Ron DeSantis’ campaign thus far has been fairly straightforward about what he would do in the white house: Make the United States more like his home state of Florida. To do so, winning the Iowa Caucuses and eventually the presidency, every vote matters. While Republican candidates usually do not try to appeal to young voters as much as Democratic ones, I have learned that students are still welcome on board the train of supporters at any event. They can vote; after all, many candidates see value in engaging students on the campaign trail. However, my observations from a Ron DeSantis event led me to believe he has a different approach to the young student voter.
In early November 2023, I went to a Ron DeSantis event in Grimes, Iowa. At that point, I had seen him in the debates and read about him in various news articles, and I even knew a few politically active students who supported him or worked for him. I thought I knew what to expect. However, I was surprised by his comments in his speech regarding higher education in the United States, of which I am a participating member. Starting with his support for parental choice in schools was not weird; I had heard it before, and I knew the Iowa school choice and private school voucher program took many aspects of a similar program in DeSantis’ Florida. I noted most individuals in attendance seemed to agree with DeSantis, too.
To my surprise, DeSantis goes further than that with his actions on education. This goes back to his Gubernatorial position in Florida, dealing with his problem with the “wokeness” in education. He has historically criticized universities for their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, among other things, saying that they “indoctrinate” students. This seemed like a rallying cry for supporters who were not college graduates but nothing more. However, during his time in Florida, he took action against these aspects of education. Specifically, at the New College of Florida in Sarasota, which has a notoriously left-leaning student body and a large group of LGBT students, DeSantis removed the current president. They replaced him with a political ally, installed a new board of trustees with a majority of conservatives, gave them all hiring power, and got rid of the office of Diversity and Equity.
So that is a strong record, but this is Iowa, not Florida. But DeSantis stated that those policies would become a priority for his national education policies if elected president. I was waiting for him to say anything that would benefit the established type of current college student or young person in general, but nothing of the sort ever came. DeSantis is playing a strategy of rejecting the establishment youth vote, which will be interesting to see how it affects his performances in the Iowa Caucuses in January. However, his campaign lasted long after that.