Why DeSantis Is Hitting Trump On LGBT Issues

Positioning himself as the more conservative candidate isn’t working — for now.

State of play: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2024 campaign released a video contrasting his opposition to the LGBT agenda with former President Donald Trump’s comments in 2016. This brought criticism from Trump-aligned figures and the left alike.

  • What’s in the video? It shows clips of Trump expressing support for “LGBTQ citizens,” allowing transgender individuals to use restrooms of their choosing in his properties, and highlights the Trump campaign’s Pride merchandise.

Campaign strategy: As we’ve reported in Upward+, the video is part of DeSantis’s broader strategy to position himself to the right of Trump on culture war issues from abortion to wokeness. His campaign pushed back on Trump’s declaring abortion a state-level issue, questioned his support for socially conservative causes, and pointed to DeSantis’s record in Florida.

Who is the ad for? Data suggest DeSantis’s strongest support at the outset of his campaign came from suburban Republicans concerned about their children, or “wine-track” voters. However, many of these white, college-educated voters are more moderate on issues like the definition of marriage. Trump’s deeply religious evangelical followers are the primary target audience, but they have stuck with Trump since the 2015 Republican primaries. Falling poll numbers and panic from DeSantis backers indicate that this strategy isn’t working. However, some data show that this demographic could be swayed.

  • Beyond the headlines: Liberal media criticized the ad while ignoring the backsliding support for same-sex relations and Pride Month nationwide. The DeSantis camp is tapping into a real and growing sentiment, although it hasn’t been enough to derail Trump’s immense popularity, especially with the boosts following his criminal charges.

Interesting timing: The DeSantis campaign posted the video on the same day that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a web designer who refused to make a wedding website for a gay couple due to her Christian beliefs. The decision may not have happened without Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, who have struck down Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, and more. Trump has invoked this when asked about his more moderate views on social issues.