May 25, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Intelligence is no substitute for virtue

Things didn’t go well for DeSantis last night, but he’s no idiot.


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Ron DeSantis’s critics are crowing today. Florida’s Republican governor announced last night his anticipated bid for the presidency. Elon Musk, Twitter’s owner, hosted the occasion on Twitter Space. It didn’t go well. 

“I’d like to welcome, umm, Gov. DeSantis, uh, for this historic … we’re trying, just trying to get it going because it’s … just so many people. It’s unfortunate. I’ve never seen this before,” Musk said. Then nothing.

The Bulwark ran a sampling of headlines this morning.

CNN: “Glitches, echoes and ‘melting the servers’ crash DeSantis’ campaign launch on Twitter.” The Daily Beast: “Very Online and Very Glitchy: DeSantis Announces for President.” Reuters: “Ron DeSantis joins White House race, tripped up by chaotic Twitter launch.”

For too many liberals, the presumption is that the smarter you are, the more ethical you are; the more educated you are, the better person you are. I don’t know how this myth can endure in the face of empirical reality. Yet it does.

It’s easy to crow when things go wrong for the object of one’s ridicule. DeSantis’ critics, however, are almost certainly going to leave it there, with the implication that anyone so idiotic that they can’t get his presidential announcement right is too idiotic to be president. 

Intelligence is no indicator of success, though. As Jonathan Bernstein wrote, there’s plenty of time for DeSantis to catch up to his main rival, Donald Trump, surpass him and win the Republican nomination. 

“There is speculation that he might have moved up his announcement, planned for later today during a live audio conversation with Elon Musk on Twitter, to break a string of negative stories that had some people wondering whether he would drop out,” Bernstein wrote. But “while slow starts in nationwide polls aren’t helpful, they can be overcome.”

Ron DeSantis to Yale, graduated magna cum laude. Then Harvard Law, then the US Navy as a JAG (Judge Advocate General). He was elected later to the US House of Representatives before becoming Florida’s chief executive. Idiots accomplish things too, but not of that caliber.

His critics can’t leave the subject alone, though. Newt Gingrich, who appears to favor Donald Trump, was on Fox last night. The disgraced former House speaker was asked about the “disaster on Twitter.” 

Gingrich praised DeSantis’s “intelligence but questioned his communication skills after Ingraham played a clip of DeSantis making a convoluted comparison involving financial institutions and elections,” according to HuffPost. Gingrich said that “one of Trump’s great advantages is he talks at a level where 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade educations can say ‘oh yeah, I get that.’” This, according to HuffPost, was an “unintentional burn of Donald Trump [that] is priceless.” 

I yield to no one in my loathing of Newt Gingrich but I’m careful not to let my feelings for the Worst Person In The World cloud my judgment. Intelligence is good, but it’s no substitute for virtue. DeSantis is proof.

The policies he and the Republicans have enacted in Florida, with respect to free speech, abortion and trans rights, are demonstrably gothic. Yet by any objective measure, DeSantis is highly intelligent. 

If we listen to the liberal reaction to Gingrich – and to the liberal reaction to the botched rollout of DeSantis’s presidential campaign – we can hear intimations of intelligence becoming, or close to becoming, a substitute for virtue. Or worse: it’s becoming so venerated as a status-bringer that idiocy deserves little but bile and contempt.

HuffPost recounted some Twitter responses.

“The fact that [Trump] speaks to the children says everything you need to know about the educational level the Right is shooting for,” one said. “I don’t see where that’s good for somebody that’s running a country. SMH,” another said. And yet another: “Makes sense why the GOP is banning books.” And this meme: “Uncle Donald wants you! Well, not u cuz you can tie your own shoes but the 1 next to u eating crayons.”

For some liberals, the presumption is the smarter you are, the more ethical you are; the more educated you are, the better person you are.

I don’t know how this myth can endure in the face of empirical reality.

Yet it does.

Virtually all the GOP’s leading figures are highly intelligent. And virtually all of them support policies that are demonstrably gothic. 

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Sarah Darer Littman on May 26, 2023 at 10:03 am

    Every time I hear DeSantis railing against “the elites” I’m like “DUDE. You attended YALE and HARVARD LAW. You ARE the elites!”

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