Moms for Liberty

DeSantis, Trump and Other 2024 GOP Campaigns Take Notice of Moms for Liberty
Members are shaping a new Republican Party platform on education
By Eliza Collins | Photographs by Madeline Gray for The Wall Street JournalMay 30, 2023 12:01 am ET

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.—In recent weeks, Tara Wood has introduced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a gathering of conservative activists, brought people to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s campaign launch and is talking to the Trump campaign about meeting with the former president.
Wood is president of the Charleston County, S.C., chapter of Moms for Liberty, a nationwide organization that has become an influential force in the GOP presidential primary. The group, which didn’t exist during the 2020 race, has become the loudest voice advocating for greater parental involvement in schools. Members are helping shape a new education platform for the Republican Partyin 2024.
“The moms in this country, they’re going to save America,” said Wood, who has a 14-year-old daughter and a 28-year-old stepson. She quit her job as a real-estate agent to focus full time on her efforts to change what students are taught in schools.
Moms for Liberty is technically nonpartisan but largely attracts conservative women. What started as a grassroots entity of moms working to change their local school boards’ votes on corona virus restrictions and curriculums has morphed into a nationwide network with more than 100,000members and 275 chapters. Members are pushing to revamp the U.S. education system with policies aimed at limiting teachings on gender, race and sex in schools; banning books they deem inappropriate;and placing limits on transgender students in school sports.
GOP presidential candidates are trying to tap into Moms for Liberty’s powerful networks to gain an edge in states that hold early nominating contests, including South Carolina, which is third behind Iowa and New Hampshire. Candidates have courted the group’s leaders and members, inviting them to key campaign events and holding listening sessions over pizza and barbecue. And, after intensive lobbying efforts by the group, some top Republican hopefuls have reflected their proposals in campaign platforms or legislative efforts.
The group pushed Donald Trump to embrace their issues more than he did in 2016 and 2020, and his campaign platform reads like it is from the group’s website, including a pledge to cut federal funding from any school pushing so-called critical race theory and what he deems other inappropriate sexual and political content. Its members lobbied DeSantis, an early advocate for restrictions on curriculum, to sign a slate of education measures that Moms for Liberty touts as the gold standard. Members also backed bills that the GOP-majority House of Representatives passed to put restrictions on school curriculums and ban transgender girls and women from competing in female event categories in school sports.
Critics say these moms have inappropriately inserted conservative beliefs into school systems and are impeding necessary conversations about the history of racism in America. They say that limiting conversations about gender and banning transgendered people from competing in sports is harmful for students.
President Biden and Democrats see the issue as boosting their chances in a general election where they hope voters will view such moves as excessive government control and censorship. Biden, who is expected to get his party’s nomination, cited book bans in his campaign launch. One progressive organization, MoveOn, is fundraising with the goal of filling a bus with books banned in Florida schools to hand out.
Women have had higher turnout than men in midterm and presidential elections since 1982, census data show. One-third of women identify as conservative. Republican women vote for the GOP candidate nearly all of the time, according to analysis from Gallup and AP Votecast.
Moms for Liberty doesn’t plan to endorse in the GOP primary. Candidates will have to court its members individually or in small groups, like the one gathered over coffee on a recent spring day outside of Charleston. These members of the Berkeley County South Carolina chapter of Moms for Liberty described in interviews why no candidate is their clear favorite.
Those who want Trump back in the White House say it is because they view him as the strongest fighter, and they believe he would get their education priorities implemented if elected. Those lining up behind DeSantis say he has the record—including signing a bill restricting teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in public school—and has a better chance at winning a general election.
“Trump is the only one who has the chutzpah to be able to do away with that bureaucracy,” said grandmother Peggy Lassanske, 76, referring to the education department and government. Lassansk evoted for Trump twice, put out yard signs and made phone calls for him in 2020. She has not committed to any candidate and wants someone to earn her vote.
April Coleman, 49, with three teenagers, said she has a “Trump girl” hat and Trump flags she can pull back out if he is the nominee. But she is going to support either DeSantis or Scott because she worries the former president is too divisive in a general election. “I just want to win,” she said.
Christi Dixon, 54, a mom of four kids between ages 14 and 31, chairs the Berkeley County chapter and is undecided on whom to support, though she has been heartened to see candidates “recognize that the movement for parental rights has gained traction and it’s gonna be important in the next election.”
Moms for Liberty is a nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, and founders say it is funded by donations and merchandise sales. Two political-action committees run from the group are focused on school board and superintendent races.
Schools rely on only about 10% of federal funding, and funding decisions must first be approved by Congress, giving the executive branch less power than presidential candidates often campaign on, said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University.
DeSantis has held listening sessions over pizza and barbeque with Moms for Liberty members in the general election battleground states of Michigan and Georgia. Earlier this year, he met with Moms for Liberty founders to discuss endorsements for school-board candidates and spoke at their summit last year. Trump’s team offered a chance for members of Iowa chapters to take a photo with him and reserved special seating for them at an event.
Scott’s team reached out to Wood and Dixon ahead of his campaign launch and asked them to bring friends, the two said. A Scott-aligned group donated to a fundraiser held by the Charleston chapter, and he frequently talks during appearances about education and his push to expand school choice.
Vivek Ramaswamy, founder of a biopharmaceutical company, has held town-hall gatherings with Moms for Liberty members in Iowa and South Carolina. Ramaswamy said he signed the group’s parent pledge, a promise to push the issue, “to provide empowerment to parents and to moms in particular across the country who are concerned about their kids’ education.”
The concept of changing what kids are taught in schools has had mixed success in a general election. Tiffany Justice, a Moms for Liberty cofounder, said roughly half of 270 candidates endorsed by her group won their seats in the 2022 midterms.
An April Wall Street Journal poll found that 59% of GOP primary voters favored withholding federal funding from schools that teach concepts related to systemic racism, while 33% of the general electorate backed such a move.

Aaron Zitner and Ben Chapman contributed to this article.
Write to Eliza Collins at—
Appeared in the May 31, 2023, print edition as ‘Moms for Liberty Is Force in GOP’.