Goldberg: Ron DeSantis' response to Trump's indictment is a frightening new low even for him

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd at Adventure Outdoors gun store, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Smyrna, Ga. AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking to a crowd at a gun store in Smyrna, Ga., this week. (John Bazemore / Associated Press)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Among my friends, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for locking up President Trump and throwing away the key. Many people can’t wait to see the worst president in modern history wearing striped PJs behind metal bars.

But much as I too dislike Trump, I must admit that I am worried about what comes next. How powerful will the backlash be? Will the charges brought by Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg hold up in court? Will the country break down entirely in partisan division and civil strife?

To me, the scariest indicator — so far — was the immediate reaction of putative presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

To voice support for Trump in his hour of need is one thing. To criticize the legal arguments underlying the case is within the bounds of political debate.

But to vow, as DeSantis did, to refuse to follow the Constitution in working with New York authorities to extradite Trump from Florida is a threat to the rule of law we haven’t yet seen in this Trump-driven national crisis. As with Trump, DeSantis in making that pledge shows a boundless willingness to undermine America’s democratic institutions for personal political gain.

As it happens, Trump appears to be negotiating his surrender with authorities in New York — which he clearly sees as a moment to win sympathy, pity and more votes. He is expected to be arraigned Tuesday in Manhattan. DeSantis most likely will never have the opportunity to make good on his no-extradition stance, not that he could really prevent it anyway.

But that doesn’t make his odious statement — issued to pander to the antler-wearing, flag-wielding insurrectionist vote — any less reprehensible. He called the indictment — which he presumably hasn’t read because it is under seal — “un-American” and accused Bragg of weaponizing the law “to advance a political agenda.”

But it is DeSantis who is advancing a purely political agenda and targeting Bragg as a political opponent. Surely the road to civil war is paved with refusals to obey the laws that hold the country together.

If we don’t abide by the rules — if we don’t stop when police tell us to or pay our taxes or extradite criminal suspects to stand trial when they’re indicted — society will cease to function.

Besides, under both the Constitution (Article IV, Section 2) and federal law, one state may not simply refuse to extradite a suspect to another. (Any deviation from this established principle would be very difficult to argue.)

Years ago, when I was a young reporter, I covered Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York. When, on occasion, his friends, allies, opponents or acquaintances were arrested and convicted, Cuomo would always say the same thing: “The law is the law.”

I took it to mean this: I may sympathize with my friend or disagree with the prosecutors or wish this had never happened — but my overwhelming allegiance is to the law itself. The institution is more important than the outcome. Nobody is above the law. Sure, justice is elusive and mistakes are made, but we must depend on our institutions to do the best they can.

Many Republicans feel that indicting Trump on criminal charges for falsifying business records and violating campaign finance laws is politically motivated and small potatoes. I am not surprised they feel that way.

I would much rather have seen Trump indicted in connection with his heinous efforts to undermine and subvert a legitimate election, rather than on how he characterized his hush money payments to a porn actress.

But the law is the law.

There will be a chance for a jury to weigh the charges. There will be appeals and more appeals. In the end, we should all hope that a fair and just outcome is reached on the merits.

Meanwhile, the last thing we need at such a fraught moment in American history is a governor — one who is poised to seek higher office — threatening to obstruct the judicial process.

DeSantis’ comments were cynical, reckless and un-American.


This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.