Editor’s Observe: Nicole Hemmer is an affiliate professor of historical past and director of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Heart for the Examine of the Presidency at Vanderbilt College. She is the creator of “Messengers of the Proper: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics” and the forthcoming “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics within the Nineties.” She cohosts the historical past podcasts “Previous Current” and “This Day in Esoteric Political Historical past.” The views expressed on this commentary are her personal. View extra opinion on CNN.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a transparent technique for constructing assist for his presidential bid: chum the waters with crimson meat for the Republican base, then comply with his rhetorical punches with legislative and government motion. From banning books in class libraries to flying migrants to blue states to firing a progressive prosecutor, DeSantis has displayed a Trumpian knack for driving media protection.
However his agenda in Florida — which he now envisions as a blueprint for the remainder of america — isn’t just about PR stunts: He has used his energy as governor to translate provocation into coverage with alarming velocity. In doing so, he has emerged as a brand new form of Republican governor: one who has used his state to show that he can institute a simpler and aggressive model of former President Donald Trump’s politics.
And in pursuit of those so-called tradition wars, DeSantis has vastly expanded the facility of the chief in Florida, which has been one in every of his central targets since taking workplace. “I would like you to present me a binder of all of the authorities of the governor,” he says he instructed the state’s common counsel shortly after turning into governor. “What can I do as a matter of constitutional proper with out anyone checking me?”
It seems, quite a bit. Along with submitting complaints to shut down drag exhibits and firing a prosecutor he disagrees with, DeSantis has leaned on a pliant legislature, which has signed off on an agenda that permits him to seize management of municipal providers and growth for Disney and ban topics taught in faculties. Such vital energy grabs sign an angle towards authorities energy that goes far past fights over tradition, enjoying as an alternative into an embrace of illiberalism that has more and more outlined a lot of the Republican Get together.
A decade in the past, Republican governors emerged because the occasion’s potential bridge-builders and saviors. Extra reasonable generally than their Tea Get together counterparts in Congress, simpler in pursuing fashionable agendas, a lot of Republican governors — notably these in blue and purple states — have been lauded on the time by politicos and pundits as politicians who may construct nationwide majorities able to efficient governance. This picture by no means supplied a whole image of what Republican governors have been doing — in Wisconsin, for instance, Scott Walker spent two phrases demolishing unions and public universities within the state — however for these in search of a supply of fashionable conservative governance, the governors appeared like a lifeboat in a sea of rebel populism.
Within the 2020s, Republican governors stay a wealthy supply of occasion management, however within the post-Trump period, they give the impression of being extra like DeSantis than former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. The governor’s seat is now a perch to show which you could manipulate all of the levers of energy to feed the occasion’s base, each in-state and nationally. DeSantis has accomplished this with a specific aptitude, selecting high-profile fights with Disney and Martha’s Winery, whereas additionally seizing on the ethical panics of the second, from “wokeness” to essential race concept to trans rights.
He’s not alone. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose penchant for fleece vests appears to have confused commentators into considering he’s minimize from the identical fabric because the purple-state Republican governors of the 2010s, has additionally reportedly been eyeing a presidential bid. However rumors of his reasonable politics are vastly exaggerated. Youngkin’s rise to workplace ran by means of a panic about essential race concept and trans college students.
Whereas DeSantis made headlines by concentrating on the management of New School, a small public liberal arts school in Sarasota, Youngkin has been stacking the board of governors on the College of Virginia with antagonistic members dedicated to remaking the college. Whereas DeSantis grabbed the highlight by signing laws that restricted instruction on racism in faculties and workplaces, Youngkin issued an government order banning the educating of essential race concept. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who introduced her bid for president final month, has tracked this alteration as effectively, making an attempt to remake her picture from the governor of South Carolina who took down the Accomplice flag on the statehouse to the one who insists “wokeness is a virus extra lethal than any pandemic.”
On some degree, there’s not a lot new right here: These governors are partaking in rebranded political fights that dominated politics within the Nineties. The last decade witnessed historical past wars, with battles over what variations of the nation’s previous have been taught in school rooms and displayed in museums. It popularized “political correctness” as a method to dismiss issues over language and illustration. It gave rise to a new nativism that sought to bar undocumented immigrants from accessing social items like public training. And it noticed an organized motion to cease “the gay agenda,” as right-wing teams tried to roll again gay-rights legal guidelines in a dozen states.
Some Republican governors of the period sought to trip these points to the White Home. California Gov. Pete Wilson campaigned for reelection in 1994 by stoking fears of undocumented immigrants. He went on to hunt a ban on affirmative motion applications and bilingual training within the state. His 1996 presidential bid made little headway, although, and in 2000 the occasion opted for a Republican governor who promised to pursue immigration reform and campaigned underneath the banner of compassionate conservatism.
The Nineties additionally provided a mind-set about these political fights that continues to be with us at this time: tradition wars. Journalists protecting DeSantis have reached for the phrase once more and once more, seeing his deal with incendiary points as a technique to stir the bottom by specializing in intensely emotional matters. However the culture-wars framework has flaws. It means that the problems are a distraction from actual politics, a sleight of hand to attract consideration away from financial coverage and focus as an alternative on much less substantive, extra emotive cultural issues.
That framing misses that the problems on the coronary heart of the so-called tradition wars are sometimes financial points as effectively. DeSantis’ assaults on public training come paired with efforts to weaken lecturers’ unions (whereas entry to public training itself has been a core a part of the US economic system for over a century). Limits on reproductive well being care are limits on incomes energy and financial freedom for each men and women. Scaling again sources to handle office discrimination cuts off alternatives for Black and different non-White employees.
Past that, DeSantis has framed his politics round an anti-elitist rhetoric that has vital energy in US politics and tradition. The introduction to his new e-book, “The Braveness to Be Free,” is a broadside towards elites that repeatedly invokes populism whereas avoiding the phrase conservatism. He positions himself as somebody exterior the institution of the Republican Get together, a lot the identical method Trump, and earlier than him, Pat Buchanan, did as effectively.
For now, DeSantis and Trump lead early polls for the Republican presidential nomination; round 80% of Republicans assist both Trump or DeSantis. However fairly than representing totally different visions of the Republican Get together, totally different strands of ideology or totally different approaches to energy, they current a united entrance for a celebration that has embraced a cruel-edged, power-hungry right-wing politics – and now’s weighing who would be the simplest messenger for that model.