DeSantis Cuts Down On ‘Woke,’ But Slavery Fiasco Lingers

Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line

As I prepared to cover my fifth and sixth Ron DeSantis events on Thursday, I mentally prepared myself to start counting how many times I would hear the word “woke” come out of the mouth of the Florida governor and 2024 GOP presidential hopeful.

I also prepared myself to hear about some random right-wing internet theories that I have to go to page 37 of a Google search to learn about. However, DeSantis surprised me—and a few other journalists who have covered his Iowa events.

DeSantis sounded more like former Vice President Mike Pence or US Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina rather than, well, Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis debuted a retooled Iowa stump speech at meet and greet events in Chariton and Osceola. The new speech sounded way less online than his previous speech and more in line with what Pence and Scott have been telling Iowa caucus-goers.

For starters, during his Chariton event, DeSantis only used the word “woke” once. By contrast, DeSantis said “woke” at least five times during his May 30 Iowa campaign launch and in a variety of ways: “woke Olympics,” “woke ideology,” “woke banking,” and “woke mob” twice. 

Now to be fair, DeSantis only dropping five “wokes” during that May event pales in comparison to the 10 “wokes” he uttered during a Moms For Liberty event in Philadelphia earlier this month.


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is running for president, but the Republican candidate pretty much talks about one thing and one thing only out on the campaign trail. Spoiler alert, it’s not the economy or housing or healthcare or gun violence. It’s the idea of “woke.” His speech at Moms for Liberty’s annual summit in Philadelphia on Friday was no different. Watch to find out for yourself.

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The timing of DeSantis’ new speech aligns with a major staffing shake-up that included letting go of his former 25-year-old speech writer who once lavished praise on white supremacist Nick Fuentes, and who placed Nazi imagery in an unofficial pro-DeSantis campaign video that he reshared on actual DeSantis platforms. 

Unfortunately for DeSantis, his new talking points are being drowned out of the news cycle by the ongoing controversy over Florida’s new education curriculum. The curriculum instructs educators to teach students that being enslaved may have benefited some Black people who “developed skills” while being treated as property instead of human beings.

The new language was created by a 13-person working group working under Florida’s State Board of Education—members of which are appointed by DeSantis—after the governor signed the Stop WOKE Act into law in April 2022. The law, one of DeSantis first moves in his “war on woke,” restricts how schools and educators can teach about topics like race and gender, and has been criticized by opponents as a “classroom censorship bill.”

Even as he attempts to pivot from his over-the-top, anti-woke messaging, DeSantis has doubled down on defending the new education standards, which have even been criticized by some prominent Black Republicans, including Florida Congressman Byron Donalds. He has accused the media and the left, including Vice President Kamala Harris, of misinterpreting what the curriculum says and how it was created.

During a media scrum after his Chariton event, DeSantis effectively asked Donalds to pick a side.

“At the end of the day, are you going to side with Kamala Harris and liberal media outlets, or are you going to side with the state of Florida?” DeSantis said.

As he struggles to juggle defending the new curriculum with simultaneously pushing his anti-woke crusade into the background, DeSantis is making strides in at least one way: his new speech is more accessible and relatable for most voters. It’s something your average Iowa Republican caucus-goer can tell other people about. It doesn’t require the same kind of deciphering to articulate it to less-online people.

In Chariton, DeSantis started off talking about the economy and Florida having the No. 1 state economy in the nation. While he didn’t cite his source, CNBC does in fact rank the Sunshine State No. 1 in state economy rankings, though other sites and rankings have different states atop the list.

Talking about the economy—especially if your state’s economy is doing well—makes more sense than talking about Central Bank Digital Currency or Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing, which were mainstays in DeSantis’ former stump speech.

DeSantis attributed Florida’s strong economy to his hands-off approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. This gives him another opportunity to rail against the federal government’s COVID policies under Biden and Trump—without having to call Trump out by name—and allows DeSantis to use the line “Faucian Dystopia” to describe those measures, which is red meat for the conservative base.

The anti-Fauci line is a leftover from DeSantis’ old speech—he used it at a March event before he was an official candidate, during his May kick-off speech, and at Sen. Joni Ernst’s June fundraiser—and it usually gets a strong and vocal crowd reaction.

The new speech is also less policy heavy than his previous speeches and sprinkles in more personal details. 

DeSantis talked about having a blue-collar upbringing with a nurse mother and a father who installed Nielsen ratings boxes for a living. He also took a shot at Ivy League schools—without mentioning that he graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School—and how 9/11 inspired him to enlist in the US Navy.   

Of course, DeSantis wouldn’t be DeSantis if he just stopped at mentioning his service and thanking veterans. Another leftover from the old speeches is how the military has gone “woke” and how that’s hurting recruiting. 

The new version of the “woke military” section of the speech is lighter in tone than his previous version but still mischaracterizes the armed services.

“They’re doing things like pronouns and social experimentation and political ideology that has driven a lot of really good warriors away, and it’s also making it more difficult for them to recruit new recruits,” DeSantis said.

Starting Line has previously broken down how DeSantis’ accusation that the military is “woke” is misleading and harmful, and active high-ranking service members have blamed recruitment woes on Republican politicians’ attacks on the institution.

In a CNN article, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass said political accusations are doing more damage to the military/military recruiting than perceived “wokeness.”

“The narrative that we are focused on that more than warfighting is what’s perhaps hurting us,” Bass said.

The issues that got the biggest responses from the crowd came were DeSantis’ comments about:

  • He will finish building the US Southern border walls on day one in office and authorize the military to guard the border and use deadly force for cartel members trying to smuggle drugs. He didn’t specify how military members will be able to tell regular migrants from the presumed drug smugglers.
  • Remaking the US Department of Justice and replacing the director of the FBI.
  • Attacking public schools by accusing them of being factories of gender-ideology indoctrination, teaching critical race theory, and violating parental rights.
  • How he is the first Florida governor to stand up to Disney, the state’s largest employer.

Overall, DeSantis has revamped his messaging, but none of that seems to matter as Trump continues to poll well ahead of him and the rest of the GOP field. And it’s only a matter of time before DeSantis makes his fringe beliefs the focal point again. Case in point: during his latest New Hampshire swing to unveil his economic policies, DeSantis started talking about CBDC again.

“As president, on day one, CBDC goes into the trashcan,” DeSantis said. “Biden’s war on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency will come to an end when I become president.”

It seems that DeSantis is going to DeSantis, even to his own detriment.


by Ty Rushing


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