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Editor’s note: The following essay was first published in City Journal.
The consensus is that, amid generally disappointing results for conservatives, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won the midterms. He defeated his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, by a 19-point margin and turned the state, which was once considered a battleground, deep red. He won everywhere, notching impressive victories with Hispanic and urban voters in places such as Miami-Dade County, formerly Democratic strongholds.
How did DeSantis outperform the rest of the GOP? The answer, I believe, is that he has created a new model for “culture war as public policy,” which combines popular media combat with competent, effective governance.
DeSantis has built his profile by engaging in controversial cultural fights on critical race theory, gender ideology, and other “woke” issues. In his election night victory speech, DeSantis framed himself as a culture war champion. “We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations,” he said. “We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”