THE world has looked on in horror as – despite the chaos of his presidency and the appalling attack by his supporters on the US Capitol building on January 6 of last year – Donald Trump has continued to wield his malign influence over the Republican Party.

However, in recent weeks an important change has taken place that may well prevent Trump from being the Republican candidate in the 2024 US presidential election.

In a scenario that could have been dreamed up by the writers of the hit HBO drama series Succession, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has dumped Trump as its favoured candidate for the presidency. “Thank God!” you might say, relieved that the owners of Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal will no longer be offering their support to one of the most narcissistic and viciously reactionary political leaders of recent times.

Your relief would be short-lived, however. Murdoch and his son Lachlan (who is CEO of the Fox Corporation and his father’s chief lieutenant) have not had a sudden conversion to liberalism or, even, a modicum of human decency.

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Rather, they are moving their support from Trump to ultra-conservative Florida state governor Ron DeSantis. If the Murdochs' latest exercise in king-making is successful we will, in the rise of DeSantis, bear witness to both the demise of Trump as a presidential hopeful and the ultimate victory of Trumpism as a far-right, populist ideology.

On most issues that characterised the Trump presidency you would struggle to slip a cigarette paper between the former president and DeSantis. The Florida governor is every bit as reactionary as Trump on abortion, gun rights, the rights of LGBTQI+ people and the teaching of anti-racism in schools.

On abortion, DeSantis’s track record is as one would expect of a hard-right politician from what has become the Republican Party mainstream. In April of this year, for instance, he signed into Florida state law a reduction in the legal period for abortion from 24 weeks of pregnancy to 15 weeks.

The new abortion law – which makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest – was frozen by a Florida judge in June. In stating his intention to appeal the court ruling, DeSantis trotted out the standard anti-abortion rhetoric that has secured him support on the issue from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (but, notably, the backing of only a minority of Floridians, 56% of whom support the right to abortion).

Denouncing the judge’s decision to freeze his restrictions, DeSantis, who describes himself as “100% pro-life”, said: “These are unborn babies that have a heartbeat.

“They can feel pain, they can suck their thumb, and to say that the state constitution mandates things like dismemberment abortions – I just don’t think that’s the proper way.”

In recent weeks, DeSantis has been uncharacteristically quiet on the abortion issue. He is, perhaps, mindful of polling by the New York Times and Siena College that shows Americans are opposed, by 61% to 29%, to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down Roe v. Wade (the landmark legal ruling from 1973 that has served as the bedrock of abortion rights in the US for almost 50 years).

It seems that DeSantis has begun to worry that his strident anti-abortion politics might damage his chances both of winning a second term as Florida governor this coming November and of becoming the Republican candidate for the presidency in 2024.

Nonetheless, should he reach the White House, with the support of the Murdoch empire, there can be no doubt that his victory would mark another significant setback for abortion rights in the US.

On gun law, DeSantis has pledged to introduce legislation in Florida that will allow gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without the need for a permit, despite the number of gun deaths in the US in 2022 being the highest on record – more than 26,000 (including more than 1000 children).

The state of Florida has among the highest number of gun deaths in the US.

In 2020 there were more than 3000 firearms deaths (a rate of 13.7 per 100,000 people, almost three times the rate for New York state).

Yet, in June of this year, DeSantis restated his intention to pass “constitutional carry” legislation.

“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be next week, six months,” he said, “but I can tell you before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill.”

AS ever in the US’s polarised gun control debate, DeSantis dismisses his opponents as “leftists” who want to “come after your Second Amendment rights.”

It is this Republican mindset that left US President Joe Biden powerless to take meaningful action on gun control following the mass shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in May (in which 19 children and two teachers were killed).

The restrictions on gun ownership proposed by the Democrats are very modest.

Yet, even after the Uvalde atrocity, the Republicans were steadfast in blocking any tightening of gun control measures in Congress.

As Susan B. Glasser wrote in The New Yorker magazine: “another mass shooting or two or three is not a game changer. Biden is just another Democratic President stymied by the fact that there are two parties in this country, and one of them – not his – obstructs the passage of popular gun-control measures.” Should the Murdochs’ support succeed in swinging the Republican pendulum from Trump to DeSantis, the American people can expect no improvement in the Grand Old Party’s supine relationship with the hideous National Rifle Association.

Predictably, given his consistently reactionary stances on abortion and gun control, DeSantis is a self-styled “culture warrior” who fights against everything the American right classes as “woke”.

This includes, of course, efforts to confront the oppression of LGBTQI+ people and people of colour.

In March of this year DeSantis signed into Florida law a piece of homophobic and transphobic legislation that could have been drafted by the bigots behind Margaret Thatcher’s hated 1988 law, Section 28 of the Local Government Act.

DeSantis’s so-called “don’t say gay” legislation prohibits teachers from teaching on matters of homosexuality and trans identity to children aged eight and under.

Campaigning for the legislation, DeSantis spoke on platforms in front of the slogan: “Protect Children/Support Parents”.

This pernicious slogan has echoes of the Keep the Clause campaign – funded by multi-millionaire businessman and Christian fundamentalist Brian Souter – which sought to prevent the repeal of Section 28 by the Scottish Parliament in 2000.

Like Souter’s vile propaganda, the rhetoric of DeSantis and his supporters seeks to resurrect the scurrilous, age-old lie that homosexual and bisexual people are more likely to be paedophiles than heterosexuals.

“We will make sure parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said.

“Overwhelmingly, parents oppose injecting this [sic] kind of materials into their kids”, he added, while brandishing what he said were, “transgender educational materials”.

If the Florida governor is Trumpian when it comes to blowing the Republican dog whistle against LGBTQI+ people, he is equally dangerous on matters of race.

The so-called “Stop WOKE Act”, which DeSantis signed into law (again in April of this year), bans teaching and training on race and diversity in schools and workplaces.

Like the “anti-woke” Tory right in the UK, DeSantis wraps his racist motivations in the pseudo-intellectual language of opposition to critical race theory.

In reality, however, his stance is not one of disagreement with this or that scholar in the field of race studies but, rather, a blunt, malignant opposition to any attempt to address the history and contemporary reality of racial oppression in the US.

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Turning the struggle for racial equality on its head, DeSantis paints education on race and racism as discriminatory against white people.

“In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces”, he said. “There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”

The most cursory examination of DeSantis’s legislative agenda in Florida proves that he is every bit as reactionary as Trump.

A very nasty product of the Republican Party grassroots falling into the hands of the Christian right and the Tea Party (which rose in extreme-right response to the victory of Barack Obama in the 2004 presidential election), he will, if Rupert Murdoch gets his way, be the next President of the United States of America.