Portrait of Ron DeSantis

DeSantis Campaign Press Release - In The News: TIME: "Exclusive: Ron DeSantis on Fatherhood, Parents' Rights, and the 2024 Campaign"

August 17, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Last week, Ron DeSantis spoke to TIME Magazine's Molly Ball for an exclusive interview about his focus on parents' rights that was published today. Read the highlights below.

Exclusive: Ron DeSantis on Fatherhood, Parents' Rights, and the 2024 Campaign


Molly Ball

August 16, 2023

To hear Ron DeSantis tell it, his message hasn't changed. "I think we were viewed, really from Day One, as the candidate that had the strong record on the issues important to parents," he tells me, sitting at a table in a shaded pavilion on the sidelines of the Iowa State Fair. "It has been an issue, really, from the beginning," he says of the "parents' rights" agenda that has been central to his struggling presidential candidacy. "And so I do think we've tapped into that, and we'll continue to do it.

… As governor of Florida, DeSantis says, education policy is part of his purview, but it's also personal. "I also just see it through the lens of a dad of a six, five and three-year-old," he says, before switching to his usual first-person-plural. "We understand some of the things that parents are concerned about and that parents are going through. And that impacts how we view these policies, particularly when it goes to things like parents' rights to be involved in the education." On issues like school choice and curriculum transparency, he says, "in Florida, it's not just Republican parents that care about that. A lot of independents and some Democrats were really appreciative of some of the stands we've taken."

… A few yards away from where we sit on wooden folding chairs, DeSantis's wife Casey comforts their son Mason, 5, who is "having a morning" and feeling out of sorts. Later in the day, the two girls, 6-year-old Madison and 3-year-old Mamie, will join them, and the family will spend hours traipsing through the fairgrounds—going on rides, playing games—a show of wholesome, typical family behavior that's clearly aimed at showing the softer side of an introverted candidate often derided as wooden. The campaign's hope is to humanize the policy-focused DeSantis by linking his record to his personal life.

… That record is hardly uncontroversial. Education and parental rights issues have been central to DeSantis's agenda, which has departed from traditional Republican themes and emphasized hard-right culture wars. He pushed to open schools and opposed mask mandates in the fall of 2020; signed legislation, termed "don't say gay" by critics, that banned the teaching of sex and gender before eighth grade, sparking an ongoing clash with Disney; barred transgender minors from accessing gender-affirming medical treatments, being called their preferred pronouns, or using their preferred bathrooms at school; crusaded against critical race theory, drafting new educational standards that have drawn criticism for their approach to slavery; mandated "curriculum transparency" that allows parents to challenge books used in classrooms, leading to restrictions that critics call book bans; and passed a sweeping school-choice law. All of these, in DeSantis's view, are planks in a platform that adds up to protecting children's innocence and safeguarding parents' role as the primary decision-makers in their kids' education.

… Framing it all a crusade for "parents' rights" is a neat trick politically, highlighting a throwback, traditionalist view of what used to be termed "family values," but with a very 2023 culture-war spin. "Kids should be kids—there shouldn't be an agenda," he tells me. "I didn't feel like there was an agenda when I was growing up." It has the potential to remind voters of DeSantis's aggressive policy record while highlighting his relative youth and vigor—an implicit contrast with the thrice-married, 77-year-old frontrunner, whose wife and eldest daughter have declined to campaign with him this time around. At the same time, skeptics point to DeSantis's slipping poll numbers and question whether all this resonates with an electorate polls show to be more concerned with kitchen-table issues.

… DeSantis sits wide-legged in jeans and a short-sleeved dark-blue fishing shirt with his name embroidered above both breast pockets, elbows planted on knees as he leans forward in his folding chair. He converses easily, albeit without deviating much from his standard talking points, and makes eye contact throughout our half-hour conversation. When I press him on whether he's actually superseding parents' rights with his own agenda, he argues that his school-choice law allows liberal parents to send their kids to private or charter schools that might take a different educational approach than he might prefer for his own children, as long as they meet basic standards.

… "As a parent right now, I can't take my six-year-old daughter and get her a tattoo, even if I want to do that," he says. "You don't have the right to do things that are going to be destructive to kids. I think that some of these parents are being told by physicians who are making a lot of money off this that you have to do this, otherwise your kid can end up doing something like commit suicide. I think that they get bullied into thinking this is the right decision." It is, he adds, "totally appropriate for us to say that protection of children means that those things are not appropriate."

… "I thought he was powerful," says Anne, 61, a physician from Ames who declines to give her last name but proclaims herself "excited" about DeSantis's candidacy. "I like what he stands for. I like what he's done for the state of Florida." Anne tells me she previously voted for Trump but can no longer stomach him: "I'm kind of embarrassed by the stuff he's been doing."

… DeSantis stops to answer questions from reporters, criticizing Trump for refusing to sign the Republican National Committee's loyalty pledge and promise to support the GOP nominee. "It's not just about you," he says. "You've got to be willing to stand up and support the team. And if someone's not willing to do that, that just shows you that they're running their campaigns more about them."

... The governor's got a great message, but people aren't going to know about it if we don't tell them," [Campaign manager James Uthmeier] tells me. Over and over in Iowa and New Hampshire, Uthmeier says, he hears voters say they were planning to vote for Trump but changed their minds after hearing from DeSantis directly. "We've got the smartest guy in the room, somebody who actually studies the policy, knows it inside and out, and has ideas to succeed in executing that policy," Uthmeier says. "It's all about packaging that knowledge in a way that's clear and concise and relatable to voters." He likens DeSantis to a savvy running back who waits for the right opening.

... DeSantis is a Harvard-educated lawyer who stresses law and order, and, at least when it comes to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the need for public officials to be held accountable. But when I ask about the indictments, he pivots to explaining why he would pardon Trump. "When I'm President, we need a fresh start," he says. "Just like Ford pardoned Nixon, we are going to move on from the Trump controversies." He goes on to argue that "the Department of Justice is highly political" and launches into an extended legal analysis of the Washington-based federal case brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, which he calls "flimsy charges."

… "These are novel applications of the law, to conduct that has not traditionally been criminalized," he says. "And I think that's why it's been viewed—at least in my judgment, and by people that think like me—very, very skeptically. Also, why all of a sudden are they doing this now? January 6 happened how many years ago, and I don't know what the agenda is behind that."

... "What we were able to do in Florida is a massive coalition," DeSantis says. "Yes, we won Republicans big, I won Republicans by more than anyone has ever done. 97% of Republicans voted for me." But he also, he notes, won independent voters and women voters. "And that's what we need, because clearly what we've done nationally recently is not enough to be able to get the job done," he says. "I just think that the voters are begging for an alternative to Biden that they can get behind, and I would be that vessel."

Ron DeSantis, DeSantis Campaign Press Release - In The News: TIME: "Exclusive: Ron DeSantis on Fatherhood, Parents' Rights, and the 2024 Campaign" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/364228

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