Ron DeSantis is winning the culture wars

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No governor has drawn more national attention than Ron DeSantis of Florida. And since DeSantis is a Republican and in the mold of Donald Trump, that coverage has been decidedly negative.

The topic could be his handling of COVID-19. Or his decision to open businesses and beaches earlier than most other governors. Or vaccine distribution. Or his Parental Rights in Education bill (dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by Democrats and echoed by many in the press). Or banning most abortions after 15 weeks. Or approving an immigration measure that doesn’t allow state entities to do business with businesses and companies that transport migrant children who crossed the border illegally into Florida. Or signing a proclamation declaring Emma Weyant the true winner of a U.S. national college swimming title after she lost to transgender athlete Lia Thomas. 

You can agree or disagree with DeSantis and the Florida legislature on any of these moves, measures and proclamations. What makes the governor popular among his supporters is that he doesn’t appear to give a damn about what the Florida press or the national political media think about how he’s leading his state. He has a plan and principles that appear to be unwavering.  

Consider a recent exchange the governor had with WFLA’s Evan Donovan after the reporter referenced “what critics call the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”

“Does it say that in the bill?” DeSantis shot back, refusing to allow his critics to frame the bill as homophobic. “Does it say that in the bill? I’m asking what’s in the bill because you are pushing false narratives. It doesn’t matter what critics say.” 

“It says ‘classroom instruction on sexual identity and gender orientation,’” Donovan replied while leaving out a very key detail. 

“For who?” DeSantis retorted. “For grades pre-K through three, no five-year-olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds. And the idea that you wouldn’t be honest about that and tell people what it actually says, it’s why people don’t trust people like you because you peddle false narratives. And so we just disabused you of those narratives.” 

And that’s true: The bill applies to kids in kindergarten through second grade being taught sexual instruction. Sounds like something that a parent of a kindergartener or first- or second-grader would support.  

“Understand, if you are out protesting this bill, you are by definition putting yourself in favor of injecting sexual instruction to 5-, 6- and 7-year-old kids,” DeSantis said during another recent press conference. “I think most people think that’s wrong. I think parents especially think that’s wrong.” 

The national press is largely against the bill, and headline after headline refers to it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, in an apparent effort to push a false narrative.  

Take this framing by NBC News: Its headline read, “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signals support for ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” followed by a subhead — “The bill, which would bar the ‘discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity’ in primary schools, passed the Florida Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.” 

The headline itself was misleading, because that’s not what the bill is called; it’s what critics call it. And the story itself, which wasn’t an opinion piece, never once mentioned DeSantis’s main point — that the bill bars sexual instruction to 5-, 6- and 7-year-old kids. 

Why omit that crucial element of the legislation? Unless, of course, a narrative is being peddled.  

Despite all the negative press, Florida voters support the bill as it pertains to “banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade” by a solid margin. Per recent Quinnipiac polling, 51 percent of voters there support it while just 35 percent oppose and 15 percent have no opinion. 

Overall, DeSantis is leading his Democratic challengers in this year’s governor’s race. 

If Charlie Crist captures the Democratic nomination in Florida, DeSantis would beat him 55 percent to 34 percent if the election were held today, according to a poll released by the Public Opinion Research Lab at University of North Florida. If matched up against Nikki Fried, Desantis has a 55 percent to 32 percent lead. Other polls also show DeSantis comfortably ahead. 

Overall, DeSantis, an Iraq War veteran and Harvard Law graduate, sits at 54 percent while President Biden is at 39 approval in Florida.  

He’ll almost certainly win in November to capture a second term as governor, which could serve as a springboard to a 2024 presidential run.

When 2024 rolls around, Donald Trump will be 78 years old; DeSantis will be 45. 

A recent CPAC straw poll showed Trump winning the nomination easily, with 61 percent of the vote. DeSantis was second with 28 percent, up 7 points from last year. No other candidate got more than 2 percent. 

But if Trump doesn’t run, DeSantis gets 61 percent of the vote. His next-nearest potential competitors, Donald Trump Jr. and Mike Pompeo, each get 6 percent. 

Ron DeSantis is a culture warrior, just as Trump was before him. His positions may be unpopular with Democrats and the press — but if Florida is an indication of sentiment in other swing states, such as Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, this will serve him very well if he becomes 2024 GOP nominee. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.

Tags 2024 gop primary anti-transgender legislation Charlie Crist Donald Trump Florida Joe Biden Mike Pompeo Ron DeSantis trumpism

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