As the election cycle heats up, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis wants you to know that the left is coming for your children, and Ron DeSantis is the only person who can save them.
She launched “Mamas for DeSantis”—a national version of the group she founded during the Florida governor’s 2022 reelection campaign—on Thursday, releasing an ad that describes the left-wing assault on America’s children with breathless fervor.
“When you come after our kids, we fight back, because there’s nothing we won’t do to protect our children. They’re not yours,” Casey DeSantis narrates over smoky footage of crying toddlers in masks, clips of Pride parades, and photos of Lia Thomas and other transgender athletes. “We will not allow you to exploit their innocence to advance your agenda.”
From the beginning, the DeSantis campaign has been marked by an almost singular focus on culture-war issues. Generally eschewing economic proposals, DeSantis instead seems more interested in ginning up support from right-wing Twitter trolls than a broad coalition of Republican voters.
This was made clear by Thursday’s campaign ad; it approaches subjects that should be relative slam-dunks for DeSantis—school choice and opposition to COVID school closures and mask mandates—with an off-puttingly conspiratorial edge. Instead of focusing on DeSantis’ actual policy record, it instead makes a Helen Lovejoy-esque plea to think of the children—complete with a photo of a little girl with a kinkster in a leather dog mask.
While the ad was surely a hit with Libs of TikTok fans, it’s not exactly clear how the messaging is supposed to attract voters who aren’t glued to the right-wing internet. Instead of leaning into his previous reputation as a saner—and more electable—executor of Trumpist policy, DeSantis is now trying to cast himself as an even more right-wing version of Trump.
But instead of gaining new support from Trump devotees, DeSantis will likely end up alienating the same voters he most needs to attract—Republicans who can barely stomach supporting someone as sleazy and bombastic as Donald Trump.
Unfortunately for DeSantis, while culture war issues dominate the far left and far right—the loudest voices on online platforms—average voters are consistently less interested. Time and time again, polling shows that economic issues dominate voters’ interest, with concern over government leadership, immigration, and crime following behind.
DeSantis doesn’t need to sensationalize to get an easy win on the kinds of issues Mamas for DeSantis is presumably focused on. Education has been a solid topic for Republicans in recent years—especially as the COVID school closures favored by Democrats can be solidly blamed for disastrous declines in educational outcomes. A calmer, more effective ad would focus on DeSantis’ consistent opposition to COVID-19 school closures and his solid record advancing school choice in Florida. But that wouldn’t feel quite as nice as owning the libs.