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The GOP ‘War on Woke’ Could Backfire

The Republican Party’s necessary war on wokeness has likely gone too far, and we are already seeing pushback from voters on this matter. 

Ron DeSantis
Governor Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2021 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.

There can be little doubt that the next round of divisive culture wars waged between the two extremes of both major political parties in America is reaching a crescendo. 

Fundamentally, the average American understands that things are not as they should be in our culture. 

While most Americans are inherently tolerant, the notion of forcing radical, politically motivated teachings upon our children about sensitive issues, such as gender and race, is proving to be controversial. 

That it is the left-wing in the country that is championing these extreme teachings is bringing many otherwise moderate voters into the welcoming arms of the Republican Party—to a point. 

Because, while most Americans are uncomfortable with the politicization of education in the country and the embrace of “woke politics” by most major corporations and institutions, many Americans are also confused by what, precisely, “woke” means. 

What is “Woke?”

A baseline definition of “woke” is, therefore, in order. The term has an ephemeral meaning. It constantly changes, depending on who you ask. 

It originates from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. 

The term was used back then by African-American civil rights activists as a way of describing someone as being, “informed, educated and conscious of social injustice and racial inequality.” 

The definition, though, has expanded far beyond those humble origins. 

In 2014, the successful Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement popularized the term. But its use is most associated with the right-wing of the United States as a pejorative. 

The presidential campaign of Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, who is a leading challenger to former President Donald J. Trump’s bid to become the GOP nominee in 2024, defines woke as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” 

DeSantis has made resisting so-called “wokeness” not only a central tenet of his presidential campaign, but DeSantis’ highly successful governorship of the state of Florida. (Until he ran against Trump for the GOP nomination, DeSantis was a widely popular figure on the Right). 

When Fighting Wokeness Works

The conservative critique about wokeness is not unfounded. Indeed, many people across the country share DeSantis’ and the GOP’s concerns about how “wokeness” is negatively impacting the education of our children. 

While DeSantis has been attacked by the left for his supposed racist policies enacted to stop the spread of “woke Ideology” in schools, he insists that the laws he and the Republicans support to stop “wokeness” are merely designed to give parents greater power over what their children learn in school. This has resonated with parents.

DeSantis is not the only successful Republican politician who has taken to resisting so-called wokeness to victory at the ballot box. 

The main appeal of Glenn Youngkin to mostly left-leaning Virginia voters in 2021 was his resistance to what many parents — notably those living in blue-leaning counties of Northern Virginia — saw as the unnecessary politicization of the education system in Virginia. This comes at the expense of educating children in the basics they need for greater academic and professional success.

Nevertheless, the term is awkward and is viewed with suspicion by many non-Republicans in the country. Even those who do not want the country’s kids to be educated with overtly politicized teachings are leery of the Republican obsession with resisting “wokeness.” 

Just look at how DeSantis’ admirable fight against the Walt Disney Corporation — a key driver of Florida’s mighty economic engine — has started harming Ron DeSantis politically.

Everyone wants to resist politicized teachings that occur at the expense of teaching our kids basic math, reading, science, and history lessons. 

No one wants to stomp Mickey Mouse, though. 

Except, apparently, for Ron DeSantis. Which does not play very well with independent voters.

Trump Distances Himself from Anti-Wokeness

Even the GOP’s presidential frontrunner, Donald J. Trump, has lampooned the Republican Party’s obsession with fighting wokeness as being strange. 

According to the forty-fifth president, no one knows what that means (outside of the most rabid culture warriors). 

Of course, Trump’s comments were entirely self-serving. He made them in response to his primary rival, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, making his public resistance to so-called “wokeness” a key theme of his campaign challenging Donald Trump for the GOP’s nomination. 

So, by attacking the very notion of wokeness, despite that issue being a main element of the GOP’s overall challenge to the Democratic Party, Trump was cynically attempting to weaken one aspect of strength in DeSantis’ otherwise flaccid challenge to Trump’s campaign for president in 2024. 

But he might be onto something.

Kamala Harris Enters the Chat

Now, the otherwise hapless Vice President Kamala Harris, America’s first female person of color to serve as the second most powerful position in the federal government, is wading into the Wokeness War. And her main target is none other than the captain of the Republicans’ Anti-Woke strategy, Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

It was Florida that, in compliance with DeSantis’ “Stop Woke Act,” altered its African-American history curriculum to show, according to critics, Florida middle schoolers that “slaves developed skills, which in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” 

On the campaign trail, DeSantis simultaneously defended the new Florida curriculum and distanced himself from the decision. Neither of which was very convincing.

Sensing weakness, Harris immediately sojourned to Florida, where she addressed an audience and proceeded to remind them about the horrors of slavery. 

It is in moments like this, as well as in the aftermath of the unpopular conservative Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, where Kamala Harris goes from being a liability to the Biden Campaign to being a strength.

Using her race and gender as a blunt force instrument, the vice president is able to fully articulate all the things wrong with the Republican position — while being insulated from counterattacks from the right due to her skin color and gender. 

The Republican Party’s necessary war on wokeness has likely gone too far, and we are already seeing pushback from voters on this matter. 

Dear Republicans, Slavery Wasn’t a Jobs Program

As former Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd, himself a person of color, quipped, “slavery wasn’t a jobs program.” That this even needs to be said shows how dangerous hyper-partisanship gets in our country’s divided political scene. 

The GOP is correct to point out the inherent extremism in the left’s woke ideology, and the dangers it poses to our children. 

At the same time, though, the Republican solution for combating wokeness is completely off the mark. If the GOP is not careful, this issue alone will sink their chances of winning the presidency in 2024. 

That is one reason why Donald Trump has appeared to distance himself from the issue as the campaign progresses. 

Trump, by no means a social conservative, senses the silliness of becoming too much of an anti-woke warrior and is making moves to ensure that the Biden-Harris Campaign will have difficulty in painting him as one. 

Whether it works or not remains to be seen, but it is a deft move by the former president who is facing an uphill battle to win re-election in 2024. 

A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (Encounter Books), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

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Written By

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who recently became a writer for Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (March 28), and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.