(WASHINGTON) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign last week went after Republican rival Donald Trump for the former president’s past support of the LGBTQ community — though the viral video drew viral backlash as well.
The DeSantis campaign on Friday shared a video, now seen more than 18 million times, that labels Trump as “the politician who did more than any other Republican to celebrate” Pride month and criticizes him for saying at the 2016 Republican National Convention that he would do everything he could “to protect our LGBTQ citizens.” (Those remarks were made soon after the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida, where 49 people were killed by a gunman.)
The campaign video was originally created by another account and has a sarcastic and dramatic tone, mixing news footage, headlines and clips from pop culture. It cuts together other Trump statements, such as him once saying he was fine with Caitlyn Jenner using any bathroom she chose and him saying transgender women could compete in his beauty pageant, along with a photo of him holding the rainbow LGBTQ flag and a past tweet celebrating Pride.
DeSantis’ campaign contrasts Trump’s record with his own. The video they shared touts the governor’s support for controversial restrictions on LGBTQ people, particularly those who are transgender, including banning gender-affirming medical care for trans youth.
As president, Trump supported major trans restrictions as well, such as forbidding openly trans people from enlisting in the military.
The DeSantis video approvingly quotes his record being described as “draconian” and “threaten[ing] trans existence.”
While the laws have been cheered by conservatives in Florida, they have also been heavily criticized.
Amid outcry from advocates, the governor has often argued such moves are a response to what he calls inappropriate LGBTQ issues becoming increasingly mainstream. “As the world goes mad, Florida represents a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy,” he said earlier this year.
The new DeSantis video quickly drew bipartisan criticism from the LGBTQ community.
Former Trump adviser and ambassador Richard Grenell, who is gay, wrote on Twitter that the video was “undeniably homophobic.”
Log Cabin Republicans, a group for LGBTQ conservatives, called the video “divisive” and “desperate.”
“Conservatives understand that we need to protect our kids, preserve women’s sports, safeguard women’s spaces and strengthen parental rights, but Ron DeSantis’ extreme rhetoric goes has just ventured into homophobic territory,” the group wrote on Twitter. “DeSantis’ rhetoric will lose hard-fought gains in critical races across the nation. This old playbook has been tried in the past and has failed – repeatedly.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat who is also gay, was asked on CNN to respond to the video.
“I’m going to choose my words carefully, partly because I’m appearing as secretary, so I can’t talk about campaigns,” Buttigieg said. “And I’m going to leave aside the strangeness of trying to prove your manhood by putting up a video that splices images of you in between oiled-up shirtless bodybuilders and just get to a bigger issue that is on my mind whenever I see this stuff in the policy space, which is, again, who are you trying to help?”
“What public policy problems do you get up in the morning thinking about how to solve? … I just don’t understand the mentality of somebody who gets up in the morning thinking that he’s going to prove his worth by competing over who can make life hardest for a hard-hit community that is already so vulnerable in America,” Buttigieg said.
The headline-grabbing post underscores DeSantis’ push to challenge Trump on areas where he may be vulnerable with GOP primary voters. Early polls continue to show Trump with a major lead over DeSantis among Republicans.
Others defended the attack on Trump, with Jon Schweppe, who works with the conservative think tank American Principles Project, calling it “objectively funny” in a tweet: “It’s a campaign, people. Man up.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis’ campaign, Christina Pushaw, responded to Grennell’s criticism on Twitter, writing on Friday: “Opposing the federal recognition of ‘Pride Month’ isn’t ‘homophobic.’ We wouldn’t support a month to celebrate straight people for sexual orientation, either… It’s unnecessary, divisive, pandering. In a country as vast and diverse as the USA, identity politics is poison.”
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