Most Floridians Like Them Both
Want to know what America will be like if the GOP gains control of the government? Feel like taking a trip down to Florida? I'm not recommending it but... this dystopian mess could be our future. DeSantis is, after all, almost every Republican's second choice for president after Trump-- and for an increasing number, their first choice. He doesn't just not want to count Black people at the polls, he doesn't want school children to learn how to count them at all-- nor gay people. "The Florida Department of Education announced it has rejected dozens of math textbooks submitted by publishers for schools," reported Axios over the weekend, "saying they 'contained prohibited topics' including critical race theory.
Alan Grayson, a former outstanding congressman from Orlando, currently running for the Senate seat Marco Rubio is wasting, once told me "If you watch DeSantis long enough, and you try to piece together some type of explanation for all of the truly evil things he does, you start to think that what DeSantis would really like to do is reverse the outcome of the Civil War."
Let's start with this editorial, DeSantis owns the ‘libs’ and has turned Florida into MAGA Central, from the Miami Herald over the weekend. They begin with a flay indictment: "DeSantis has governed like an extremist. He’s stoked racial animosity. He’s disregarded the 73,000-plus Floridians who have died from COVID-19. He’s scapegoated LGBTQ youth. He’s forced the state Legislature to cede power to him in the redrawing of congressional districts that likely diminish Black representation. He’s got autocratic tendencies, inflicting revenge on anyone who dares to disagree." Wow! I'm glad to see someone's stand up to him, but...
DeSantis has not been punished politically-- on the contrary, he’s benefited. For all the harm he’s done to the Sunshine State, DeSantis is meeting at least some voters where they are. Some even consider him the most powerful governor in recent history.
Very few people, including many Democrats, doubt he will win reelection in November. Maybe his antics are all part of his purported plan to run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. But in the Sunshine State, his approval ratings remain high (58%, according to a February poll).
Part of the blame for this one-man rule falls on Florida Democrats’ ineptitude at winning elections. In this case, they have yet to discover how to counter the governor’s political messaging machine and the “socialist” label the GOP has attached to them. Florida has become more red and less purple in recent elections. Donald Trump won the state twice. The number of registered Republican voters outpaced the number of Democrats last year. Florida has become MAGA Central.
With every culture war the governor launches-- whether it be against critical race theory or “woke” Disney-- he appears to have his finger on the pulse of something. That something might be the discomfort some Americans-- and not just those MAGA Trump voters the left often ridicules-- have with fast-changing cultural norms about gender, sexuality and race. Concerns that the left, perhaps, have too brusquely dismissed without giving them a fair hearing. Then DeSantis exploits them, creating useful boogeymen.
It’s to those voters DeSantis spoke when he professed this week that Florida’s congressional districts should be “race neutral.” At face value, who can argue with allowing all candidates to win on the merits? But he leaves out the historic exclusions that led to federal law requiring districts in which minorities have the opportunity to elect a representative.
In a society with short attention spans, it’s the sound bite that sells the message, not the nuance and important historical context.
Clearly, historical context is not the governor’s concern. For example, school districts say they never taught critical race theory, an academic area of study that looks at the intersection of race and U.S. institutions. But DeSantis still claims credit for banning CRT from K-12.
DeSantis seems to have an innate gift in identifying what Gainesville-based GOP consultant Alex Patton called the “out group”-- the people who don’t look or think like the governor and his base. It’s teachers and “groomers” indoctrinating young children about sexual orientation and gender identity against parents’ wishes. “Woke” workplace diversity trainers who make white people feel guilty about all the “isms.” Or Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC.
“At the national scene, everything is being defined by what you’re against,” Patton told the Herald Editorial Board.
Trump drummed up anger against immigrants using one Mexican rapist. DeSantis perfected Trump’s game. He’s more disciplined and less prone to gaffes, leaving it to his press secretary to spew vitriol on social media. A Christina Pushaw tweet, for example, linked opponents of the “Don’t say gay” bill, which bans K-3 instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity, to sexual predators.
We have to give it to the governor. He’s savvy. With his help, Republicans now own the issue of “parental rights” while Democrats are left wondering what hit them.
Virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic opened the eyes of many parents to what their children are learning (more affluent parents had the privilege of working from home and helping their children; low-wage essential workers didn’t). Some parents didn’t like what they saw and want more control. That spurred the rise of conservative groups like Moms for Liberty, best known for trying to ban books about LGBTQ themes and race.
The erratic school closures in other parts of the country have put parents in the vortex of American politics. Suburban white mothers have always been coveted swing voters capable of deciding elections. Now “this is the year of the K-12 parent,” Susan MacManus, a retired political science professor at the University of South Florida, told the Editorial Board. No wonder the GOP used parental control to push bigoted legislation like the “Don’t say gay” bill and to limit how discussions about race happen in classrooms-- if at all.
The Editorial Board, indeed, is an advocate for parents engaging in their children’s education-- but as partners of the school system, not as constant adversaries willing to damage other kids’ academic experience to enhance that of their own.
As the delta variant wreaked havoc in Florida last summer, DeSantis banned schools and local governments from requiring masks. He appointed a state surgeon general dismissive of vaccines. While Floridians died in local hospitals he talked mostly about getting rid of COVID restrictions. That lack of empathy alone should be an indictment of this governor.
But, at least for now, the coronavirus doesn’t sound as scary. Unless a new variant changes that, DeSantis will be able to claim his approach to the pandemic worked. He will take credit for reopening the economy and schools early, which did help alleviate the burden on parents and some children’s learning losses.
Democrats will bring up Florida’s COVID death toll in advance of the November elections. They will bring up the myriad of red-meat issues DeSantis put into law. But less than seven months before the midterm elections, we still haven’t seen the organized effort, the unified message from the left on what their vision is for the state. And if the numbers hold, President Biden’s low approval ratings in the state won’t help them.
“The foot was taken off the accelerator” after Barack Obama put together field operations that carried him to victory in the state in 2008 and 2012, Miami-based Democratic consultant and pollster Fernand Amandi told the Editorial Board.
Meanwhile, DeSantis is going 1,000 miles per hour. So far we have seen nothing that will slow him down.
One of the Democrats vying for the nomination to oppose DeSantis, state Senator Annette Taddeo, noted in her own OpEd on Friday that "This is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes-- delegitimizing institutions to the point where people don’t trust them and swear allegiance to a person, rather than the Constitution." She called DeSantis' vision of Florida part of teh dress rehearsal of an autocratic takeover of our country-- "exhibit A." Yesterday she spoke with Jim DeFede on the local CBS affiliate. Worth watching:
Christine Olivo is running for the congressional seat currently held by right-wing Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, primarily the reddest parts of Miami-Dade plus Collier and a bit of Hendry. "DeSantis," she told me yesterday, "did not need to address Women's reproductive rights, it was a choice. DeSantis did not need to address gender identity, if was a choice. DeSantis did not need to address critical race theory, it was a choice. If DeSantis was concerned about governing Florida, then he would have passed an anti-housing cost increase bill. He would have passed Medicare for all statewide. He would have passed a building compliance bill to prevent another collapse like we saw at Surfside. DeSantis used his platform as Governor to build a base for his presidential bid. It is going to take a lot of manpower to undo this level of damage. Democrats need to wake up and get to work!"