Trump's talking points echo DeSantis' attacks on 'woke' figures, praise for 'parental rights'

Stephany Matat
Palm Beach Post

In his speech Tuesday launching his 2024 campaign, former President Donald Trump vowed to make "parental rights" a priority, condemned transgender athletes competing in women's sports and accused "woke corporations" of resisting his campaign. 

That sounded quite familiar to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' re-election night victory speech a week before, in which he proclaimed: "Florida is where woke comes to die."

But there's one difference: details.

Trump's speech was scant on exactly what a second Trump administration would do to roll back woke policies, or where. By contrast, DeSantis' record — much to the dismay and anger of LGBTQ+ groups and others — is fairly well understood and documented.

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Governor's anti-woke record popular with base, hated by progressives

It's not clear which new policies a second DeSantis administration will pursue, but it's a safe bet the governor's woke attack will continue.

The governor, for example, has not disclosed if he will ask lawmakers for more restrictions on reproductive rights. On the campaign trail, the governor did speak about more benefits for Florida families, perhaps a sales tax cut on the sale of baby goods and products.

But leading into the 2022 re-election effort, DeSantis' focus was squarely on a red meat agenda.

DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Act into law in late March. Dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics, the law prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

The parental rights bill created a national uproar. Hundreds rallied in the Florida Capitol against the legislation, and LGBTQ+ activists accused the bill of marginalizing their community.

"That bill was supposed to be focused on keeping LGBTQ people out of the conversation for K through 3 (students), but it has done so much more than that," said Julie Seaver, the executive director of the Compass LGBTQ+ Community Center. "The State of Florida Board of Medicine, the Department of Health, the Department of Education, they have launched attacks against the transgender community as well as transgender children and adolescents."

She added: "It's becoming very scary to be an LGBTQ person living in the state of Florida, and I never thought I would say that."

DeSantis has made a different case.

“Grounded common sense is we insist on our school system whose mission is to educate our kids, not to indoctrinate our kids,” DeSantis said in a Nov. 7 rally in Boynton Beach.

About a month after signing the parental rights bill, DeSantis signed a bill that scaled up Florida's anti-discrimination laws by limiting how race-related issues are taught in schools and workplace training. Now called the Individual Freedom Act, it went into effect in July.

Former President Donald Trump speaks as he announces a third run for president, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

A federal judge Thursday blocked it from taking effect in Florida's public universities.

But these policies skyrocketed DeSantis' popularity among Republicans, earning him titles like "America's Governor" with slogans such as "Keep Florida Free" and "Make America Florida" slogans.

All of this has boosted speculation the governor harbors 2024 White House ambitions even as DeSantis tried to douse some of the talk last week advising people to "chill out."

Michael Binder, a University of North Florida pollster, said that these talking points polled well with Republicans and but not so popular with everybody else. As much as these policy measures associated with DeSantis are part of his brand, Binder said those policies are expected to have limited influence in 2024.

“It’s going to be a personality contest,” Binder said. “It’s going to be the ability to connect with voters.”

Trump's attempt at leveling with constituents was evident in his Palm Beach speech when he labeled himself as a nontypical candidate.

"This is not a task for a politician or a conventional candidate. This is a task for a great movement," Trump said in his remarks.

His speech broadly mentioned parental rights and his support for it, and he briefly mentioned resistance movements against him, which included "woke corporations."

Again, phrasing that mirrored DeSantis' criticism this summer of Walt Disney World but which Trump did not amplify with any specific policy actions on these topics.

But the crowd packed into the Donald J. Ballroom at Mar-a-Lago for his presidential campaign kick-off speech audibly reacted in support when he said the buzzwords associated with DeSantis' message. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the "Stop Woke Act" into law in April

It is likely that Trump will reflect on parental rights and cast down "woke" ideas in his campaign in Florida since it is received well there, Binder said. But this is not just Trump taking on these ideas, since these "Desantis-y terms" are being "adopted by more people on the right more and more."

"I think that the role that particular policies are going to play in this election are limited," Binder said. "There aren't that many policy differences between DeSantis and Trump."

During his post-presidency, Trump has continued to connect with voters through rallies hosted nationwide. He repeatedly used the "communist" moniker against Democrats during a Miami rally attended by primarily Cuban-American and Hispanic conservatives. He elicited nostalgic sentiments to his presidential term during his candidacy announcement by contrasting his economic record versus that of the Biden administration.

Trump has stayed close with the base and focused on his economic promises to lift up the average working American, state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said while attending Trump's announcement event at Mar-a-Lago. Now that Trump is officially in the 2024 field, his task now is to continue to motivate his base through 2024, Gruters said. 

"We're still talking about him, and he hasn't been in office in a couple of years," Gruters said. "He's going to continue to have that ability to attract his rallies, no matter where he goes across the country."

Reporting by Palm Beach Post reporter Julius Whigham II was used in this story.

Stephany Matat is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at smatat@pbpost.comHelp support our journalism. Subscribe today.