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Is Florida turning on Ron DeSantis?

Ron DeSantis may no longer be Florida's darling. Credit: Getty

November 20, 2023 - 7:30pm

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s political momentum has faltered in recent months. Once seen as a legitimate electoral threat to Donald Trump, according to the RealClearPolitics average he’s currently polling between 7 and 20 points and losing to Nikki Haley

In DeSantis’s home state of Florida, where he won reelection by nearly 20 points in 2022, Trump was nearly three times as popular in an early November poll, and the Governor’s approval rating has fallen from 54% to 50% in recent months.

It’s not just his campaign that’s facing difficulties. Several of DeSantis’s headline-grabbing culture war plays are facing major legal challenges. The conservative-dominated Supreme Court upheld a court injunction on Thursday blocking a law that would have made it a criminal offence to admit a child into a sexually explicit adult performance — a measure that opponents labelled “anti-drag”. 

It’s one piece of a larger problem DeSantis faces. He became a poster child for the anti-woke crusade in 2022, taking on then-popular cultural issues such as restricting sexually explicit LGBT-themed content in schools. But the Republican base is losing its appetite for cultural battles, especially in light of electoral disappointments for the GOP which many blame on the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

A Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine is now suing DeSantis for ordering state universities to shut down their chapters of the organisation in October. The DeSantis administration had argued that, by publicly supporting Hamas’s 7 October attacks, the group violated the state’s antisemitism law. Pamphlets from the national chapter which made supportive references to the attacks and stated that “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement”, were of particular concern to the administration, the Daily Signal reported, but opponents are arguing that DeSantis has violated students’ free speech rights.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, DeSantis’s Stop Woke act was blocked in court over concerns that it violated the First Amendment. The measure restricted the teaching of critical race theory, the hiring of CRT consultants and other business and educational practices viewed as discriminatory, but opponents have argued that it stifles academic freedom and free speech. 

Before the anti-woke push, DeSantis found popularity by going against the grain on Covid issues beginning in 2020, and he has since been credited with attracting a massive wave of moves to Florida from blue states and turning the longtime purple state solidly red. 

With the Iowa caucuses weeks away, DeSantis has been courting the state’s religious conservatives and touting his Catholic faith and commitment to his wife and children, a point of contrast between himself and thrice-married Trump, who has distanced himself from his own administration’s anti-abortion victories since leaving office. 

Whether this is enough to turn the tide in the Governor’s favour remains unlikely. Despite DeSantis bringing in $2 million in a 48-hour period last week, he still has considerably less cash to hand than Haley and Trump, who have about two and seven times as much, respectively.


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
8 months ago

Sad to hear the Republican base might be losing its appetite for fighting the woke. The woke certainly haven’t lost their appetite for fighting us.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I don’t think it’s the Republican base that is losing its appetite for fighting wokeism. It’s the majority of Republican politicians.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

Ya. I’m thinking the Republican base isn’t too bothered by Desantis’ anti-woke agenda.

Buena Vista
Buena Vista
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

And you’d be correct! Methinks the author is shilling for a Desantis opponent.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
8 months ago

America has fallen:

“The conservative-dominated Supreme Court upheld a court injunction on Thursday blocking a law that would have made it a criminal offence to admit a child into a sexually explicit adult performance — a measure that opponents labelled “anti-drag”. ”

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago

I live in Florida and we’re very supportive of our governor. Polls (mmmpphh) claiming Nikki Haley has the upper hand are paid-for propaganda meant for the credulous consumption of media shills like this writer.
Fact: if Trump wins the nomination, he’ll get our support. Ditto if DeSantis wins. Either will win the presidency, and the Democrats know it.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
8 months ago

Uhm, RealClearPolitics polling average has seen a slump in support for DeSantis since his highs around this time last year (off the back of his 19 point victory over Charlie Crist in the last gubernatorial race there, Florida was a purple state) but still has him at an average of 14.4 points to Haley’s 10.7
DeSantis is currently polling at 17 percentage points in Iowa, Haley trails him and appears to have lost a couple of percentage points of support. Haley is polling above him in NH and South Carolina, South Carolina being her home state. Christie is catching on Haley in NH.
Both of these two are far below Trump who has anywhere from 45-55 percent of current voters in his camp (but many have indicated via polling that they are open to another candidate)

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
8 months ago

I don’t think it’s his anti-woke stance that is decisive here. I think it’s the fact that most of his popularity came from COVID, and in American politics, that’s ancient history at this point. More recently he has failed to convince the old guard Republicans that appeasing the base with watered down populism was a winning strategy or convince the base that his populism was anything other than a way to get votes. Ramaswamy has become the populist alternative to Trump, and Haley is basically a hail mary from the old guard Republicans and the donor class. She won’t win. She could be as low as fourth, which really should tell the donor class to either sit quietly at the back of the bus or just do what the rest of your rich buddies have done and go be Democrats where your disdain for the people and your attempts to dictate your views to the masses should fit right in.

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Bogdan Luchka
8 months ago

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