DeSantis’ anti-LGTBQ+ crusade succeeds because Florida Democrats are weak

DeSantis’ anti-LGTBQ+ crusade succeeds because Florida Democrats are weak
New York NY USA-June 12, 2022: Members of the LGBTQ+ community and supporters protest FL Gov Ron DeSantis speaking at a conservative Jewish Conference organized by the Tikvah Fund, at Chelsea Piers Photo: Shutterstock

Library shelves cleared of every book to avoid violating the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Parents with LGBTQ kids considering fleeing the state. A ban on the African-American Advance Placement course because it didn’t pass the governor’s political purity standards.

Gov. Ron DeSantis runs Florida as if he is the Supreme Leader of the state, not a duly elected official. But he can do so partly because there is no effective opposition party.

The Democratic party in Florida is, to put it bluntly, a mess. It’s not just that the party lost the statewide elections last year by huge margins. (DeSantis was re-elected by 19 percentage points.) Democrats just don’t have any coordinated response to DeSantis’ systematic effort to dismantle fundamental protections and make Florida a lab for right-wing authoritarianism.

“The thing about Florida Democrats is we keep learning with every passing year that just when you thought you had hit bottom, you discover that there are new abysses to fall deeper and deeper into,” Fernand Amandi, a veteran Democratic operative in the state, told the Washington Post. “There is no plan. There’s nothing. It’s just a state of suspended animation and chaos — and, more than anything, it’s the mournful regret and acceptance that Florida has been cast aside for the long, foreseeable future.”

In fairness, as the minority party, there is only so much that Democrats in Florida can do to stop DeSantis. But right now, they’re not doing much of anything at all. At a minimum, they can try to make the governor’s life miserable. Instead, Democrats seem focused on throwing themselves a pity party, leaving DeSantis untouched as he goes about instituting his agenda.

At present, the state party is leaderless. Manny Diaz, the party chairman, resigned suddenly a few weeks ago after calls for his ouster grew following the disastrous election results. Not only did the Democrats lose both the governor and Senate races, but more ominously, Miami-Dade county, a traditionally Democratic stronghold, voted Republican for the first time in 20 years.

In large part, that’s because Democrats have been dialing it in while Republicans have been running a 24/7 operation. Democrats have been relying on get-out-the-vote efforts, thinking that’s enough. Meanwhile, they have done little to counter DeSantis’ vile messaging or the Republicans’ efficient political machine.

Indeed, by effectively ceding the messaging to DeSantis, Florida Democrats have allowed DeSantis to make attacks on LGBTQ+ rights a winning political strategy with real-world consequences. He is using Florida to create an image of a conservative evangelical Utopia in the expectation that it will make him the president.

Messaging isn’t the only failure the Democrats have to grapple with. They have allowed the basic infrastructure necessary to keep the party running efficiently to wither. Community engagement, field operations, voter registration, and fundraising – all the fundamentals of a political operation are in dire need of help.

“There’s going to be a lot of difficult work to rebuild trust in the party,” former congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, told the Washington Post.

Meantime, DeSantis rolls along, virtually untouched, to the detriment of every LGBTQ+ person in the state. But the ramifications of what’s happening in Florida will extend far beyond its borders as other governors look at the state and see a blueprint to copy.

Certainly, if DeSantis’ ego has any say in it, the Florida experiment will eventually extend to the White House. But it will impact the presidency no matter what. Florida has a hefty 30 electoral votes. As a reminder, Barack Obama carried Florida twice. Thanks to the party’s weakness in the state, it looks like it will be a long time before a Democrat repeats that feat.

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