Ron DeSantis Went Down With The Anti-Woke Ship

As Republican voters appear less engaged with culture war rhetoric, it poses a challenge for the politician who has prominently portrayed himself as a prominent anti-"woke" advocate.

In his victory speech after securing a second term as Florida's governor in November 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis boldly proclaimed, 'Florida is the place where woke ideals meet their end.' Despite a challenging landscape for Republicans nationwide, DeSantis emerged victorious, positioning himself as an anti-"woke" champion.

Though not his official presidential campaign announcement, it served as a signal to voters nationwide: he positioned himself as the candidate capable of combating the encroaching influence of 'wokeness' spreading across schools, workplaces, and our societal fabric.

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However, a year following that pivotal speech which positioned him as a credible contender against Donald Trump, Governor DeSantis finds himself polling significantly behind the former president. His efforts to propagate an anti-"woke" message nationwide have encountered hurdles. What led to this shift?

Is DeSantis struggling as a messenger, failing to resonate with GOP voters on his anti-"woke" stance? Or does Trump's strong influence over the Republican electorate remain an insurmountable factor?

"It's a blend of various factors," said Alex Conant, a GOP consultant at Firehouse Strategies, a public affairs firm, in conversation with HuffPost.

Originally, "woke" was rooted in African American Vernacular English, signifying vigilance against racial discrimination. However, amid the aftermath of George Floyd's murder and subsequent racial justice protests, conservative commentators repurposed the term, using it disparagingly to criticize progressive, equality, or diversity-related ideologies.

Firms issuing supportive statements on diversity initiatives or revising racially insensitive logos, educators advocating for accurate U.S. history education, and celebrities denouncing discrimination were swiftly labeled as 'woke'—a term conservatives across the board began to fear.

In contrast, across Florida and the nation, opposing 'woke' ideals entailed proposing legislation targeting LGBTQ+ students, workplace diversity programs, and regulating school reading materials. Political strategists perceived any candidate championing these notions as a potent contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Few public figures have embraced and championed this concept as fervently as DeSantis.

"The 'woke' mentality resembles a form of cultural Marxism, essentially an assault on truth," DeSantis articulated during a Fox News interview after announcing his presidential candidacy. "Because it undermines truth, our only option is to counter it with force."

In a subsequent address in Iowa, he pledged to confront 'wokeness' as president. 'We will combat 'woke' ideologies in education, in corporate settings, and within the halls of Congress,' he affirmed.

However, rallying against 'wokeness' and accentuating culture wars has proven to be an unsuccessful strategy in recent elections.

In the November 2022 elections, candidates emphasizing cultural divides suffered defeats in crucial races across states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia. Additionally, school board candidates advocating against 'wokeness' experienced losses.

It appears that Republicans may have overestimated the depth of GOP voter engagement in combatting 'wokeness.' With mere weeks before the initial ballots are cast, a November Iowa poll revealed DeSantis tied for second place with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, both polling at just 16%.

Prior to DeSantis, Trump seemed to recognize the limitations of the anti-'wokeness' narrative. 'I'm not a fan of the term 'woke' because I hear it repeated constantly. It's just a phrase they throw around, and many people don't understand its meaning,' he remarked at an Iowa event in June.

Conant acknowledges Trump's assessment, stating, 'Many voters aren't familiar with the term 'woke.' Republicans struggle to articulate its meaning.'

“Fundamentally, a lot of Republicans are troubled by activist politicians on the right and the left, and they don’t want to see the government penalizing companies,”

As a display of his commitment to combatting 'wokeness,' DeSantis made headlines when he targeted Disney following the company's criticism of Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law, which imposes restrictions on discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. In response, DeSantis nullified the special tax status of the Disney district and appointed a fresh board to oversee it. Subsequently, the corporate giant sued the state, citing violations of its First Amendment rights.

Expressing his views on Disney's critique of the law in March, DeSantis remarked, 'I believe they crossed a line. We're determined to push back when threats are posed against our parents and children.'

However, by August, DeSantis seemed to face a setback. Despite appointing board members loyal to him, a policy passed by the previous board rendered the new members largely powerless.

Ron DeSantis’ Anti-Woke Stand Falls Short Among GOP Voters

In November 2022, following his triumph in securing a second term as Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis positioned himself as an anti-woke champion. However, a year later, he trails far behind Donald Trump in polls, struggling to extend his anti-woke message beyond state boundaries. This raises questions about DeSantis' effectiveness as a messenger or whether Trump's hold on Republican voters remains unshakeable.

Alex Conant, a GOP consultant at Firehouse Strategies, suggested it's a mix of factors causing DeSantis’ struggles. Originally, the term “woke” aimed to stay alert to racial discrimination in African American Vernacular English. But its derogatory usage emerged after the George Floyd protests, denoting anything related to progressivism, equality, or diversity, especially criticized by conservative voices.

Across the nation, anti-woke sentiments translated into bills targeting LGBTQ+ students, diversity programs, and school curriculum restrictions. DeSantis passionately embraced this concept, branding woke culture as "cultural Marxism" and advocating a “war on woke” during his presidential aspirations.

Yet, focusing on culture wars hasn't resonated well in recent elections. Candidates spotlighting these issues faced losses in crucial races, while school board candidates campaigning against wokeness were also unsuccessful.

This decline suggests an overestimation by Republicans of voter interest in combatting wokeness. A recent Iowa poll shows DeSantis tied for second place with Nikki Haley, indicating his lagging support among GOP voters.

Trump seemed to identify the limitations of anti-woke branding earlier, criticizing the term's ambiguity in June. Conant corroborated this, highlighting the challenge Republicans face in defining "woke."

DeSantis aimed to display strength in fighting wokeness by confronting Disney over Florida’s "Don’t Say Gay" law. However, his efforts faced hurdles as old policies rendered newly appointed board members powerless despite his attempts to exert control.

The backlash against DeSantis’ actions targeting woke companies aligns with traditional conservative views, revealing a distaste for government intervention in the marketplace. Polling underscores the limited appeal of the anti-woke stance among GOP voters, suggesting DeSantis might be misreading their priorities.

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