Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is running for president in 2024.
Or, if his mentor and ally Donald Trump claims the Republican nomination, DeSantis will gladly jump on board as Mike Pence’s replacement on the ticket that is prepared to wage a culture war more visceral than anything the United States has ever seen.
When it comes to exploiting racist and xenophobic dog whistles—and policies—no Republican on the national stage is more determined than the governor of Trump’s adopted home state to attack anyone who is willing to address the ugly truth of systemic racism. Indeed, DeSantis is signaling that he is even prepared to purge what was once described as “the Party of Lincoln” of elected officials who dare to suggest that the abolitionist cause and the fight against Jim Crow segregation—in which Republicans were pivotal players—was a necessary response to persistent white supremacy.
DeSantis is moving this week to position himself as the loudest champion of the latest conservative crusade: an effort to bar public schools from providing students with a full and honest history of the United States. For months, Republicans around the country have been seeking to prevent schools from teaching lessons based on critical race theory. Now, DeSantis says he is moving to “the forefront” of this fight.
The governor is spewing a slurry of false premises in order to attack the idea that systemic racism has informed the laws of a country that began by permitting human bondage, then imposed violent segregation, and now continues to witness brutal inequality.
Even the most cursory consideration of American history confirms the importance of teaching that, in the words of scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, seeks to “[grapple] with a history of white supremacy [and] that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” Yet DeSantis dismisses education that is informed by critical race theory, attacking schooling that focuses on systemic racism and white supremacy as “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other.”
This is a political gambit on the part of a governor who dismisses talk about addressing systemic racism as “a bunch of horse manure.” But it is likely to have immediate policy repercussions.
“We are going to get the Florida political apparatus involved so we can make sure there’s not a single school board member who supports critical race theory,” DeSantis announced in a Fox News appearance Saturday. To that end, the governor is pushing the State Board of Education to adopt a narrow set of guidelines on how US history lessons can be taught in the nation’s third most populous state. In particular, he wants the state board to declare that teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
DeSantis says his allies on the board will move to bar teachers from discussing their personal opinions and insights regarding racism as part of a strategy aimed at “banning any departure from accurate history and following our standards.”
To enforce his indoctrination agenda, the increasingly authoritarian governor has signaled that he will get involved in local school board races and punish Republicans who do not follow his line. “We’re not going to support any Republican candidate for school board who supports critical race theory in all 67 counties or supports mandatory masking of school children,” DeSantis told Fox.
People who aren’t from Florida will be forgiven for assuming, based on DeSantis’s ranting and raving, that critical race theory is being taught in schools across the state. But that’s not the case. “The theory is not taught in any Florida school districts, state officials acknowledge,” the Miami Herald reported Monday. Still, adds the newspaper, “DeSantis is repeatedly injecting it into discussions about how teachers should deliver lessons on civics and history to more than 2 million public school students in Florida.”
So, though the issue is not really an issue in Florida, DeSantis declares, “This is something we’ve got to stay on the forefront of.”
Why? DeSantis won’t say it in so many words, but it’s no secret that he is running for president—or, if Trump tells him differently, for vice president. Trump’s in on this speculation. Asked on Monday if he would consider DeSantis as a 2024 running mate, the defeated former president replied, “Sure I would.… I would certainly consider Ron.” Trump even claimed credit for DeSantis’s rapid rise to political prominence. “I was at the beginning of Ron,” Trump said. “I was the first one to endorse him when he came out as a congressman that a lot of people didn’t know and my endorsement helped him tremendously and I know him very well. He’s a great guy.”
Trump’s enthusiasm for DeSantis is understandable. They share a view of politics as a blood sport in which no strategy or tactic is off limits—including lying about election results. And lying about American history.
As president, Trump attacked The New York Times’ groundbreaking 1619 Project, and established a so-called “1776 Commission” to come up with standards for teaching “‘pro-American’ history.” The commission’s approach was so intellectually dishonest and academically shoddy that historians of all ideologies decried them, and President Biden shut the initiative down. But DeSantis is keeping the lie going. After state Senator Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) got the legislature to approve $1 million in spending to develop and distribute an educational video on the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Massacre—in which a white mob killed dozens of Black Floridians on Election Day in 1920—as “an honest recognition of our past,” DeSantis vetoed the plan. The governor didn’t explain why, but Bracy told the Herald, “He has been very vocal about not really wanting for us to teach about race in our schools, so that could be his reasoning.”
Yes, that could.
The fuller explanation is that Ron DeSantis is a demagogue who is ready and willing to inflame racial divisions in order to advance his political career. Even if that means he must lie about the past, and purge “the Party of Lincoln” of school board members—and presumably all others—who refuse to acknowledge that it took the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation to begin to address the systemic racism of 19th-century America, the civil rights movement and civil rights and voting rights bills to begin to address the systemic racism of 20th-century America, and a Black Lives Matter movement to begin to address the systemic racism of 21st-century America.