Culture war is smart politics for DeSantis and Republicans | Bill Cotterell

Gov. Ron DeSantis presents his State of the State Address during opening day of the 2022 Florida Legislative Session Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
Gov. Ron DeSantis presents his State of the State Address during opening day of the 2022 Florida Legislative Session Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

One person’s shameless political pandering is another voter’s reasonable response to what the people of Florida, or the nation, want from our leaders.

Take the bill Gov. Ron DeSantis received from the Legislature last week, the one that made national news. The governor and Republicans who run the Capitol’s fourth floor call it “parental rights in education.”

Democrats, powerless to stop the measure, dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Or we could consider DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act," or his plan to ban critical race theory from classrooms, or the election-reform ideas — including creation of an elections police force to handle allegations of fraud — or the 15-week abortion restriction or the illegal-immigration crackdown.

Never mind the real-life impact, or even the constitutionality, of whichever new laws you’re happy to see or outraged about. All of them have a common thread running through them.

They burnish the governor’s already sterling conservative credentials and they upstage whichever Democrat runs against DeSantis next fall.

You think he’s catering to the Donald Trump fans? OK, Democratic nominee, tell voters next November what gender-assignment information should be discussed with third graders.

Explain how, if elected, you would champion abortion rights if the U.S. Supreme Court greenlights that 15-week limit now pending in a Mississippi case. Give us the downside of the “free state of Florida” DeSantis has been bragging on.

And be sure to put it in words that fit on a bumper sticker or in a 30-second video ad.

Sure, the majority party’s legislative accomplishments are mostly scare tactics — ugly appeals to homophobia, even racism. Democratic legislators tried to point out real-life consequences of several bills, which passed by mostly party-line votes, and raised legitimate objections to the constitutionality, necessity, or function of these laws.

Details and facts don’t win elections. Addressing the concerns of parents who don’t like trends they see in schools will draw more votes, as Virginia Gov. Glen Younkin just demonstrated.

Cultural warriors win, especially in the South.

Several states copied the 15-week limit on abortion or have “trigger laws” to take effect if the Supreme Court recedes from its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

A day after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill drew nationwide news coverage, a similar bill was introduced in Georgia — even though it’s far too late for that state’s General Assembly to act on it.

David Perdue, left, Gov. Brian Kemp
David Perdue, left, Gov. Brian Kemp

Coincidentally, a sponsor of that bill in Georgia is a Trumpster running for lieutenant governor. At the same time, Gov. Brian Kemp filed his papers for re-election and ignored his primary opponent, former Sen. David Perdue, who has Trump’s avid support.

So what did Kemp stress in his Capitol rally? Why, “woke cancel culture” and the “radical left,” of course, as personified by Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.

“We are in a fight for the soul of our state against Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, the national media and many far-left allies,” Kemp said. “The media, Hollywood and the elites will all be against us.”

DeSantis couldn’t have said it better himself. And they’re right — the media, the self-absorbed showbiz celebrities and whoever you might consider “elites” are against conservative Republicans everywhere — but posing as scapegoats of the cultural highbrows has worked for Republicans since Nixon was a rookie.

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A few weeks ago, POLITICO reported on extensive polling by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, indicating the culture war is working.

The party’s own research showed the public considers Democrats “preachy” and “judgmental,” focused on the wrong side of issues a lot of people care about. That’s one reason Biden, in his State of the State speech, came out against any “defund the police” talk.

In a generic choice, voters in the DCCC polling and focus groups favored Republicans by 4 points to lead the nation, but that went up to 14 when the culture-war stuff was invoked.

With just a five-seat margin in the U.S. House, and the Senate tied 50-50, the Democrats can expect a bloodbath in Biden’s first mid-term elections. Lately, the White House is trying to explain gasoline price hikes — and making sense.

But when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

DeSantis will soon sign those bills he sought, and no doubt some of them will be struck down in court. So, then he gets to add all those liberal elitists meddling federal judges to his campaign speeches.

But by then, his legislative package will have already accomplished its political purpose.

Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at


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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: For DeSantis and Republicans, the culture war is smart politics | Cotterell