Earlier this year, the Republican presidential primary appeared to be driven by conservative culture battles, particularly the fight over education that has energized the party’s base since the pandemic.
Gov. Ron DeSantis seemed poised to take the lead thanks to the “anti-woke” policies he implemented in Florida. Restrict how schools teach America’s racial history; prohibit lessons about gender identity; empower Parents request that books be removed from libraries and classrooms.
Even Donald J. Trump seemed to be trying to hit the side DeSantis spoke about education policy and promised to root out “Marxists” from the Department of Education.
But the anti-woke movement has not played as big a role as expected in previous Republican campaigns. During his campaign, Mr. DeSantis leaned less into culture war issues and refocused his stump speeches on the economy and border security. Former Vice President Mike Pence called. in a speech This month, it voted to redistribute federal education spending to the states. This is a traditional goal of the Republican Party, long before the anti-woke movement.
During the first preliminary debate last week, the word “woke” was uttered just once. In fact, when the topic was education, the conversation on stage in Milwaukee sounded more like a product of the Reagan era than the Trump era.
Some called for the abolition of the Ministry of Education.
To expand “school options.”
This is to destroy the teachers’ union.
The focus on a series of education-related pasts suggests that Republicans will focus their 2024 campaign on themes that go beyond opposition to “wokeness” (commonly understood as liberal views on race and gender). It seems to indicate that it is trying to build around a central focus and appeal to a wider audience. Conservative activist. On education, candidates were looking to the general election message, which had a familiar ring to it.
“Old President Reagan’s policies were given the most attention, and post-Trump policies received less attention,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy research at the center-right American Enterprise Institute. He said after schools closed during the pandemic. some votes It marked a reversal of the long-standing trend of voters supporting Democrats on education issues. “I think what you’re seeing is Republican candidates trying to find ways to leverage that support in a sustainable way,” he said.
On Monday, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina announced a plan that aims to combine old and more recent Republican talking points on education. Scott calls his proposal “a plan to empower parents,” and hopes to “enact national school choice” while defeating “the left’s attack on false notions of ‘fairness’ and honors classes.” said.
The subsidence in the culture wars over education in the political conversation may reflect recent electoral history showing that denunciations of “woke” ideology work well for social conservatives, but at the same time most parents They are more concerned about children’s decline in learning ability during the pandemic and the lack of mental health support in schools.
The only mention of the word “woke” during last week’s two-hour debate came when former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley criticized cultural issues rooted in schools as hindering student learning. That’s when he seemed to ignore me. “There’s a lot of crazy, woke stuff happening in schools, but we have to get our kids reading,” Haley said of conservatives’ traditional and current issues. He spoke while touching on both.
For his part, DeSantis gave a nod to the banning of critical race theory and what he calls “gender ideology” that he instituted in Florida’s schools (although critical race theory has not been implemented in Florida’s K-12 schools). There is no evidence that this was ever taught.) On the stump in front of an audience of Republicans, the governor laid out an alphabet soup of anti-woke targets, including critical race theory (CRT) and environmental, social, and governance (corporate investment policy), ESG. But it’s coming out.
But DeSantis also adjusted the way he presented these issues and worked to explain why they matter.
DeSantis campaign aides say the governor has successfully presented himself to voters as an anti-woke fighter and is now doubling down on other policy messages.
Asked in Iowa the day after the debate why he didn’t emphasize the anti-woke message during a widely watched television broadcast, DeSantis said there were few questions that prompted the topic. (Education was the fourth most discussed issue at the debate, behind abortion and Donald Trump and his credentials, according to a Times analysis.)
“So, for example, they asked about UFOs,” DeSantis said. “They didn’t ask about his DEI in college or in business or anything like that.”
It is not uncommon for candidates to use different rhetoric during campaign campaigns or in fundraising appeals to activists than they use in debates with primary voters. And on many occasions, Mr. DeSantis continues to bring up “woke” issues to roil his base.
“Across the country, extremist ideologies filled with hatred and guilt are being shoved down children’s throats from the earliest days of school,” DeSantis said in a fundraiser sent to supporters last week. “I witnessed it,” he wrote.
One possible motivation for candidates to de-emphasize education from a culture war perspective is the lessons of the 2022 midterm elections at the local level. According to the Board of Education, in about 1,800 school board elections nationwide, conservative candidates who opposed discussion of race and gender in the classroom or who opposed mandatory mask-wearing during the pandemic lost 70% of the votes. That’s what it means. votingpedia, A site that tracks American elections.Republican National Committee memo Since last September, the candidate has warned that “a focus on cathode ray tubes and masks will excite Republicans, but parental rights and quality education will sway independents.”
“These culture war arguments are falling apart,” said Karen M. White, deputy executive director of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union. “Banning books and talking about gender identity is not the approach that parents, educators, and students want.”
Republicans have traditionally sought to push control of education down to the local level and minimize federal involvement. Under President George W. Bush, the party briefly reversed course and enacted the No Child Left Behind Act, which created a strict federal program to force schools to improve student achievement.
But sentiment changed again a decade ago when Republicans rejected the Obama administration’s push for Common Core learning standards. Now, some candidates, particularly Mr. DeSantis, are arguing that the federal government could ban critical race theory in schools across the country, as it has done in Florida public schools, or promote diversity and equity in higher education. It suggests more vigorous intervention in policies such as defunding gender and inclusion departments. colleges and universities.
“We’re going to do something similar across the country,” DeSantis said Friday during a campaign stop in Rock Rapids, Iowa.
At the same time, he also supports abolishing the Ministry of Education. First proposed by Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign, killing the department has been a Republican talking point ever since.
In a debate last week, Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur who calls himself the embodiment of millennial Trumpism, all said the department should be abolished. Mr. Ramaswamy called it the “snake’s head.”
But no Republican administration or Republican-led Congress has ever seriously tried to shut down the Department of Education. Its main programs are widely popular. These include Pell Grants for low-income college students, so-called Title I grants for schools in low-income areas, and funds to ensure equal education for students with disabilities.
“Given that Republicans don’t even want to cut Medicare or Social Security, finding a credible path to defunding the Department of Education’s major programs is incredible,” said Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. It’s difficult,” he said.
“It is impossible to get even half of the House Republican caucus to eliminate funding for special needs children,” he added. “Nobody wants Title I to be zero. Nobody wants Pell grants to be zero.”
Anne Klein Contributed reporting from Dyersville, Iowa.