Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent battle with what he sees as the “woke” agenda is pushing Florida further to the ideological right and positioning him as a potential presidential candidate, pitting him against none other than Donald Trump.
As his popularity among Republicans grows, DeSantis’ language has become increasingly similar to that of the former president. When announcing the battle in December, DeSantis called critical race theory “state-sanctioned racism” and related training “indoctrination.”
Trump had slammed the teaching of the origins of slavery in America nearly a year before, calling it “twisted” and a form of brainwashing.
DeSantis appears to be positioning himself as the most “MAGA”-friendly governor in the Republican field, a safe position for a potential GOP presidential candidate.
DeSantis has mounted a series of conservative legislative proposals over the past several months, many of which bolster talking points inspired by former Trump, with bills restricting abortion access, limiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation, allowing parents to sue schools based on curriculum, and eliminating a majority Black voting district with an atypical and aggressive self-submitted redistricting map.
He is requesting that law enforcement investigate “election fraud,” echoing the “Big Lie” that Trump’s 2020 election was stolen from him.
And, just this week, DeSantis redoubled his efforts to take control of his state’s redistricting, submitting a new, even more contentious, Republican-leaning map than his initial proposal in January, which still includes the contentious elimination of a majority-Black district in the state’s north.
This action comes after the Florida Supreme Court denied DeSantis’ request for an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of that Jacksonville-area district, which is represented by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black member of Congress. DeSantis’ introduction of a second map puts him at odds with members of his own party in the statehouse, who ignored DeSantis’ initial contentious map in favor of their own.
While veteran Florida-based political analyst Susan MacManus, a professor emeritus at the University of South Florida, believes it’s “certainly unknown” how much DeSantis is shaping himself to be a viable Trump replacement given the potential volatility in the news cycle between now and 2024, she believes DeSantis has political foresight unlike the average incumbent candidate running for reelection. Macmanus sees in Florida’s governor “someone who is able to look at the bigger picture a little bit further down than just tomorrow.”
McManus goes on to say that other Republicans, particularly those outside of Florida, see DeSantis as a rising star and lightning rod. “Everyone wants him to speak at their annual fundraising dinners,” she explained.
Last summer, DeSantis blitzed through a series of out-of-state fundraisers in California, Nevada, and the Northeast, as a lucrative guest of honor guaranteed to boost GOP coffers beyond the Sunshine State.
While MacManus is hesitant to say that DeSantis is “designing himself” to be Trump’s replacement, he does hear Republican groups have a love affair with DeSantis and believe he brings something to the table that Trump may not.
The “STOP W.O.K.E Act,” also known as the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act,” is one policy that has gained traction as DeSantis and other conservatives rally against the teaching of critical race theory.
The governor is also getting involved in culture wars that don’t directly affect Florida, most recently defending podcaster Joe Rogan, who is under fire for using a racist slur for Black people in video clips that are now circulating on social media. DeSantis believes Rogan, who has since apologized, should have sent a stronger message to those who were offended.
DeSantis’ response echoed Trump’s, who urged Rogan to “stop apologizing to the Fake News and Radical Left maniacs.”
“Joe, just keep doing what you’re good at and don’t let them make you look weak and scared. That’s not you and it never will be!” Trump wrote in a statement.
Earlier this month, DeSantis resisted calls to condemn a neo-Nazi rally in Orlando, echoing Trump’s divisive “both sides” remark about the 2017 white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.