Beware the Great White Hope from Florida
You must admit that, for all anti-Trumpers – Democrat, Republican, or Independent – it’s delicious watching the tit-for-tat between Donald Trump, the only as-yet-announced GOP candidate for 2024, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the man everybody expects to announce and, clearly, the primary opponent Trump fears the most.
There’s good reason for Trump to be nervous. DeSantis can match Trump in mouth-to-mouth combat. When Trump accused him of being “weak,” DeSantis immediately snapped back: “At least, I got re-elected. You didn’t.”
And DeSantis is showing early strength among Republicans nationwide eager to move on from Trump. Two days before Trump held his first two campaign events last week, in New Hampshire and South Carolina, DeSantis trumped Trump in both states. According to the University of New Hampshire, DeSantis led Trump by 12 points among Republican voters, 42 to 30. In South Carolina, Spry Strategies gave DeSantis an even bigger edge, 52 to 33.
But Democrats gleeful over the prospect of seeing DeSantis knock out Trump would do well to remember the adage from Aesop’s Fables: “Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.” And regret it. DeSantis would be harder to beat than Trump and, as he’s evidenced lately, on public policy he may be even more dangerous.
His latest hat trick: Defunding all diversity programs in Florida colleges and universities. Which not only contradicts traditional conservative principals of letting school districts, not the state or federal government, run our schools, but abruptly ends long-standing efforts to make sure taxpayer-funded colleges are accessible to children of all American families, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Ron DeSantis is the new George Wallace.
His ban on college diversity programs comes just two weeks after DeSantis announced he was prohibiting public high schools from offering a new advanced placement course in African-American history. Florida schools will no longer teach students about the history of slavery or racism in this country, he ordered, because it “lacks significant educational value.” In his view, it’s better to lie and keep them in the dark.
Of course, if Florida kids don’t learn about racism in the classroom, they won’t learn about it in books, either. Not in school libraries. Under the governor’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law and “Stop Woke Act,” schools are required to remove all books from library shelves containing any talk of “sexual orientation or gender identity” or any discussion of systemic racism. That includes, for example, novels by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Parent “volunteers” are encouraged to raid school libraries and make sure that any books they deem offensive are no longer on shelves. Librarians and teachers who fail to comply risk firing or felony prosecution.
Unfortunately, DeSantis has already had an impact. The College Board dumbed down its AP course to remove any discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement (so much for the memory of George Floyd). And Axios reported this week that, following Florida’s example, nearly 30 percent of educators in red states report they’ve scrapped Black history lessons for fear of being fired or shamed on social media. Which is, of course, the best way to create a whole new generation of ignorant racists.
While fighting the culture wars, DeSantis’ actions on health care have been equally harmful. One of the last governors to impose a lockdown under Covid and one of the first to lift it, DeSantis also opposed mandates on vaccines and masks recommended by President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, remarking, “Somebody needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac.”
DeSantis is also one of 11 governors who have refused to enlist in the expansion of Medicaid offered as part of the Affordable Care Act, leaving 2.6 million Florida residents as of 2021 without any health insurance at all. That’s 12 percent of the state’s population, well above the national average of 8.6 percent.
Yet, despite his open attacks on Blacks and gays, presiding over higher costs for housing and health care, and raising taxes on consumers by over $1 billion, DeSantis won re-election by 19 points. Because he knows how to play the culture wars, famously insisting that “Florida is where woke goes to die” – whatever that means. And that’s what makes DeSantis more dangerous politically than Trump. He combines Trump-esque populism with more political know-how.
Because it’s such fun to see anybody get the best of Trump, some Democrats are almost rooting for DeSantis. Big mistake. Better to run against Trump in 2024. He’d be easier to beat.
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of 10 books, including: “From the Left: My Life in the Crossfire.” His email address is: email@example.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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