25 takeaways from Matt Dixon’s new book, ‘Swamp Monsters’
Image via Little, Brown and Company.

Swamp Monsters
The book offers a glimpse into Ron DeSantis' rise from obscure to national powerhouse and then, almost, back to obscure.

NBC News reporter Matt Dixon has a new book coming out next month today spotlighting “the greatest show on earth (or at least in Florida.)”

It’s an approximately 300-page read of all things Ron DeSantis, and how former President Donald Trump began as his champion before becoming his nemesis. 

It spans DeSantis’ early days in politics as a U.S. Representative, to his failed U.S. Senate aspirations, his first gubernatorial race, unprecedented reelection, and his ultimate bid for the White House.

All the while, the tale includes something much more salient, if not as salacious: How the rise of both DeSantis and Trump sealed the deal on Florida transforming from a once perennial swing state, to what is now a conservative model for red states, and aspiring red states, across the nation. 

I was able to preview an early draft of the book before its official release, a read that came with pages and pages of notes, hours of “oh yeah! I remember that” moments and some behind the scenes revelations that were new even to my insider baseball approach to Florida politics. 

Here are 25 takeaways (without too many spoilers) from the book:

If anyone thinks Florida is still a swing state, Dixon quickly dispels that notion: Far from a crash course in Florida election history (read: the 2000 election, hanging chads and recount), Dixon use the infamous 2000 election that left that year’s presidential outcome uncertain for weeks as a launching off point to demonstrate how the state went from the ultimate battleground to a red state Democratic apparatuses have largely abandoned. 

The shift didn’t happen because of DeSantis, but DeSantis sure made certain it stuck: While DeSantis loves to take credit for Florida’s transition into the state where “woke” goes to die, the momentum started long before he came into the political fold, and the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. Jeb Bush created an education reform movement that swept the nation; Rick Scott is undefeated; the legislature hasn’t been blue for decades. But when DeSantis secured a 20-point margin over Charlie Crist in his 2022 reelection, it was the nail in the coffin for Democrats. Funders had already began to abandon the state in favor of newer, swingier locales such as Georgia, but when DeSantis delivered that big of a blow, and his state was the only to defy what ended up being a massive over-performance for Democrats elsewhere, it was clear they weren’t coming back anytime soon, if ever. 

Florida is the Peloton of states for Dems: It looked like a good investment, and maybe it was for a time, but now it just looks like an expensive mistake. 

A self-perpetuating decline for Dems: With the party out of power for so long in Florida (and losses in statewide races piling up) money dried up, which made fighting DeSantis and his new brand of Republicanism even more difficult to fight, which made said new brand of Republicanism even stronger. 

DeSantis has always been strategic: From his book “Dreams from our Founding Fathers,” a dig on former President Barack Obama’s “Dreams from my Father,” DeSantis was able to gain popularity among those in the early rise of the Tea Party, and it was in those connections he was first convinced to run for office. 

Tales of DeSantis’ ego have not been greatly exaggerated: Congress wasn’t good enough. Governor wasn’t good enough. Winning wasn’t good enough. Being America’s Governor wasn’t good enough. DeSantis has his eye on the top political prize and he won’t stop. He doesn’t think he’s losing and, even if he does, he’ll be back at it again in four years. 

Who is the audience?: Dixon’s book is a compelling read about the relationship between Trump and DeSantis, how DeSantis rose to power and how Trump helped him, and what it all means in the grand political ballgame. But it’s not clear who the targeted audience is. For those entrenched in politics, they’re not reading much in these pages they didn’t already know. For those interested in politics, but who don’t necessarily follow along with every nitty gritty detail, it might be a bit too nuanced to keep readers engaged past the intro. It seems like the ideal audience are political junkies from other states. But if that’s the case, did Dixon overshoot his window? With DeSantis largely believed to be engaged in a failing presidential campaign — something Dixon notes, but with far less frequency than he discusses DeSantis’ rise — there might not be as large of an appetite for a deep dive into DeSantis’ tactics as there was when the book’s concept was first conceived. 

But it’s a fun trip down memory lane for those of us who have been following closely: Reading this book over the past few days has yielded several instances where I chuckled at the memory of some ridiculous headline or another. Politics, especially Florida politics, moves quickly and it’s easy to forget even the most shocking headline when it is inevitably replaced a few news cycles later with something just as eye-popping. Remember Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman? Does the name Shane Strum ring any bells? How about the many faces of DeSantis’ pandemic response? You’d be forgiven for shoving these to the back of the old memory bank, but Dixon’s book drags those bygone memories back out into full view. 

Like it or not, the pandemic was a big DeSantis stepping stone: Before the pandemic DeSantis shocked the political world by being a fairly moderate Governor. There were no culture wars and, at one point, he enjoyed an astounding 70% approval in the state. Then comes COVID. The book goes into great detail about how Team DeSantis navigated pandemic response and how, as the crisis continued longer than anyone had expected, it brought out DeSantis’ inner fighter. His rejection of lockdown policies gave way to questioning science, embracing (at least to some degree) an anti-vax mentality and, ultimately, bringing on some of the most controversial health experts in the nation, most notably Dr. Joseph Ladapo. 

By the numbers: Dixon does a great job of not just telling readers how bad the situation is for Florida Dems, he quantifies it. One stat, that national groups went from spending $60 million in Florida in the 2018 midterms to just $2 million in 2022, particularly highlights the conundrum. Another suggests that even the state’s abundance of wealthy liberals aren’t interested in keeping their money at home. In 2020, as Dixon writes, those donors spent more than $30 million on federal races that didn’t directly focus on or affect Florida. He likened the phenomenon to luring a toddler away from a cookie jar with a steaming bowl of broccoli.

Rumors of DeSantis’ weirdness were also not greatly exaggerated: From “pudding paws” to awkward voter interactions to aloof on-stage introductions, source after source points to how socially inept DeSantis is. He’s not the sort of politician to kiss babies, but he is the sort to mock one. And as one source explains, DeSantis’ social circle could fit into the back of a Mini Cooper. 

Kill them in the crib: Both DeSantis and Trump campaigns, at different points, used the same infanticidal euphemism, that in order to take the other out, they must do so early. 

Back to “pudding paws”: In case you were wondering, and for Dixon’s sake I won’t spoil it here, the book establishes which three fingers DeSantis allegedly used to scarf down his Snack Pack. 

DeSantis once showed his softer side: In an interview with Piers Morgan, DeSantis once opened up publicly, a rare occurrence for the usually tight-lipped Governor, about the death of his sister in 2015. It’s heartbreaking and gives DeSantis a human side, even for those who loathe him. 

A little repetition, but not too much: In some instances, Dixon tends to repeat himself. An example that comes immediately to mind is of Charlie Crist landing a blow against DeSantis in a gubernatorial debate by asking him to look voters in the eye and say that if he’s reelected he’ll serve the full four years. But though the repetition is notable, it’s typically with artistic strategy. In the case of the Crist debate, each reference was in the context of a broader narrative, first as insight into how easily DeSantis gets frazzled and then later as a testament to very real fears about how DeSantis would fare in a debate against Trump.

Wealth is an issue: Before his reelection in late 2021 DeSantis was worth about $320,000. He didn’t own a home or a car and still owed more than $21K in student loans. Fast forward to 2023 and his financial disclosure showed a $1.2 million book advance. The relative lack of wealth compared to his gubernatorial predecessor, Rick Scott, and Trump meant, as Dixon explained earlier in the book, that people like Scott and Trump didn’t consider him their equal. It wasn’t said in Dixon’s book, but reading between the lines begs the question, could that have weighed on the hearts and minds of voters who revere Trump for his wealth and the success they believe created it?

“Malfunctioning robot”: For a long time, perhaps too long, DeSantis refused to acknowledge a brewing rivalry between himself and Trump even though it was glaringly obvious he intended to run for President. He tried so hard to demur on inquiries about his White House ambitions that, at one point Dixon describes, DeSantis looked like a “malfunctioning robot” when asked about running for President. The meme-worthy exchange led to apt comparisons of DeSantis to a bobblehead. 

Not always the best strategy: DeSantis may have bled endorsements to Trump because it was Ryan Tyson, not himself, seeking them. Meanwhile, Trump was personally soliciting endorsements from members of Florida’s Congressional delegation. One member of Congress told Dixon he had no idea who Tyson was when he got the call — he said the general feeling was that Trump’s team was better prepared to compete on a national stage than Team DeSantis.

But they got better: Having lost the majority of Florida’s Congressional delegation to Trump, Team DeSantis focused their efforts on the Legislature, deploying a multi-pronged approach to ensure they were able to corral an impressive majority of lawmakers, which ultimately led to 99 endorsements, including all of legislative leadership. The strategy went like this: Blaise Ingoglia, a huge DeSantis ally, made the first call. If that didn’t land a nod, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner made a second call. And if the deal still wasn’t sealed, lawmakers would get a call directly from DeSantis’ office. 

Indirect threats didn’t hurt the cause: None who endorsed him directly made the connection, and said there were never any direct threats. But Joe Gruters, who backed Trump, did. He saw a lot of projects in his Sarasota-based district get the red pen.

Losing Fox may be the kiss of death: Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch (Fox News owners) intentionally turned on DeSantis because, as one Fox insider put it, “they are transactional and can smell a loser a mile away.”

DeSantis doesn’t think he’s getting his ass kicked: 2024 may be the end of DeSantis’ current presidential ambitions, but it’s likely far from his influence in the national GOP and sources close to him say he’ll try again in 2028 if he’s not successful this cycle. 

He did everything right: From throwing red meat at a salivating base to establishing Trump policies without Trump baggage, DeSantis played his cards in a way that would, in a world without Trump, probably have been more successful. But none of it moved the needle on Trump’s popularity. And DeSantis was further hampered by the constant onslaught of earned media for Trump related to the former President’s many legal woes, problems that in any other political era would have tanked a candidacy. 

The quiet part: Trump going to jail is in the back of Team DeSantis’ mind, but it’s not spoken out loud. 

Look for this zinger: “Trump is a vindictive motherf***er. He is a caveman. He either clubs it, eats it, or f**ks it. He’s not going to eat DeSantis or f**k him, so he’s going to always club him. It’s all he knows how to do.”

The bottom line, the book (even if the exact targeted audience isn’t entirely clear) offers a little something for everyone. For die hard conservatives, it is a validation of years of work to turn Florida into a GOP mecca, punctuated by a DeSantis governorship that cemented that place. For liberals, there are plenty of insider anecdotes rife with meme-worthy content. For those in the middle, it’s probably a laughable piece of non-fiction that may seem stranger than fiction. 

The book is slated for release Jan. 9 and is available for pre-order at various places where books are sold. 

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Sonja Fitch

    December 22, 2023 at 4:18 am

    THE Best description of the current trump cult! Desantis ain’t any better. Get rid of these two Desantis and Trump Swamp Creatures!

  • Dr. Scholl

    December 22, 2023 at 7:01 am

    The highlight of Ron’s day is when Casey pulls off his orthopedic boots.

  • rick whitaker

    December 22, 2023 at 8:16 am

    299 pages too long

  • God, Country, and Florida

    December 23, 2023 at 2:49 pm

    Care to explain your conclusion that Florida was an expensive mistake? While you’re now in the minority, it seems DeSantis’ ’22 victory and your subsequent statements regarding Dems losing hope in Florida would prove your “mistake” hope incorrect…

  • Dont Say FLA

    January 9, 2024 at 3:33 pm

    Rhonda was never a national powerhouse.

    The theoretical idea of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida was said nationally to be a powerhouse.

    But then Rhonda showed up.

    And Everybody Hates Rhonda.

  • Rhonda's Sister

    January 9, 2024 at 3:36 pm

    Rhonda’s sister was Terri Schaivo? Well that explains some things.

  • Ron Forrest Ron

    January 9, 2024 at 3:50 pm

    It’ll be funny to see Ron’s “wealth” go poof when Never Back Down cancels their pre-order of the book he wrote for them to pre-order as a legally money laundered scheme to give him a million dollars.

  • Joe Torres

    January 9, 2024 at 4:18 pm

    DeSantis must think polling works like golf scores and a pitcher’s ERA work.

Comments are closed.


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