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Florida Is Now a MAGA Megachurch

With Donald Trump as the Almighty and Ron DeSantis as the prosperity-gospel pastor.
by Jim Swift
January 12, 2022
Florida Is Now a MAGA Megachurch
A man wears a costume depicting former U.S. President Donald Trump on July 3, 2021 in Sarasota, Florida. Co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida, the rally marks Trump's further support of the MAGA agenda and accomplishments of his administration. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

Florida—or God’s waiting room, as the locals refer to it—has always emitted a siren song drawing snowbirds to it. The combination of beaches, golf, warm weather, and no state income tax attracts olds from the Northeast and the southern Midwest, a lot of times permanently.

But recently Ron DeSantis’s Don’t Call It a Presidential Campaign has convinced a lot of other people to performatively move to the Sunshine State. Viewed a certain way, Florida now resembles something of a MAGA megachurch, with Donald Trump as God and DeSantis as the smiling, well-heeled pastor.

Donald Trump has always been a New Yorker to his bones, but midway through his presidency, he declared that he would now be a Florida resident, since New York authorities were investigating him.

Naturally, the Kushners followed Daddy Trump to Florida, less because of investigation than because the NYC social scene had somewhat soured on them, what with the tiki torches and white nationalists and the brown children taken from their parents and kept in cages. This wasn’t fair, of course—Ivanka and Jared were always the voices of reason! They tried to temper dad’s worst instincts! Imagine how much worse it all would have been without them.

But New York socialites are not known for their ability to hold nuanced thoughts. And so, the poor Kushners decamped to the dirty South in shame, punished for the sins of the father.

So began the exodus. Even as Florida’s COVID cases skyrocketed and Ron DeSantis’s surgeon general tried to “unwind” the psychology of testing for COVID, people from MAGA world have upended their lives and moved to Florida to own the libs.

There was Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson, who has obviously benefited from teleworking. (Turning Point is headquartered in Arizona.) Pastor Ron brought the heat and Benny had to join up. Though there are probably synergies here. Johnson has a show on Newsmax which is based—obviously—in Florida.

Over the course of the last year, DeSantis took the bold step of insisting that the power of government must expand to include the ability to prevent private businesses from requiring vaccination for its employees. This would seem to be somewhat, um, counter to traditional conservative orthodoxy. But times change and CPAC, which had been hosting its annual conference in Washington for half a century, moved its 2021 confab to Florida as an act of defiance against big-government socialists now in power in the nation’s capital.

New York Post writer Karol Markowicz left her beloved Brooklyn for Florida and made quite a big deal of it, with multiple columns and TV appearances. Among other reasons given, she seems to have decided on the move because she wants her kids to go to school without wearing masks. Which is fine! Every family has its own priorities.

In Missouri, state representative Justin Hill, a . . . racially conscious anti-vaxer . . . resigned from the Missouri house to move to Florida to become a “consultant.”

Even some Silicon Valley types are moving for Florida, though Eric Newcomer reports, these are typically individuals and not whole companies.

It’s all very exciting!

Politically motivated micro-emigration is not new. Libertarians once dreamed of seasteading, wherein independent-minded people would gather together on ships in international waters so that they could live free of the yoke of government in their own, bobbing Galt’s Gulch. You may be shocked to learn that none of these projects ever worked out.

A slightly more realistic movement was the Free State Project, which tried to convince 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire under the theory that this number would be large enough to enable them to take control of the state government and then remake the Granite State according to . . . whatever it is that libertarians want. This project also failed, though today you can get gay married and smoke legal weed pretty much anywhere without having to live through a New Hampshire winter. So maybe the libertarians pretty much won?

One of the beautiful things about America is our wanderlust. It’s easy to pick up and move for any reason, or no reason at all. You want to be near Broadway shows? Move to New York. You don’t like the weather? Head to Florida. Enjoy hiking? The Pacific Northwest awaits you. This isn’t as complicated as Europe. You just pack up the U-Haul and go.

So I don’t begrudge anyone for wanting to move to Florida or Texas or Oregon or wherever. I celebrate it!

But there is something a little bit weird about moving to a state because you like the politicians who live there. Ron DeSantis won the governor’s race in 2018 by 34,000 votes. If Andrew Gillum were governor and former president Trump had gone back to the Big Apple, would all of these people be upending their lives and moving to Florida?

I kind of think they would not. Again, that’s their right. But “creepy” would not be too strong a word. This all seems less like the Okies migrating to California than people leaving Indiana for Guyana.

Let’s hope the great Florida migration has a happier ending.

[Correction 1/12/21 6:33 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that residents of E.U. countries need permits or visas to move between E.U. countries.]

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.