As Republicans grapple with the future of their party in the post-Trump landscape, one issue appears to be animating GOP officials and voters across the Right: opposing so-called “wokeness.”
Pushing back against the perceived cultural overreaches of the Left has become a calling card for candidates from the local level to those eyeing the White House.
With the midterm elections more than a year away, many Republicans have not yet honed the precise message they will feature in ads and on the campaign trail when their races get underway in earnest.
But standing up to liberal pieties on issues of race and identity has already started to bear fruit for some Republicans.
A slate of candidates for local offices in the Dallas suburb of Southlake won with an overwhelming share of the vote in an election on Saturday after campaigning on a platform to block instruction of “critical race theory” in classrooms.
The candidates — two for the school board, two for City Council seats, and one for mayor — all won resoundingly despite their opponents characterizing their stance on the curriculum as racist. The pop star Demi Lovato had even condemned local resistance to the racial teaching requirements as “horrifying” and accused parents who opposed the teaching as “literally FIGHTING to uphold white supremacy.”
“Wokeness is no longer about challenging the system. Wokeness is the system,” Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur and author of the forthcoming book Woke, Inc., told the Washington Examiner. “That creates an opportunity for a new movement of rebels relative to the new power structures of wokeness.”
Ramaswamy said big business is a major driver of a woke worldview that sees everything through the lens of race.
“There’s two phenomena; one is the underlying content of wokeness itself and two is the method by which wokeness spreads — most notably, woke capitalism,” he said. “The first of them is this new idea that your identity is composed of your genetically inherited attributes: your race, your gender, and your sexual orientation.”
A handful of corporations drew GOP ire last month when they spoke out against a voting reform law in Georgia based on a misleading Democratic portrait of the law as “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Delta and Coca-Cola were among the Georgia-based companies that waded into the fray, only to be faced with a backlash. Major League Baseball sparked the biggest wave of outrage, however, when it moved its forthcoming All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in a concession to liberal pressure that inflicted economic harm on Atlanta businesses.
Republicans eager to gain favor with voters quickly slammed the MLB’s decision. In the Ohio Senate primary, for example, candidates vying for the GOP nomination rushed to outdo each others’ condemnation of wokeness.
“It’s sad that Major League Baseball folded to the ‘woke’ cancel culture of today’s socialist Democratic Party and radical Left’s demands,” Josh Mandel, former Ohio treasurer and Senate primary candidate, said.
“MLB’s virtue-signaling caused Georgia families and small businesses to lose millions over their ‘woke’ boycott. President Trump is right, cancel culture is seeping into every aspect of our lives, including sports, and we must take a stand,” said Jane Timken, former Ohio state party chairwoman and another GOP candidate for Senate.
Mike Gibbons, another Republican Senate candidate and investment banker, attempted to get a refund on his MLB season tickets following the incident — later telling the Cincinnati Enquirer he planned to boycott the league because “I think we ought to get the politics out of our daily life.”
“While wokeness helped fuel unprecedented gains in the U.S. House by Republicans in the 2020 elections, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” said Mark Serrano, a Republican strategist.
“The Left will always overreach in their zeal for more power, but just like in 2016, they’re disregarding the interests of hard-working Americans in favor of woke extremism, including massive tax increases on the middle class, open borders, defunding police, climate fanaticism, and destabilizing energy policies that are hitting the pocketbooks of everyday citizens,” Serrano said.
Polling has shown some of the leftist proposals most closely associated with wokeness aren’t widely popular.
A USA Today/Ipsos poll from March found just 18% of people in the United States support defunding the police.
While opinion breaks down along party lines, a recent Marist/NPR/PBS poll found that the majority of voters, 56% of them, opposed sports teams or leagues using their public platform to advocate for social or political change. Fifty-eight percent of all voters said they opposed corporations using their platforms to advocate for social causes.
Even some Democrats have begun to acknowledge the potential problem that liberal activists could create for candidates attempting to run in suburban or swing districts. James Carville, a veteran Democratic strategist, said in an interview with Vox last month that “wokeness is a problem” for the party.
“It’s a real phenomenon, and it’s damaging to the party brand,” Carville said of the social justice jargon he labeled a product of “faculty lounge politics.”
Matt Gorman, Republican strategist and former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Republicans should use an anti-woke message in 2022 to highlight that Democrats’ attention is often “misplaced.”
“A concrete effect of the woke messaging is that it shows where Democrats’ priorities lay,” Gorman said. “While they’re out there canceling Dr. Seuss in Northern Virginia, kids still aren’t in school. While they’re changing the name of high schools in suburban Chicago, their kids still aren’t in school.”
Potential 2024 candidates have already begun to dial up their anti-wokeness rhetoric.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said last week that he would no longer accept any campaign donations from corporate political action committees because of what he described as liberal activism in corporate America.
“If they’re going to behave as enemies of the American people, enemies of liberty, if they’re going to engage in lies and willingly be weaponized as economic tools of punishment for the Democratic Party and the radicals who are doing enormous damage to the country, then I want nothing to do with that endeavor,” Cruz said on Fox Business of his decision to forgo the corporate cash.
Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, has coined a term for and warned against what he describes as “woke supremacy” — or the dismissal of opposing views under the banner of liberal values.
“It is the ‘tolerant’ left’s intolerance for dissent. It is a progressive conception of diversity that does not include diversity of thought. It is discrimination falsely marketed as inclusion,” Scott wrote in an op-ed on March 23.
Scott used his highest-profile platform to date to decry what he described as the Left’s use of race as a weapon in political debates.
“From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress. By doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal,” Scott said while delivering the GOP response to President Joe Biden’s joint address to Congress last week. “You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”