Republican Convention vowing to “do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens,” a reference to Trump’s willingness to defend LGBTQ people from terrorism in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, in which 49 people were killed.
The gunman, who was killed in the shooting, had pledged allegiance to ISIS, reawakening concerns about national security and the threat of Islamic radicals carrying out attacks against Americans.
It also shows Trump’s campaign selling LGBTQ-themed merchandise, photos of Trump with Caitlyn Jenner, a clip of Trump affirming that Jenner could use whatever gendered restroom she wanted if she came to visit him at Trump Tower, and a clip of Trump, at the time the owner of the Miss Universe pageant, telling the late Barbara Walters that transgender contestants would be able to compete in Miss Universe.
The ad splices those video clips with screenshots of tweets and headlines showing Trump supporting — or at least purporting to support — LGBTQ rights, often while pandering to LGBTQ conservatives. It also shows part of a video featuring a conservative trans activist, Lady MAGA, in which she quotes Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The ad then shifts, with a meme of DeSantis next to the word ‘No.’ It races through screenshots of headlines documenting DeSantis’s push for anti-LGBTQ legislation in Florida, culled from left-wing commentators criticizing DeSantis for those policies.
As the headlines touting Florida’s transgender restroom restrictions, ban on gender-affirming care for minors, ban on Medicaid coverage for transgender adults, and opposition to events featuring drag performances flash across the screen, the video shows quotes describing the Florida Republican “on a crusade” and “this governor does not care” — a reference to DeSantis’s willingness to confront the far Left in the culture wars.
The ad also intercuts those headlines with photos of Christian Bale’s portrayal of serial killer Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Leonardo DeCaprio’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street, Brad Pitt’s portrayal of the character Achilles in the movie Troy, and several male bodybuilders — all images that appear to be part of an attempt to cast DeSantis as a hypermasculine “alpha male” who (ostensibly) will oppose the Left and “woke” ideology, and will oppose celebrations of LGBTQ visibility.
In a caption accompanying the ad, the DeSantis War Room account took a dig at Trump, tweeting, “To wrap up ‘Pride Month,’ let’s hear from the politician who did more than any other Republican to celebrate it.”
The ad attracted criticism from the Left, as well as from some Trump supporters on the political Right.
“Today’s message from the DeSantis campaign War Room is divisive and desperate,” tweeted the Log Cabin Republicans in a thread critical of the video. “Republicans and other commonsense conservatives know Ron Desantis has alienated swing-state and younger voters. Conservatives understand that we need to protect our kids, preserve women’s sports, safeguard women’s spaces and strengthen parental rights, but Ron DeSantis’ extreme rhetoric goes has just ventured into homophobic territory.”
The group also argued that DeSantis’s messaging is not nuanced enough, unfairly lumping all LGBTQ people as part of the Left, and warns that such messaging — or at least messaging perceived to be anti-LGBTQ — can potentially turn off the types of moderate and swing voters whose votes will ultimately decide the next president in the 2024 general election.
“Ron DeSantis and his team can’t tell the difference between commonsense gays and the radical Left gays,” the group continued. “He, sadly, sees them all the same. His naive policy positions are dangerous and politically stupid.”
Richard Grenell, a Trump appointee who served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany and became the first out gay man appointed to a cabinet-level position when he was named Acting Director of National Intelligence, also criticized the video, tweeting, “This is undeniably homophobic.”
Grenell’s tweet drew a response from Christina Pushaw, the DeSantis campaign’s rapid response director, who defended the ad as a critique of “identity politics.”
“Opposing the federal recognition of ‘Pride Month’ isn’t ‘homophobic,'” Pushaw tweeted. “We wouldn’t support a month to celebrate straight people for sexual orientation, either… It’s unnecessary, divisive, pandering. In a country as vast and diverse as the USA, identity politics is poison.”
Grenell responded with a tweet showing DeSantis welcoming Black groups to the governor’s mansion to celebrate Black History Month, which Pushaw then pushed back against. “Black History Month is for celebrating the contributions of black historical figures to our country,” she tweeted. “It’s not about taking ‘pride’ in an innate characteristic — it’s honoring historical individuals’ accomplishments.”
Others commented on the ad’s seemingly bizarre choice of images to portray DeSantis as an “alpha male.”
“[I]ronically this is the gayest ad in the history of political advertising,” tweeted one user.
“The ‘manly’ Chad alpha male image’s are some of the gayest crap I’ve ever seen. Can you debate Trump on foreign policy, economy, national security and public safety?” tweeted openly gay U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).
From the Democratic side of the aisle, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg got in a subtle dig at the Florida governor and the ironically homoerotic nature of the ad after being asked about by Dana Bash on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning.
“I’m going to leave aside the strangeness of trying to prove your manhood by putting up a video that splices images of you in between oiled-up shirtless bodybuilders and just get to the bigger issue that is on my mind whenever I see this stuff in the policy space,” Buttigieg said.
“Which is, again, who are you trying to help? Who are you trying to make better off? And what public policy problems do you get up in the morning thinking about how to solve? I just don’t understand the mentality of somebody who gets up in the morning thinking that he’s going to prove his worth by competing over who can make life hardest for a hard-hit community that is already so vulnerable in America.”
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