Republicans who are seeking to lead their party in the 2024 presidential race are gathering in South Carolina this weekend with a goal at the forefront of their agenda: taking on “woke ideology.”
On Saturday in North Charleston, Palmetto Family, which lobbies for what it considers to be “biblical values,” is hosting Vision ’24, described by organizers as “casting the conservative vision” for the next White House race. More than 400 attendees are expected to hear from presidential hopefuls, including Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor who was Donald Trump’s U.N. ambassador, and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Organizers expect issues such as gas prices and national security to get plenty of attention. But there also is an expectation that much of the focus will be on the pushback by some across the U.S. against what they perceive as affronts to conservative ways of life by efforts characterized as “woke.” It’s playing out in state-level debates over classroom instruction, gender-affirming care for minors and collegiate diversity programs.
Organizer Mitch Prosser of Palmetto Family says Vision ’24 is shaping up as an opportunity for Republicans to outline their ideas in the state that holds the first GOP primary votes in the South next year.
“You’re going to hear a lot about woke ideology, specifically when it comes to children in school, and in parenting,” Prosser said.
The catch-all label is taking on a leading a role within the burgeoning GOP presidential contest, with candidate-in-waiting Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, emerging as a fierce opponent of policies designed to ensure equity when it comes to race, gender and public health.
Ramaswamy, who entered the race this month, wrote a book on the topic, particularly as it pertains to business: “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.”
The debate has spilled over into the finance space, too.
On Thursday, 19 Republican governors, including DeSantis and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, another possible 2024 contender, signed a letter opposing the Biden administration’s support of federal labor rule allowing retirement plans to consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when making investment decisions. Critics say the efforts are the latest example of the world trying to get “woke,” allocating money based on political agendas, like a drive against climate change, rather than on earning the best returns for savers.
DeSantis won’t be on stage in South Carolina, but Ramaswamy and Haley will. Haley has adopted “strong and proud, not weak and woke” on yard signs, shirts and campaign stickers. At the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month, she said that “wokeness is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic, hands down.”
For Ramaswamy, being “anti-woke” is central to his political brand. Leaving his biotech company following pressures for him “make a statement in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Ramaswamy called at CPAC for “an opportunity for the conservative movement to rise to the occasion and fill that void with a vision of American national identity that runs so deep that it dilutes this woke poison to irrelevance.” He later launched his own firm intended to pressure companies to quit ESG initiatives.
It’s a similar vein of messaging that South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, yet to announce his own 2024 bid but expected to be in attendance Saturday, has been making for years. In a 2021 op-ed, Scott wrote that, due to his status as the Senate’s sole Black Republican, he had long endured critique from “woke folk” because “my ideology does not match that which they prescribe based on my complexion.”
Others scheduled to attend include former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Stumping for GOP Rep. Nancy Mace in November, Gabbard criticized her former party for “trying to push these radical woke policies on us, in every way, in every aspect of our lives.”
Previewing the event on Friday, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson called the push by the “MAGA agenda” a “dog whistle” to some.
“If they’re talking about a culture war and woke, then you’re not paying attention to the fact that your rights and your freedom to make your healthcare decisions as a woman are being taken away,” Robertson said, referencing pushes for more restrictive abortion laws in a number of states. “They want to talk about woke because they aren’t capable of talking about anything of substance.”