The Strategy Behind Desantis' Culture War
The New Yorker reveals some of the governor's most effective tactics.
The New Yorker just published a report highlighting my work supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ policies on critical race theory and gender ideology. If you can set aside the obligatory editorializing—the disposition of the New Yorker is obviously left-wing—there is some valuable insight into the political strategy that DeSantis has adopted.
The article begins with some behind-the-scenes details:
In April, the conservative activist Christopher Rufo flew from his home, near Seattle, to Miami, to meet with Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, and to take part in the public signing of the Stop Woke Act. A former documentary filmmaker and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Rufo was the lead protagonist of last year’s furor over the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools and helped advise the Governor on the Florida law, which aimed to limit discussion of racial history and identity in schools and workplaces. Rufo was especially taken with how personally invested DeSantis seemed in the policy. “He shows up to the tarmac at 6:30 a.m. with a Red Bull energy drink, ready to roll through the policy papers,” Rufo said. The bill had not come from the Governor’s advisers or the grass roots: “It’s driven by him.”
From there, the writer, Benjamin Wallace-Wells, recounts the story of DeSantis’ fight against Walt Disney after the company publicly announced its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits public schools from promoting gender and sexual ideologies in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis mobilized the public against Disney and quickly signed legislation to strip the company of its special tax and governing status—an aggressive move that most political observers did not anticipate.
As Wallace-Wells writes:
DeSantis made a second significant move during the debate over the bill, one that Rufo in particular emphasized: the Governor escalated. The C.E.O. of the Walt Disney Company, Bob Chapek, told shareholders during an annual meeting early in March that he opposed the bill and had called DeSantis to say so; DeSantis retaliated with a new bill that stripped Disney (Central Florida’s largest taxpayer) of certain special legislative benefits that it had enjoyed since its establishment, a half century ago. “At the time, I remember some conversation, ‘Oh, DeSantis will never be able to vanquish Disney, Disney’s too powerful, too beloved,’ and at the time Disney had a seventy-seven per cent favorability rating with the public,” Rufo told me. He credited the Florida Governor with two insights: “A, that the bill is popular, and B, that though Disney is an economic and cultural power, it is really a novice political power, and, as many people are saying lean out of it, he leans into the fight, I think, brilliantly.”
And the conclusion:
By the end of this campaign, Rufo said, Disney’s favorability ratings had dwindled to about thirty-three per cent. Its stock price is down nearly fifty per cent from a year ago. On Twitter, Rufo celebrated DeSantis’ shock-and-awe strategy: “The way to win the culture war is to demonstrate strength, blast through fake taboos, and play for keeps.”
The Left is starting to understand DeSantis as a major threat—and for good reason. In my view, DeSantis is the most courageous and effective politician in the United States today. He understands how to frame the issues, never buckles under controversy, and has demonstrated a deep knowledge of public policy. He can play the media game, but he can also play the legislative game, moving significant policies through the Florida state legislature with remarkable speed.
DeSantis is the man to watch. He is making the necessary transition from “culture war as performance” to “culture war as public policy.” He is writing the new playbook for conservative politics and his enemies are starting to take note.