There has been no shortage of controversy when it comes to the presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. There was his much-hyped announcement on X, formerly known as Twitter, which quickly turned into a buggy disaster, endless reboots and viral-but-not-in-a-good-way debate moments.
But perhaps nothing has been stranger than the most recent controversy to befall DeSantis’s faltering campaign, which is focused on a question that has nothing to do with politics or policy: Does he wear lifts in his shoes?
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How it started
“Tell me he’s not wearing hidden heels.”
That was the caption on a nine-second TikTok video a user named “spamellina” posted several weeks ago. Focusing on the cowboy boots DeSantis favors on the campaign trail, the user argued that the footwear concealed a hidden high heel that made DeSantis seem several inches taller.
DeSantis has long claimed he is 5 feet 11. But like other claims he has made, it does not entirely stand up to scrutiny.
Earlier in the campaign, observers noted that he had recently appeared to change the pronunciation of his name, from DEE-santis to duh-SAN-tis, potentially to downplay his Italian roots. He has also portrayed himself as an everyday American, unbeholden to elites, while courting billionaires and insisting on flying on private jets.
His campaign has depicted these and other observations as attacks from unfriendly media outlets, but the governor’s sliding poll numbers suggest deepening skepticism from the Republican base.
The heel controversy seems to fit a narrative about DeSantis, which is why Bootgate became more than an inconsequential story to begin with.
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Why it matters
Americans like their presidents tall. The shorter candidate rarely wins in a presidential election. The bias may be unconscious, but it is real.
A 2013 paper argued that “height plays an important role in determining the electoral success of U.S. presidential candidates and presidents seeking reelection … presidential height, and in particular the relative difference in height between the elected candidate and the runner-up, was a significant predictor of the relative amount of electoral support.”
Height seems to project authority and power. Frontrunner Donald Trump is 6 feet 2, while President Biden is 6 feet.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is quickly replacing DeSantis as the choice of Trump-skeptical Republicans, is 5 feet 8, which some speculate is DeSantis’s real height. Gender expectations being what they are, Haley can wear high heels — and does. On a recent episode of The Daily Show, she needled DeSantis on what has come to be known (inevitably) as Bootgate.
“I can tell you I’ve always talked about my high heels. I’ve never hid that from anybody. I’ve always said, don’t wear them if you can’t run in them. So we’ll see if he can run in them,” she said.
How it’s going
Like the rest of the DeSantis campaign, it’s not going especially well. As with other controversies, DeSantis has seemingly made things worse with awkward or evasive responses.
The 45-year-old culture warrior seemed to give new life to the controversy during an interview with conservative podcaster Patrick Bet-David, who asked DeSantis to put on a pair of Ferragamo boots to quiet the hidden-heel truthers.
DeSantis said he wears “standard, off-the-rack Lucchese” footwear. As for the offering of the Ferragamo boots, the governor said, “I don’t accept gifts. I can’t accept that.” Presumably, he could have tried them on to settle the matter before returning the boots to Bet-David.
Several days later, influential conservative personality Megyn Kelly made light of DeSantis’s predicament on her popular podcast. “So awkward,” Kelly said. “Cringey, cringey.”
What the experts say
Politico asked three experts for their opinions. Those opinions were unanimous: “I’ve helped them with their lifts. [DeSantis] is wearing lifts; there’s no doubt,” as one Houston bootmaker put it.
What the guy who claims to be 6 feet 2 says
Trump’s campaign, which has a comfortable lead over DeSantis, Haley and the rest of the GOP primary field, predictably delighted in the boot brouhaha.
“Instead of telling the truth and just being comfortable in his own skin, he resorts to borderline psychotic behavior by lying to the American people,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said. “Is that what this country wants in a President?