"You can't have one faction of society weaponizing the power of the state against factions that it doesn't like," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told the North Carolina Republican Party on Friday night. That's absolutely true. It's a shame he has spent much of the past year flouting that injunction himself.
DeSantis was evidently referring to the recent indictment of former President Donald Trump over the classified documents Trump allegedly removed to his home in Florida and then refused to return. "Hillary had the emails," DeSantis also said during his speech. "Is there a different standard for a Democrat secretary of state vs. a former Republican president?"
It's fair to scrutinize the standards applied to prominent members of the different parties, and it's right to ask the justice system not to give preferential treatment to either side. It's also reasonable to question whether the law under which Trump is being charged should exist at all or should be used the way it historically has been, including to prosecute government whistleblowers.
But DeSantis ought to reevaluate his own record as governor in light of the principle he articulated Friday night. No two cases are ever identical, but wielding state power for political reasons is a rule-of-law violation that inexcusably undermines the legitimacy of our liberal order. That's just as true when the target is a former president as when it's a private company exercising its First Amendment right to free expression.
DeSantis has repeatedly admitted to using state power to retaliate against the Walt Disney Company for criticizing legislation signed by DeSantis last year and has otherwise threatened it for not playing nice with his administration. He has also replaced multiple members of the board of directors of a Florida university with his own political cronies, including the conservative activist-troll Chris Rufo, who in turn has bragged about ousting professors with "left-wing" views, an action the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression called flatly unconstitutional.
Among the larger "New Right" (of which DeSantis is considered a leading member), the idea that conservatives should get comfortable "wielding public power in muscular fashion to reward friends and punish enemies" has become a popular refrain. One can hardly imagine a more explicit endorsement of the use of government as a political weapon.
If DeSantis, who announced his presidential candidacy last month, really believes it's a problem to "have one faction of society weaponizing the power of the state against factions that it doesn't like," he owes it to the people whose vote he's asking for to model good behavior himself—and to speak out when his co-partisans, not just his opponents, are in the wrong.