This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
Despite Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ extremist positions and open embrace of MAGA in Florida, at the national level he has managed to portray himself as a certain type of common sense conservative. While his ability to actually attract GOP voters nationally has come into question in recent weeks, his potential to increase support for Republicans with Latino voters should concern Democrats.
DeSantis has crowned himself king in Florida, but nationally, his brand is far less known. Research from several polls show Latinos care deeply about protecting our democracy. Democrats have a real opportunity to brand DeSantis nationally as an ultra-MAGA authoritarian looking to take away people’s freedoms.
If Democrats fail to do this now, we risk ceding ground with Latino voters in 2024 and giving DeSantis a growing edge in what is shaping up to be a competitive presidential contest where his main opponent, Donald Trump, will be campaigning on grievances surrounding his recent indictment on criminal charges related to a hush money payment he made before his last election.
A recent Way to Win battleground state poll shows one path forward in defining DeSantis as ultra-MAGA with Latino voters.
When we asked Latino voters in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin whether they preferred a freely functioning, representative democracy run by leaders they disagreed with or having leaders they agree with control the government even if that means ending democracy, 86% supported keeping democracy versus 14% who opposed it.
Things got even more interesting when you broke down that question by political party, 89% of Latino Democrats, 76% of Latino Republicans, and 92% of Latino independents supported a freely functioning democracy.
Ron DeSantis runs Florida like an autocrat. Democrats must ensure the general public understands this; his pudding eating habits alone aren’t going to cut it.
Since he became governor, he has banned books in schools, passed a law that tells people not to say the word “gay,” banned AP Black history, passed the Anti-Woke act, and even wants to force state universities to stop holding Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.
Let’s be clear here, the Anti-Woke act is pure political theater that does real-world harm and serves only to distract from solving economic and climate conditions in Florida. His extremism prohibits schools and workplaces from teaching anything suggesting “any individual… bears responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress” regarding historical acts of racism. The bill also bizarrely forbids the terms “privileged or oppressed.” This is fascism.
Consider the fallout in Florida schools. One school has gone so far as to cover up and remove books in their classrooms that were not approved under the Anti-Woke Act. In 2023 an American state is banning books in classrooms.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Florida has blocked a new AP high school course that teaches African American history. Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration said teaching African American history “lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law.”
Finally, in an effort to silence critics, DeSantis is taking aim at the free press. He is actively pushing for legislation that would weaken protections for journalists and media companies, making them more susceptible to defamation and frivolous lawsuits that historically have been used to bleed media companies through costly legal battles until they were forced to close.
It is hard to square an anti-government interventionist ideology with these increasingly invasive regulations on education and books, and now the free press.
All of these DeSantis positions are wildly unpopular with the general electorate, and may very well violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But as of yet, they are not always directly associated with Ron DeSantis. Over the past two election cycles, part of the big failing in Florida has been the lack of resources spent in the state. National Democratic groups spent $58 million in the state in 2018 but only $1.4 million in 2022. DeSantis could say whatever he wanted to Latino voters without any pushback.
This shouldn’t continue in Florida and cannot be allowed to happen nationally— where Latino voters need information to motivate their turnout and shape their vote choice, and where their votes are decisive in swing senate and presidential battlegrounds.
Democrats have an opportunity to educate voters on Ron DeSantis’s extremism now. We know from research that Latino voters love democracy, so we must tell a story of how DeSantis is anti-democratic in order to neutralize his appeal heading into 2024.