Connect with us


The Rise of Moms for Liberty as a Powerful Force in the GOP


[Comment on this storyComment

HTML tags:
PHILADELPHIA — A month ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center declared Moms for Liberty an “extremist group” devoted to spreading “messages of anti-inclusion and hate.”

This weekend, five Republican presidential candidates — including front-runner Donald Trump and his leading rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — took the stage at a Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia, highlighting their conviction that educational issues will mobilize their base in the 2024 election. It also signals how polarized education politics have become — and spotlights the veneration with which conservatives now regard Moms for Liberty, a group that didn’t exist three years ago but which today boasts more than 100,000 members across 44 states.

“When they mentioned this was a terrorist organization, I said, ‘Well then count me a Mom for Liberty!’” presidential candidate Nikki Haley declared at the summit on Friday to big cheers, just before a Republican state education official from Oklahoma said they were gathered at the “most important conference to happen in Philadelphia since 1776.”

Liberals revile the group, which wants more parental input over what schools teach and less teaching about hot-button issues including race, gender and sexuality. They see Moms for Liberty as a threat to free speech, public schools and the esteem they say teachers deserve. But, to a generation of conservative parents first exasperated by masking, vaccine mandates and covid-driven school closures, Moms for Liberty has become the champion for a burgeoning parents’ rights movement — one that Republicans say is combating indoctrination around diversity and inclusion.

In its ascent, the group has accrued tremendous influence in the GOP. Although Moms for Liberty does not plan to endorse a presidential candidate — and its founders have not asked for specific actions they’d like the next president to take — chapter leaders are meeting frequently with various campaigns, and the group is assuming a role as one of the new 2024 gatekeepers.

The star-studded roster of speakers at the summit shows candidates “have recognized that the number one domestic policy right now is the concern over the threat to parental rights and the failure of public education,” Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich said.

Co-founder Tiffany Justice said, “It means that, no matter who the nominee is, parents and students will be winning.”

It is unprecedented for presidential candidates to pay this kind of attention to an education-focused pressure group, experts said. It proves that post-pandemic fights about whether and how to teach race, racism, gender identity and sexuality in schools continue to hit a national nerve, said Robert Pondiscio, a fellow studying K-12 education at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. It is also a stunning demonstration of Moms for Liberty’s clout, he said.

Americans have long found fault with their school systems, criticizing what was taught and what was left out. But until now, those frustrations mostly played out at the district and state level, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies U.S. education, political and social history.

“Education, formerly a state and local issue, has become a national one,” Zimmerman said. “And that’s what a figure like DeSantis is banking on, that he can ride this to the White House.”

How education will play with 2024 voters is an open question. Public opinion is split on the K-12 culture wars: 70-plus percent of Americans are concerned by book restrictions in schools and support teaching the “ongoing effects of slavery and racism,” according to recent polling by Fox News and USA Today/Ipsos. On the other hand, a 2022 Washington Post-KFF poll found that two-thirds of adults believe it is inappropriate to discuss trans identity with students in elementary grades or to let transgender girls and women compete in girls’ and women’s sports.

Democrats and Republicans both assert the other side has overplayed their hand in the bitter debates over schooling. Liberals say DeSantis exemplifies a GOP race-to-the-right that will backfire with moderate voters, and even some Republicans at this past week’s summit were ambivalent about Florida’s recent expansion of a ban on public school curriculum broaching gender identity and sexual orientation. In a video announcing his reelection campaign, President Biden took aim at “extremists” he said are “banning books and telling people who they can love.”

Conservatives point to DeSantis’s nearly 20-point reelection margin last fall and Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 victory in Virginia’s hotly contested gubernatorial election, which he won by campaigning against mandatory masking and vaccination and the teaching of “critical race theory,” a catchall term used on the right to describe teachings on race that are seen as politically motivated. Kristin Davison, a top strategist on Youngkin’s campaign now helping to lead a pro-DeSantis super PAC, said the pandemic turned living rooms into classrooms and made parents “more aware of what was going on in their children’s lives.”

Presidential candidates are courting Moms for Liberty members across early primary and battleground states. Descovich said several campaigns accessed the Moms for Liberty website to gain contact information for chapter leaders and set up events in states including Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

The organization has “an open door with anyone they reach out to,” said Florida GOP chair Christian Ziegler, whose wife helped found Moms for Liberty and remains closely allied with the group. He argued the “culture war” issues that Moms for Liberty has championed were pivotal in Florida’s elections last fall, when Republicans won big.

Listening to DeSantis on Friday morning over breakfast, attendees booed a book called “Gender Queer” that some conservatives have worked to remove from schools and cheered on the governor’s declaration he’s “rooting out so-called social-emotional learning.” In the hallway — where Moms for Liberty cookie cutters and “Joyful Warriors” hats were for sale — they buzzed about their school board activism and laughed off the protesters gathered on the street outside with signs like “Protect our LGBTQ youth” and “BAN THE FASCISTS SAVE THE BOOKS.”

“I think moms are the key political force for this 2024 cycle,” DeSantis told the crowd, whom he and other speakers hailed as “mama bears.”

DeSantis also kicked off Moms for Liberty’s inaugural summit last year, when its founders presented him with a sword. The organization pushed for the school curriculum restrictions that DeSantis signed into law, and the Florida governor devoted unusual political capital to school board races during the midterms— endorsing candidates also backed by Moms for Liberty.

He met with the group’s leaders again this year to strategize about the next “target list” of board members he hopes to unseat. And when he made his first swing through the early primary state of South Carolina, he kicked it off with the Charleston County Moms for Liberty chapter.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *

Copyright © 2019 - Le Collectif BI-TON