As the profile of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rises, questions about his record and views grow more pointed. Ironically, the same mainstream media that built him up as a culture warrior is now questioning that status and asking: Exactly how socially conservative is DeSantis? Is his social conservatism as sincere and solid as many Republicans think?
Earlier this year, CNN produced a report suggesting that his opposition to the LGBTQ agenda is more opportunistic than real. CNN titled the report: “LGBTQ Floridians once hoped DeSantis could be an ally. Not anymore.” The report, while tendentious in parts, contained one telling piece of reporting about DeSantis’s initial reluctance to address transgender issues:
As a candidate in 2018, DeSantis appeared at a Republican primary forum hosted by the Florida Family Policy Council, a Christian-right organization, where his bonafides as a social conservative were put to the test. When Fox News commentator and moderator Frank Luntz asked about transgender bathroom designations, a hot-button topic at the time, DeSantis seemed dismissive. “I would leave it as it is and stay out of that,” he told the crowd.
“Getting into the bathroom wars, I don’t think that’s a good use of our time,” he added.
John Stemberger, the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, endorsed DeSantis’ opponent after the forum.
LGBTQ advocates took DeSantis’ remark at the forum as a potentially positive sign.
It turned out that “getting into the bathroom wars” wasn’t a waste of DeSantis’s time but a political boon. Indeed, it is hard to imagine his high profile today without his laudable resistance to the transgender juggernaut.
The ferocity of left-wing opposition to him has understandably made him an impeccably conservative star in the eyes of many Republicans. But in recent months I have heard some conservatives in Florida say that this reputation is overstated. One pro-life leader complained to me about DeSantis’s lack of resolve on the issue of abortion.
Some pro-life leaders, however, see the vagueness of DeSantis since Roe’s collapse as defensible circumspection, given that he is in a tricky state where he barely won election.
Consequently, I wasn’t surprised to see the New York Times report this week a story titled “A Culture Warrior Goes Quiet: DeSantis Dodges Questions on Abortion Plans.”
“Mr. DeSantis is coming under intense pressure from powerful parts of the GOP base to further curb abortions in Florida — the most populous state with a Republican governor where abortions are still fairly widely available,” the Times reports. “Yet doing so could undermine Mr. DeSantis’s efforts to recruit residents and businesses to his state and complicate his re-election campaign, not to mention his national ambitions, because polls show that a majority of Floridians, and of Americans, want to keep most abortions legal. In a New York Times/Siena College poll this week, U.S. voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, or 61 percent to 29 percent, said they opposed the Supreme Court’s decision.”
So far, DeSantis has responded to the collapse of Roe v. Wade with unusual passivity, according to the Times: “Though he has spoken about wanting to prevent abortions from taking place late in pregnancy — a far less controversial stance than pushing for an outright ban — he has said nothing about calling a special session to enact additional restrictions, as anti-abortion activists hope he will.” The paper quotes one Democrat who welcomed his post-Roe statement as “pretty watered-down.”
Some pro-life leaders, however, see the vagueness of DeSantis since Roe’s collapse as defensible circumspection, given that he is in a tricky state where he barely won election. “Ron DeSantis is one of the best governors in the country, and I believe that he will work to pass the most conservative bill he can possibly get through the Legislature,” Penny Nance, chief executive and president of Concerned Women for America, told the Times. But the Times also spoke to a pro-life leader who hopes DeSantis will show greater leadership on the issue:
Andrew Shirvell, founder and executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, described Mr. DeSantis as “a tremendous ally for the pro-life movement,” but expressed some impatience with his silence on abortion since the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It is frustrating that the governor doesn’t speak out more about this,” he said. “But I attribute that to other pressures going on just months before the election.”
Still, to hear Mr. Shirvell tell it, Mr. DeSantis will eventually need to press for further action on abortion in Tallahassee. “It’s really up to the governor to twist the arms of the legislative leaders if he’s got presidential ambitions,” he said.
Should DeSantis face Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primaries, any reservations about the depth of his social conservatism would probably fall away in light of Trump’s own uneven social conservatism. But that DeSantis is already facing some skepticism suggests he could face unexpected resistance in the years ahead.
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