On Tuesday, the Florida Senate passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, and Democrats lost their minds. The Florida left is in a bind these days. Governor Ron DeSantis is shaping the state in his image and Florida is all but guaranteed to go red for the foreseeable future. Yet their recent behavior is desperate even for them.
Democrats are having trouble finding suitable candidates to run for statewide elections in 2022 — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, for instance, isn’t seeking to reclaim her old seat — so it’s not a surprise that they’ve gone all in with the emotional scare tactics and sleight-of-hand rhetorical tricks that increasingly epitomize their party. The approach, however, is misfiring, only serving to prepare DeSantis for his inevitable 2024 presidential bid.
The Parental Rights in Education bill, which Democrats dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, restricts “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in pre-K to third grade, and is expected to be signed by DeSantis into law in short order. The words “don’t say gay” don’t appear anywhere in the bill, of course, but Democrats know their opposition must elicit maximum emotionality in order to fire up their base while obscuring any inconvenient facts.
The inconvenient fact in this instance is that, again, the bill only restricts talk of gender identity in pre-K through third grade, a restriction that most Americans surely find sensible. Ask any non-deranged parent if they want their six-year-old to talk about their sexuality with their teacher and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. Some of the savvier, reality-based Democrats must know this, which is why the nifty “don’t say gay” phrase was adopted. This rhetorical trick might have convinced a wishy-washy Republican governor to equivocate. But DeSantis has stood firm.
In refusing to kowtow to Democratic histrionics — which DeSantis has been doing since early in the pandemic — the governor adopted a signature rhetorical move of his own: he set the political frame and never bended to faux emotionality or backtracked once committed to a position. DeSantis understands that if you don’t fall for Democrats’ emotional blackmail, eventually they’ll have to defend the inconvenient facts. If they scream “don’t say gay,” you counter with “are you okay with a random teacher talking to little kids about sexuality?” and let them attempt to sell that line to normal Americans.
As a Floridian, it’s been fascinating to watch DeSantis become a smooth political operator ready for primetime. In the early days of the pandemic, he was an inexperienced newcomer in search of an identity and governance style. Yet he proved to be up to the challenge, and the ensuing pandemic years honed his burgeoning political personality. He was quicker than most when it came to removing unnecessary pandemic restrictions, but he held his frame — the first time — when pro-lockdown Democrats called him genocidal.
Next, he was forceful in getting kids back to in-person learning, and when faced with histrionics yet again, he never gave in to the screams of “Deathsantis.” But now that the pandemic is in the rearview mirror and DeSantis is looking toward a possible presidential run, he needs more than just popular pandemic policies and an immovable frame — he needs to round out his political platform.
Lately, one gets the sense that DeSantis’s maneuvering in Florida has less to do with the state and more to do with the DeSantis doctrine; the fact that Florida is now the “free state of Florida” and buzzing with newcomers is incidental to the larger project at hand. Which is to say that Florida Democrats have played right into his hands with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Parents’ rights are ascendant at the moment, and after the Virginia governor’s race, it’s clear that Republicans — and many independents and not an insignificant number of Democrats — are sick of the critical race theory craziness. Signing the Parental Rights in Education bill is a major move for DeSantis, as it will begin to give shape to a doctrine and a brand that, until recently, has been mostly associated with his pandemic policies. The histrionic Democrats think they have DeSantis on the ropes, but he’s just flicking them off like the screaming little pests they are.
DeSantis is welcoming these battles because he needs them in order to lay his groundwork for 2024. Another Florida bill, which bans abortions after 15 weeks, is yet another golden opportunity for the governor. The Democrats scream “fascist” and he just nods and signs.
Nikki Fried, Charlie Crist and some lady named Annette Taddeo think they’re vying to face DeSantis, but their actual role, unbeknownst to them, is to help shape the governor for 2024.