The Florida governor’s divisive rhetoric is risky not only for himself, but for the entire Republican Party Bradley Blankenship is an American journalist, columnist and political commentator. He has a syndicated column at CGTN and is a freelance reporter for international news agencies including Xinhua News Agency. Bradley Blankenship is an American journalist, columnist and political commentator. He has a syndicated column at CGTN and is a freelance reporter for international news agencies including Xinhua News Agency. @BradBlank_Protest against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during the Stonewall Pride parade on June 17, 2023 in Wilton Manors, Florida © JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign is losing steam.

Ever since former President Donald Trump announced his new campaign for the White House in November last year, many (including myself) believed that DeSantis had a chance to surpass him. This optimism was not only based on the polls but also on the feedback I got from individuals residing in deeply conservative regions of the country. However, DeSantis’ campaign faced some initial setbacks, leading to a decline in his poll numbers. The latest poll from Echelon Insights in June shows him at 16% support, while Trump stands at an impressive 49%. Things are obviously not going as planned for the governor.

It is crucial to understand that politics can be a complex game, and negativity seldom leads to success. Unfortunately, DeSantis has been running a campaign that emphasizes division and conflict instead of unity and growth. This approach does not align with good political strategy, regardless of how you analyze it. Look no further than the recent anti-Trump ad published by the unofficial DeSantis War Room and shared by the official DeSantis campaign. The ad, which has so far garnered over 25 million views on Twitter, takes a negative stance toward Donald Trump’s purported support for the LGBTQ+ community. It portrays him as an LGBTQ+ ally, which the ad frames as something bad, with DeSantis as the community’s enemy, which is somehow good.

While some might argue that Republicans do not need the support of the LGBTQ+ community to secure victory in 2024, this assumption is mistaken. The US is a country that does not openly condone hatred, and it is a country that, by and large, tends to have less conservative social views than the rest of the world and is also based on secularism. Instead, to be a conservative demands a certain level of tact and finesse in political life. A candidate cannot merely declare themselves against any group of people and expect societal acceptance or political success, either by the groups they attack or society as a whole. However, they can certainly support policies that at least claim to address the concerns of the community they might dislike deep down while still upholding conservative values, thereby appealing to a broader base of support.

LGBT Republicans slam DeSantis ad as ‘homophobic’ LGBT Republicans slam DeSantis ad as ‘homophobic’

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LGBT Republicans slam DeSantis ad as ‘homophobic’

This is precisely the kind of politics that Donald Trump tried to conduct during his tenure, and it worked for him to some degree. In the 2020 election, he made significant gains with Black and Latino voters, as well as doubling his share of the LGBTQ+ vote compared to 2016. That’s because a lot of them liked his conservative economic policies. And although he did not win the election, these achievements provided the Republican Party with a foundation upon which to build for the future.

Any 2024 GOP hopeful would be wise to lean into these inroads. In contrast, Ron DeSantis made a critical error by voicing some unsavory parts of his ideology. This approach alienates LGBTQ+ Republicans, who make up approximately 15% of this demographic in the country. The Log Cabin Republicans, described as “the nation’s largest LGBT conservative organization,” along with many of their members and supporters, have already taken to social media to criticize the Florida governor.

Their concerns are valid. By being divisive and alienating, DeSantis risks losing the support of younger voters and those in crucial swing states. Many right-wing individuals, especially those who are not American or have limited exposure to the US, have fallen into the trap of believing that the country is engaged in an existential battle against ‘trans ideology’ or ‘groomers’ with DeSantis as the champion against these excesses. However, the reality, as supported by data, is quite the opposite, and whatever perceived culture war taking place has long been decided.

A widely cited Public Religion Research Institute poll from last year’s ‘American Values Atlas’ indicates that a record high 10% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+. Furthermore, 80% of Americans and 66% of Republicans support laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination in jobs, public accommodation, and housing. Over 70% of Americans also support marriage equality for same-sex couples, including nearly half of Republicans. Moreover, a significant majority, 65% of Americans, are against using religion as a means to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals – an issue that the Supreme Court recently weighed in on by siding with ‘religious freedom’.

As an American from the South who has extensively traveled across the country, I can attest that the prevailing attitude is one of acceptance. The majority of Americans genuinely do not care about what goes on behind closed doors or the personal choices individuals make. Their focus is on mutual respect and non-interference in others’ lives. This is a common theme at the core of Americans’ understanding of liberty.

Regrettably, Ron DeSantis misses the mark with his ad. Taking an anti-LGBTQ+ stance goes against the grain of where the majority of Americans, including Republicans, stand. It immediately alienates millions of potential voters. Even worse, the ad goes so far as to criticize Trump’s sympathetic response to the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida, thereby associating DeSantis with religious extremism and terrorism. By contrast, the ad inadvertently boosts Trump’s standing with LGBTQ+ Republicans and their allies by juxtaposing the two candidates in such an extreme. Regardless of one’s stance on the LGBTQ+ community, this move by the DeSantis campaign is undoubtedly a political misstep and certainly viewed unfavorably by the majority of Americans.

Given where public opinion is, and the growing perception that the GOP itself is synonymous with the degradation of civil society, the Republican Party is not in a position to exclude any demographic in this election cycle. It has been 20 years since the GOP won the popular vote in a presidential election, and failing to adapt to the changing social landscape will only drive away young voters indefinitely. If Republicans cling to outdated social views and fail to propose novel policies beyond tax cuts, they risk losing the support of an entire generation. When even Trump supporters label you a bigot, it is evident that a grave error has been made – one that goes far beyond ordinary political snafus.

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Another crucial aspect of any election is funding, and unfortunately, DeSantis’ radicalism has proven off-putting in this regard. Florida has a great perception amongst the business community for its pro-business atmosphere and low state taxes, which essentially guarantees a steady flow of donations for that state’s executive, in this case Governor DeSantis.

But take, for example, the situation with Disney, one of Florida’s largest job producers. In March, the mega-corporation labeled the DeSantis administration as “anti-business” before proceeding to sue the governor the following month for engaging in what it deemed “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.” This resulted in the cancelation of a planned office park in Orlando, costing the state $1 billion in investments. The company also implied it would stop donating to Republicans in the future. DeSantis revoked many of the tax and legal incentives previously enjoyed by Disney after the company publicly criticized him for his anti-LGBTQ+ laws, such as the infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law that has effectively banned LGBTQ+ representation in schools, in the wake of public pressure.

Money plays a significant role in American politics, and that’s precisely why by the end of September 2020, I had already predicted Joe Biden’s victory in that year’s presidential election. The reason was simple and had nothing to do with personal preference: Major banks and Big Tech shifted their support toward Democrats and abandoned Trump, while his campaign fell apart and key staff members were being ejected. DeSantis, despite reportedly raising a record $8.2 million in just 24 hours after launching his campaign, lacks substantial grassroots support and is averaging a relatively large $200 per donation. According to the New York Times, he heavily relies on Republican mega-donors. However, campaign finance laws cap individual donations at $3,300, meaning he cannot continually rely on those already capped out on contributions.

DeSantis could potentially navigate around this issue by becoming a sponge for ‘dark money’ and SuperPAC support in 2024. However, ethical and legal concerns have already arisen, as there are allegations that he has directed state employees to solicit contributions for his campaign. This is obviously against the law and the prospect of using SuperPACs and dark money as his main cash vehicle would only serve to further alienate the average Republican voter – never mind those from both major parties – and reinforce Trump’s claim that DeSantis is a “swamp monster” straight out of the Florida Everglades.

It appears that Team DeSantis has suffered irrecoverable damage since officially launching and is in a state of obvious desperation. It is already a challenging task to take on a charismatic and energetic politician like Donald Trump, but doing so while burdening oneself with self-inflicted setbacks is a massive handicap. If DeSantis wants any chance of success in the primary cycle, he must embark on a comprehensive rebranding effort to position himself as a candidate who can unite Republicans – and the country. Even if he by some miracle surpasses Trump, the Republican Party’s chances of winning in 2024 will be bleak if they adopt rhetoric that the majority of Americans find unacceptable. The numbers simply do not support such a strategy.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.