Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday accused Rep. Byron Donalds – the only Black Republican in Florida’s congressional delegation – of aligning himself with Vice President Kamala Harris by critiquing the state’s new standards for teaching Black history.
Donalds tweeted Wednesday that the new standards are “good, robust, & accurate.” But the two-term congressman added that a new requirement for middle school students to be taught that slaves learned skills they later benefited from “is wrong & needs to be adjusted.” He added that he has “faith that (Florida Department of Education) will correct this.”
In the face of that seemingly gentle criticism, DeSantis’ administration and online allies unloaded on Donalds, who has backed former President Donald Trump over his home state governor for the 2024 nomination. Jeremy Redfern, the spokesman for the governor’s office, called Donalds a “supposed conservative.” Christina Pushaw, the campaign’s rapid response director, replied to Donalds’ tweet: “Did Kamala Harris write this tweet?” DeSantis’ Education Commissioner Manny Diaz tweeted that Florida would “not back down … at the behest of a supposedly conservative congressman.”
DeSantis joined the pile on during his Iowa bus tour, telling Donalds to “stand up for your state.”
“You got to choose: Are you going to side with Kamala Harris and liberal media outlets or are you doing to side with the state of Florida?” he said.
Responding to the blowback to his remarks, Donalds on Twitter called the online attacks aimed at him “disingenuous” and said DeSantis supporters were “desperately attempting to score political points,” adding that that is why he is “proud to have endorsed” Trump.
“What’s crazy to me is I expressed support for the vast majority of the new African American history standards and happened to oppose one sentence that seemed to dignify the skills gained by slaves as a result of their enslavement,” he wrote on Twitter.
This week’s clash with Donalds is the latest example of how the DeSantis campaign’s failure to win support from key members of his state’s GOP has come back to bite him as he runs against Trump. Last week, Rep. Greg Steube, who has also endorsed Trump, put DeSantis on blast over property insurance rates in the state continuing to soar.
“The result of the state’s top elected official failing to focus on (and be present in) Florida,” Steube said, tweeting out a headline that linked the sharp rise in premiums to DeSantis’ time in office.
The war of words between two Florida Republicans this week is all the more remarkable because of how closely aligned Donalds and DeSantis once appeared.
Donalds introduced DeSantis and his family at the governor’s election night victory party last year, heaping praise on the man he called “America’s governor.” He played DeSantis’ 2018 election opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, during debate preparation. DeSantis had also formed a close alliance with Donalds’ wife, a school choice advocate who received a plum appointment to the Florida Gulf Coast University board of trustees.
But there was a notable break in their relationship in April when Donalds endorsed Trump over DeSantis. Donalds had previously stated publicly he would wait on an announcement until the field was set. The decision stunned DeSantis’ political operation, which had clearly underestimated the governor’s failures to build a rapport with fellow Republicans. Ultimately most Florida Republicans in the House lined up behind Trump.
The back and forth with Donalds stems from the new standards for how Black history should be taught in the state’s public schools, which were approved earlier this month by the Florida Board of Education. While education and civil rights advocates have decried many elements of the new standards as whitewashing America’s dark history, much of the national attention has focused on one passage that clarifies middle school students should learn “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Amid intense objections to the language, Harris responded by holding a press conference in Jacksonville where she accused Florida’s leaders of “creating these unnecessary debates.”
“This is unnecessary to debate whether enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she said. “Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to debate that?”
DeSantis and state education officials have fiercely defended the new standards in recent days. Redfern and others have pointed to similar language that appeared in the course framework for a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course piloted by the College Board. Florida was widely criticized by Democrats for blocking the course from being taught in state public schools.
According to one document, the AP course intended to teach students: “In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South. Once free, American Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others.”
The College Board said Thursday it “resolutely” disagrees with the notion that enslavement was beneficial for African Americans after some compared the content of its course to Florida’s recently approved curriculum.
On Thursday, DeSantis said the state standards are “very clear about the injustices of slavery in vivid detail.”
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