Gov. Ron DeSantis, it turns out, is no political genius.
Credited for his ability to sniff out conservative cultural grievances like no politician since Donald Trump, DeSantis became known for fighting drag queens, critical race theory and Disney. Buoyed by a landslide reelection last year, and his sense of self-importance, DeSantis based his presidential campaign in great part on his approach to the pandemic and being a culture warrior.
He miscalculated his appeal.
His polling numbers have sagged — they are worse than they were before he entered the GOP primary. His campaign has burned through cash and recently laid off 38 employees. National media that, after last year’s midterms crowned DeSantis Trump’s heir apparent, discuss his lack of charisma these days.
All about the economy
DeSantis has hit the reset button, shifting his focus to economic issues, as the Herald reported this week. He’s still rallying against what he describes as “woke,” but he’s poised to show his populist and sympathetic side. On Monday, he announced a set of conservative run-of-the-mill economic proposals, vowed to cut spending and even talked about the country’s wealth gap and college debt. He told reporters he would not answer questions on “anything that’s not about the economy.”
While some may welcome his sharpened attention to pocketbook concerns, we know better.
Even if DeSantis magically transforms into Ronald Reagan, the damage he’s done has been enshrined into every facet of Florida law and policy.
He has censored what teachers can say in classrooms about LGBTQ+ Americans and race. He’s railed against educators trying to “indoctrinate” kids while doing his own brainwashing. The Florida Department of Education has allowed schools to use teaching materials for children created by nonprofit PragerU. Founder and conservative radio host Dennis Prager has been blunt about the mission of PragerU Kids, the Herald reported.
“It’s true we bring doctrines to children.” Prager said at a conference for the conservative group Moms for Liberty in Philadelphia. “But what is the bad about our indoctrination?”
“No big deal”
Thanks to DeSantis, your kids may now be exposed to a cartoon video by PragerU Kids in which Christopher Columbus tells children that slavery was “no big deal” in his time, and that “being taken as a slave is better than being killed.” Or a video narrated by African-American social media conservative personality Candace Owens that absolves white people from blame for the sins of slavery — “slavery was not invented by white people,” she says.
Your child cannot receive gender-affirming care if they are transgender, even when recommended by a doctor. They can’t use the bathroom that aligns with their identity in government buildings. Your teenager cannot attend a drag queen show, not even with your supervision or consent. And your kid’s school teacher may lose their job if they teach Black history in a way that makes white parents feel their children are being blamed for racism. If they mention that LGBTQ+ people exist, they may get in trouble, thanks to Florida’s vague parental rights law known as “Don’t say gay.”
The Legislature in the past two years has been hard at work to make sure DeSantis had enough culture-war victories to brag about. It’s early, and DeSantis can still close in on Donald Trump, who has a huge lead in the primary polls, but, so far, fighting windmills might not be paying off for him.
Primary voters either care more about real issues or their support for Trump is too strong to waver for any other candidate. Regardless, by shifting his strategy DeSantis has recognized cultural grievances only go so far.
In Florida, unfortunately, they’ve gone too far.