“Florida is where woke goes to die,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in his victory speech after a thumping win in an otherwise dismal midterm election for Republicans. The speculation of whether DeSantis would eventually run for president is rising to a fever pitch.
Given that DeSantis effectively tackled the machinations of woke ideologies and was not afraid to take them on in the education and corporate sector, it is important to understand how his anti-woke platform and model might look on a national scale.
In a speech at last month’s National Conservatism Conference, DeSantis named China as our primary adversary and noted that the hollowing out of American economic production has only aided China. He called our southern open border a strategic threat from drug cartels and wokeness a far greater threat to Americans than foreign powers.
Almost as if by fate, the day after DeSantis’s victory speech, the Biden administration announced a new initiative to tackle climate change by announcing, among other things, a “Climate Gender Equity Fund,” funded by USAID, and Amazon, to “leverage private sector contributions to help provide women climate leaders with technical skills, networks, and capital to develop and scale climate solutions.”
Any future foreign policy put forth by a presidential candidate should start by cleaning the house when it comes to all DEI initiatives in the armed forces, Department of Defense, and State Department. In 2021, the Naval Academy, the premier organization to teach next-generation leaders, published a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. When DOD has an education activity office with its own diversity officer that is a former Army woman writing about “taking a break from white nonsense,” the arsonist is within the house.
As scholars have noted, these “administrative divisions don’t merely act as gatekeepers; they also impact the speech and conduct inside [institutional] gates. DEI divisions are the driving force of cancel culture on campus, which limits the free inquiry that is essential to a university’s mission.” DEI initiatives in the armed forces and DOD also have a gatekeeping effect within the armed forces, transforming once-neutral organizations focussed on war-fighting to partisan bureaucracies, which are often opposed to their own countrymen.
A Republican president’s first target should be gutting these bureaucracies in the armed forces and their auxiliary institutions. Ruthlessly defunding and purging race and gender hustlers would be a good start. Replacing them with a patriotic and competent officer class and legislating and reinstating ideological impartiality would be a way to regain some trust back.
Likewise, all USAID programs or other foreign aid programs that advocate any “global health” or “gender equality” including abortion and pro-LGBT agendas should be eliminated. There would be a massive backlash against any such attempt, and a Republican president should be ready to stand his ground. It is not the U.S. taxpayer’s job to fund abortion across the globe in the name of “reproductive health,” nor is it the U.S. taxpayer’s job to pay the salary of bureaucrats who underwrite these policies as parts of an American grand strategy.
A truly non-woke foreign policy should ensure the American people understand how much money they spend on these initiatives, and what tangible return they can expect to get in return. As DeSantis mentioned in his NatCon speech, unaccountable bureaucracies in the U.S. are representative of an undemocratic and transnational rights-based movement, often “funded by people like George Soros who go into the office with their mission being that they are going to ‘reform’ the criminal justice system.” The same logic applies to foreign policy.
In the same vein, DeSantis made a crucial observation about Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address:
Most people remember it for his warnings about the dangers of the military-industrial complex, and I think those were very smart observations. But if you read that inaugural address, he talked about this new phenomenon of the federal government funding so much scientific research. And he said, when those two things are intermingled like that, there’s a danger: public policy itself could be held captive by what he called the “scientific-technological elite.”
The challenge will not be a peer rival in Asia, given that the peer rival is also surrounded by American allies. The far bigger challenge for a presidency vying for a non-woke government will be internal, some of whom are career functionaries who would now want to work for another Republican administration, shaping it from within. One of the primary challenges, for example, will be prioritizing federal agencies, which ignore violence from Black Lives Matter and Antifa while targeting pro-lifers and vaccine refusers within their ranks.
Also, consider the case of bureaucratic inertia and Ukraine. As The Wall Street Journal reported, 48 percent of Republicans now say the U.S. is doing too much, up from 6 percent in the previous survey. The portion of GOP voters who said the U.S. isn’t doing enough to help Ukraine fell to 17 percent, a steep drop from 61 percent in March.
And yet, all levers of American power, from aid and arms supply to soft power and NGOs, are geared toward this relatively irrelevant backwater, while ignoring cartels, drug mules, and human traffickers at our border next to a functionally failed state. The reason is simple, those same people who once called DeSantis a fascist for bussing migrants to Martha’s Vineyard are the ones who see fascism everywhere around the globe, and who will now seek to work to undermine efforts from within.
There is an enormous challenge facing any true conservative administration — already under a structural disadvantage in a country where media, academia, and bureaucracy overwhelmingly lean left, with CRT-induced federal research, DEI initiatives, and spending on NGOs and “civil society organization” abroad — because they are the same people fuelled by the same impulses at home and abroad. Conservatives ignored the bureaucracies for decades, and in some cases, during the War on Terror, actively encouraged an expansion of that apparatus, which is now increasingly turned toward them.
Unless there is a massive defunding of this apparatus, there is no chance of rebuilding. Every problem that Donald Trump faced as president, from leaks to institutional slow-rolling of his decisions, will be there under any future administration, and nowhere will this be more prominent than the foreign policy and defense bureaucracy.
DeSantis has so far shown to be a leader who takes the fight to a giant corporation, someone who isn’t afraid to stand against a massive bureaucratic union, and someone who didn’t flinch before firing unaccountable and insubordinate bureaucrats.
That is a level of competence that Republicans haven’t seen in a while, despite their harrumphing about wokeness. Competence is better than ideology or rhetoric. One can only hope the next president, whoever he or she is, will remember that and act accordingly.
Dr. Sumantra Maitra is a national-security fellow at The Center for the National Interest; a non-resident fellow at the James G Martin Center; and an elected early career historian member at the Royal Historical Society. He is a senior contributor to The Federalist, and can be reached on Twitter @MrMaitra.
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