If there’s one thing that really bothers Christina Pushaw, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, it’s The Narrative—a phrase she often erroneously capitalizes. Google and “corporate media” are “enforcing The Narrative as usual” when they don’t transform a Facebook anecdote about Regeneron’s efficacy into a major viral event. A USA Today reporter issuing a correction is a “DNC narrative enforcer.” When the 30-year-old Pushaw was briefly suspended from Twitter, it was a “direct result” of a reporter’s decision to “prop up a false narrative” about Florida’s governor.
Before Pushaw moved to Florida to work for DeSantis in March 2021, the narratives she disagreed with were somewhat expansive: the California GOP shouldn’t “pander to identity politics” in its efforts to secure a more diverse base, for instance, or the narratives that the “liberal intelligentsia” pushed when they fought for “Chairman Xi-style lockdowns” as covid-19 cases spiked across the globe. Now, the narrative she’s most concerned with—and the one that’s been the subject of her some 11,000 tweets over the last five months—is that Ron DeSantis is a corrupt governor with no regard for his constituent’s health. “Mostly here to debunk false Narratives about Florida and @GovRonDeSantis,” her bio reads.
Through the pandemic, DeSantis’ habit of regularly issuing mandates at odds with public health recommendations have made him a national symbol of Republican distain for scientific fact. It’s also made him, naturally, a likely contender for the Republican presidential primary. In the state where “vaccine passports,” mask mandates, and lockdowns are all functionally illegal, DeSantis has spent the last months insisting his various executive orders are keeping his constituent’s civil liberties intact. In mid-August, the state’s daily death toll peaked at 244.
To help solidify his message, DeSantis has hired both Kyle Lamb—a former sports blogger best known for spreading covid-19 conspiracy theories online—and Pushaw, whose big moment in the public eye came out of an extensive and rather personal campaign to discredit the former Florida Health Department employee Rebekah Jones. Jones, who helped create Florida’s Covid-19 dashboard, made news last year when she said she’d been fired for refusing to manipulate infection data so the DeSantis Administration could more quickly reopen the state. Her previous employment history and the circumstances of her firing have been extensively covered by conservative outlets, who argue her celebrity was fueled by a liberal media uninterested in reporting on inconvenient facts. Subsequently, both Lamb and Pushaw have continued to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to their hundreds of thousands of followers that the media is lying to them about Florida and the reality of covid-19.
The DeSantis Administration’s adoption of conservative Twitter pundits as arms of the state is a canny move. Donald Trump may have been kicked off of Twitter, but there’s one important lesson conservatives have learned: It’s incredibly effective to staff a Republican administration with people who have the posting disease.
Pushaw’s career prior to working in DeSantis’ office occupied the space between punditry and politics, an increasingly useful skill set for a person interested in manipulating messaging in 2021. A California native, she studied at the University of Southern California before receiving a master’s degree in international relations and economics from John Hopkins. There, according to the Tampa Bay Times, she connected with the former president of the country of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, whom she would later work closely with as a ghostwriter and media consultant. (As the Times notes, Saakashvili was convicted in 2018 of abusing his power as president, though he’d since become a Ukranian citizen and currently serves on a government advisory panel in the country. He has said the charges were politically motivated.) She also worked for Stand Together, a Koch-backed foundation. On her resume, obtained again by the Times, she called attention to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s as an important moment in her tenure at Stand Together, though her exact role remains unclear.
For the majority of her career, Pushaw’s writing most often addressed the Georgian and Ukranian politics that had been the focus of most of her public work. But early in 2021, she published two polemics about Floridian politics that launched her into her current role. Writing in Human Events—a conservative publication relaunched in 2019 by former Breitbart editor in chief Raheem Kassam and lawyer Will Chamberlain—Pushaw first took issue with the media’s treatment of Rebekah Jones, the geographer who said she was fired from her position at the Florida Department of Health. The media, unable to square its bias against DeSantis’ tactics with the reality of the state’s covid-19 numbers, had latched onto a “fresh face to a ‘Narrative,’” Pushaw wrote before detailing the prior legal trouble and alleged personal issues she argued clouded Jones’ case:
According to The Narrative, Florida wasn’t supposed to be winning the fight against the pandemic. It’s full of high-risk seniors, teeming with tourists, and run by a Republican who is an unapologetic ally of former President Donald Trump. To liberal intelligentsia, the idea that DeSantis could handle COVID-19 better than mask-mandating lockdown enthusiasts like Andrew Cuomo or Gavin Newsom was unthinkable.
In another story, published a few months later in the same publication, Pushaw used a similar tactic to laud DeSantis’ leadership on covid-19, writing that Democrats and the media colluded to “weave a narrative of GOP corruption, inequality, and racism” about Florida’s governor. The day after the story published, Pushaw sent an email to DeSantis’ communications office asking for a job, where she has continued to use essentially the same tactics to this day.
Though Pushaw’s tweets before she worked for the state have been deleted, an 80-page document Rebekah Jones published on her website contain several screeenshots of Pushaw referring to her as a “pathological liar,” an “unstable grifter,” and indicating the geographer had made racist comments about a one-time boss. And even as a government official, Pushaw has used unconventional tactics, trolling reporters and insisting opponents of the government are intentionally obscuring crucial facts. In Mid-August, an Associated Press reporter published a story indicating that a major investor in Regeneron was among DeSantis’ biggest donors, raising questions about the governor’s continued endorsement of the drug. On Twitter, Pushaw republished the story asking her followers to “drag them” and “light them up,” ostensibly directing ire at the publication or the reporter himself. The AP subsequently sent an open letter to DeSantis urging him to end the harassment against their reporter, who said he’d received death threats as a consequence of the piece.
Pushaw did eventually delete the tweets. Though she hasn’t yet responded to Jezebel’s request for comment, she did recently address the episode on a conservative podcast. “AP, of course, got upset when people started calling them out and saying your story is fake,” she said. “Because of these inflammatory media narratives, the governor gets threats every day.”
In its story on Pushaw’s resumé, the Tampa Bay Times noted that the press secretary had “reinvented the position,” reimagining a subtle behind-the-scenes role as something more like propaganda—or, in the words of the Times, one of “the loudest pro-DeSantis drumbeats on the internet.” And Pushaw’s insistence on reducing all criticism to a conspiracy theory perpetuated by the liberal media or the “enforcers of the regime narrative” might feel absurd in aggregate, but it’s a rather well-established script for a party that’s become accustomed to playacting as a vulnerable and protected class. And, as countless Republicans have found over the last few years, it’s a wildly effective method. It’s probably the only logic that could render Ron DeSantis, a man who most recently failed to correct an anti-vax line at a press conference, as a righteous defender of public health.