In recent years, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s GOP-led legislature focused much of their attention on culture war priorities. As regular readers know, Republicans in the Sunshine State made it harder for Floridians to vote. And made it easier to ban books from school libraries and classrooms. And approved a new abortion ban. And created restrictions on the right to peaceably protest. And tried to regulate social media companies' “deplatforming” policies.
DeSantis also, of course, championed the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act” — or the “Stop WOKE Act” — that was designed to use the power of state government to target ideas about race and history that Republicans didn’t like.
Floridians didn’t seem to mind: Four years after the governor won by 0.4% of the vote, falling short of the 50% threshold, DeSantis cruised to a landslide victory last month. Nearly 60% of voters in the Sunshine State either approved of his culture war or didn’t consider it a deal-breaker.
But it’s hard not to wonder just how many Floridians appreciate the cost of the GOP crusade — not just as a substantive matter, but as a financial matter. The Miami Herald reported:
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political strategy has won national attention for his ability to shrewdly select culture war issues and use a compliant Florida Legislature to advance them. But while the agenda has drawn more than 15 lawsuits, it has so far yielded few legal victories, and cost Florida taxpayers nearly $17 million in legal fees to date.
The Republican has lost far more of these legal fights than he’s won. The Herald added, “In case after case, courts have scaled back, thrown out, or left in legal limbo rules and laws that impose restrictions on social media giants; limit voting; curb gender-related health care; influence speech in the workplace, college campuses and classrooms; and create new crimes for peaceful protests.”
The litigation isn’t free: To date, Florida taxpayers have had to pay at least $16.7 million to defend DeSantis’ culture war agenda, which by any fair measure, has suffered a series of embarrassing defeats in the courts.
The question is whether the ambitious Republican cares.
Bob Jarvis, a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, noted that DeSantis graduated from Harvard Law School and almost certainly knows that many of his policies won’t withstand judicial scrutiny.
“He does not care if he wins or loses,” Jarvis told the Herald. “In fact, if he wins, he can say, ‘See, I was right.’ And, if he loses, it’s just as good as winning because then he can say, ‘There’s a liberal conspiracy and we have to get the libs out.’
“But when your goal is not to win or lose, and you have a blank check from the taxpayers, then really it’s all about: ‘Will this lawsuit generate headlines? And will this allow me to control the narrative?’” Jarvis added.
In theory, Floridians should have a problem with this. After all, it’s their money, not his, which could be invested in priorities that actually benefit the state. But so long as his constituents shrug their shoulders, DeSantis will keep picking fights he expects to lose, basking in the adulation of Republicans at the national level who care far more about the governor’s willingness to push his crusade than his unfortunate win-loss record in court.