Ron DeSantis won the Florida governor’s mansion by fewer than 33,000 votes. No, not today, when he trampled former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to win a second term (with, as of election night with 85 percent of precincts reporting, a nearly 20-point lead). When the Republican — whose handy reelection victory was all but decided long before Election Day this year — ran just four years ago, the contest was decided by less than half of a percentage point, fewer votes than the population of Florida’s 19th-smallest county.
Yes, DeSantis has the incumbent advantage. And yes, he was lucky enough to ride the Trump wave after 2016 (and smart enough to adopt what worked). But his decisive victory should also signal to Republican state leaders across the country: In today’s political climate, voters are rewarding competent governance and tactical culture war offensives.
Too many Republican governors have taken office only to reject the concerns of the people who voted them in. Republicans, from Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox to Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson to South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, have opposed bills by their state legislatures to keep sexually confused males out of girls’ sports. (DeSantis signed the Florida legislature’s bill to do just that, signaling that Florida is “going to go off of biology, not ideology.”)
Holcomb shuttered church buildings and limited services to 10 people or fewer during the Covid panic. Cox defended excluding white kids from a basketball scholarship program based on their skin color. Noem refused to call a special session to allow her legislature to pass a bill banning Covid vaccine passports. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland compared people (including many of his constituents) who chose not to wear a mask during Covid to drunk drivers. The office of Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee refused to condemn the politicized Justice Department’s prosecution of peaceful pro-life demonstrators in his state and the FBI’s raid on the home of one pro-lifer, 73-year-old Tennessean Chester Gallagher.
It shouldn’t be hard for red-state governors to stand against boys in girls’ sports, the sterilization of sexually confused kids, the killing of babies in the womb, porn in school libraries, or racist school curricula. By latching onto the fringe depravity in their own party, Democrats have made Republicans’ jobs of opposing them easy! Republican politicians watching DeSantis turn Florida from a purple state that voted for Obama twice into, this year, a reliably red state that elected its GOP incumbent by certain double digits, should take note.
1. Pick Culture War Fights
For too long, Republicans have played defense, relying on economic talking points while failing to win or even preserve ground in the culture war Democrats have waged from preschool classrooms to abortion facilities. Republicans who don’t know what time it is allow left-wing activists to target unsuspecting students with racialized curricula and transgender propaganda, even in deep-red states such as Idaho.
Instead of rolling over for corporate interests or worrying about criticism from The New York Times, Republican governors should be seeking out opportunities to tactically punch back. There are plenty.
Other GOP governors and legislatures should pass laws prohibiting teachers from lecturing kindergarteners about “sexual orientation or gender identity.” When those commonsense protections of parental rights are incessantly attacked by corporations like Disney that enjoy special privileges from the state, governors should reconsider those special privileges, not give in to corporate pressure.
They should insist on protecting students from being inundated with critical race theory and sign legislation doing so. States affected by President Joe Biden’s border crisis (which increasingly means all of them) should take action to show they won’t put up with the Biden administration secretly shipping illegal aliens into their states. They should all pass vigorous protections of unborn life (and many have). They should make it clear that lawless rioting threatening their communities will not be tolerated. They should pass laws to help protect their citizens from Big Tech censorship and prohibit Silicon Valley giants from meddling in their elections.
Notably, DeSantis’ culture war fights also appear to have earned him historic support among Hispanic voters, in a sea change every Republican should be taking notes from. After losing the Florida Hispanic vote by 10 points just four years ago, Axios reported the day before Election Day 2022 that DeSantis was leading his Democrat opponent 51 to 44 percent among likely Hispanic voters. In Miami-Dade County, which is 69 percent Hispanic or Latino, DeSantis went from losing the county by 20 percentage points in 2018 to winning it by an 11-point margin this year (as of election night, with 93 percent of votes in). For context, in 2016 Hillary Clinton carried the county by 30 points, Joe Biden won it by 7 points in 2020.
Many Florida Hispanics, especially Cuban Americans who fled communism in their former home country, have been trending away from Democrats’ increasingly socialist policies in recent years. And Hispanic Americans — half of whom identify as Catholic and a quarter of whom identify as Protestant — are less likely to support abortion than the general U.S. population. As Democrats cater to their party’s fringe by endorsing abortion for any reason until birth and irreversible transgender surgeries for minors, every GOP leader should fight hard against their agenda and fervently welcome disillusioned Hispanics to join the fight.
2. Play Offense Against the Narrative
Not only does a successful offense against leftist ideology require picking fights on heavyweight cultural issues, but it also requires an understanding of the corporate media narrative and a willingness to contradict it. Legacy outlets such as MSNBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post are practically extensions of the Democrat Party; as a Republican, if you’re getting favorable coverage from one of those outlets, you’re doing something wrong.
Instead of letting the threat of bad press scare them into obsequience, GOP leaders should take the narrative of the propaganda press head-on. “In some respects, [corporate media] really are the heart and soul of the Democrat Party,” DeSantis told The Federalist in an interview last year. “The politicians are on the side, it’s really corporate media that drives their agenda.”
From acknowledging the press has a narrative that’s anything but mainstream, to refusing to let that narrative define what issues matter, Republicans can learn a thing or two from the way DeSantis (and other rising stars like Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake) handles media propagandists, instead of letting the media handle him.
From quickly opening schools and businesses during Covid to going on the offensive against vaccine mandates and critical race theory, the DeSantis administration is a lesson in taking a stand before the media-establishment consensus decides it’s politically acceptable to do so. “The goal is not to just lose ground more slowly,” the Florida governor explained. “The goal is to regain ground in an offensive direction.”
3. Strong States Keep Federalism Alive
As federal overreach becomes more and more brazen, voters (and the welfare of the entire country) demand strong state leadership pushing back against the Washington machine. The legacy media, woke corporations, Big Tech, academia, and every other major secular institution have abandoned the interests of average Americans who don’t want to pay $5 for gas and just want their kids to learn math in math class.
America’s constitutional system is predicated on a balance of power between state and federal governments, not just between federal branches. State leaders who don’t pull punches are a deterrent against the excesses of Washington, creating a healthy tension that curbs government power. If every state that elects a Republican governor tonight goes on the offensive against the Biden administration’s abuses of power as forcefully as Florida has, it could do more for the country than any changes in Congress.