As midterm races have come to a close, Republican losses across the country have raised the question: what power do culture war education politics hold?
While specific policies vary, conservatives have pushed to prohibit discussion of LGBTQ+ identities in classrooms, as well as ban books with queer or racial subjects. They've claimed schools are indoctrinating children and teaching them to hate America.
A staggering number of GOP candidates who campaigned on battling “woke ideology” have lost. Attacks on gender identity and promises to protect "parents' rights" failed to win ballots, as voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine backed Democrats instead.
In Michigan, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon was backed by former education secretary Betsy DeVos, whose associated organization spent $6.3 million to run ads for Dixon's campaign. One commercial accused Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer of being a "radical" who "wants a drag queen in every classroom, indoctrinating our children.” Gretchen has since won her reelection.
Tim Michels, Republican opponent to the sitting Democratic governor in Wisconsin, vowed to enact a parental rights bill, those of which enable censorship in classrooms. He wrote on his website: “Parents must know if schools are focusing more on math and reading — or instead advancing a curriculum rooted in Critical Race Theory, one that identifies and divides students as either oppressors or oppressed."
Maine Republicans attacked Democratic governor Janet Mills for lessons that teach kindergarteners about gender identity. Democratic governor of Kansas, Laura Kelly, was attacked by her opponents for vetoing bills that would have barred transgender girls from competing in schools sports.
There were some victories for Republicans, notably in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis, proponent of the state's notorious "Don't Say Gay" bill, won reelection and has since been hailed as the future of the GOP. Florida's restrictions on LGBTQ+ teachings and healthcare have become a blueprint for other states, as pushing the same culture war issues is also what got Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, an anti-trans advocate, elected last year.
However, president of conservative think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Michael Petrilli, does not believe this strategy will bear fruit for Republicans. In many cases, it turns away red voters who are not as radical.
“People looked at Youngkin’s victory and thought this would be a new way to win in purple states,” he told The Washington Post. “What happened this year seems to raise some real questions about this strategy.”