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Five Reasons for DeSantis’s Phony ‘I Won’t Extradite Trump’ Stunt

The Florida governor poses as a great admirer of the Constitution but is eager to betray it for political gain.
March 31, 2023
Five Reasons for DeSantis’s Phony ‘I Won’t Extradite Trump’ Stunt
(Color alteration by the BUlwark / Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Irony knows no bounds with some politicians. On Thursday, when Donald Trump was indicted, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted to say he would not cooperate in extraditing the former president to New York for arraignment:

Here we have DeSantis posing like he has his chief political rival’s back. And on the same day a Manhattan grand jury delivered the news that a former president is not above the law, DeSantis, for his own partisan purposes, says that he is.

It perfectly demonstrates DeSantis’s cynical opportunism. He poses as a great admirer of the Constitution but is ready in a heartbeat to betray his sworn duty to “support, protect, and defend” it in order to cater to MAGAworld for political gain.

Article IV, Section 2, of the Constitution says, “A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.” The United States Code imposes the same duty, as does Florida law.

In 1987, the Supreme Court specifically found “no justification for distinguishing the duty to deliver fugitives from the many other species of constitutional duty enforceable in the federal courts.” The Court held that judges may enforce a governor’s duty to return fugitives to the state where they’ve been indicted.

Clear enough?

In case you’re looking to understand why DeSantis would brush off the law like dandruff on his blue suit jacket shoulder, here are five reasons:

1) Keeps DeSantis on the airwaves. DeSantis’s comms team knew that when Trump got indicted, the news would dominate the headlines for days, leaving their guy without the oxygen of attention. Announcing he’d break the law to resist New York’s authority is the tactic they landed on to redirect the spotlight.

2) Helps hold the base. Making the announcement was never going to buy DeSantis the loyalty of the Always Trumpers. But it might secure a red ribbon in their hearts in case Trump loses his groove, including to the trials and tribulations of his new indictment, and ones likely to come.

That could happen. In New York alone, the case Trump faces is dead serious.

Here’s how you know, even before the charges are unsealed. Anything other than a conviction makes Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg a one-term DA. He would only have sought this indictment if he was convinced that his evidence was overwhelming and his case as close to open-and-shut as any he’d ever seen.

And by the way, that’s exactly what a rival like DeSantis is secretly hoping. Whatever tweet he pumps out about having Trump’s back is theater music.

3) “I’m anti-establishment, too!” Opposing Washington and the establishment has been a winning GOP formula for years.

Trump gave it a “bad-boy” edge his base loved. In 2016, he said he didn’t like John McCain because he (Trump) preferred pilots who didn’t get captured. This January, Trump signaled admiration for “the late, great Al Capone.”

So now DeSantis, too, is leaning into the bandit brand. He surely figures it’s good for him in the primary—and he can worry about pivoting for the general election if he gets the chance.

4) No risk. DeSantis’s announcement was purely performative. He knew Trump would never resist flying to New York to be arraigned. Doing so voluntarily will allow Trump arrest with dignity, and he’ll exit his Tuesday arraignment attempting to appear unbowed and defiant.

If Trump were to refuse to go to New York, turning himself into a fugitive, he would create for himself the opposite image, conveying fear and shame. And if DeSantis didn’t relent and turn him over, New York would ask the federal courts for a writ of mandamus requiring that Trump be handed over. Chances are the perp walk then would not be pretty.

DeSantis knew Trump would surrender to New York authorities before Trump’s lawyers announced it on Thursday. For DeSantis, opposing an extradition that won’t happen was no risk, all reward.

5) Keeps DeSantis’s options open. It was all posturing for another reason. If by some infinitesimal chance, Trump were to resist arrest, DeSantis would still have an easy off-ramp: He could “reluctantly” cave.

House money says DeSantis would fold faster than a tentpole in 105-mile winds in hurricane alley. No question how he’d handle it: “It’s all the big, bad federal government’s fault, not mine.

All hat, no cattle. Or as they say in the Everglades, all rope, no gators.

Dennis Aftergut

Dennis Aftergut, a former assistant U.S. attorney and former Supreme Court advocate, is currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.