WASHINGTON — Republicans, looking to dent President Joe Biden and win back Congress next year in part by rousing a voting base animated by culture war issues, have increasingly settled on a single word to describe what it is they stand against: "woke."
Conservatives en masse have blasted "woke" companies that spoke out against Republican-led voting restrictions — a move that publicly aligned much of corporate America with Democrats on the issue, even if many of the businesses stressed their beliefs that access to the ballot shouldn't be a partisan issue.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., promoted his coming book on Twitter by saying "the woke mob" — those who called for his original publisher, Simon & Schuster, to drop it in the wake of his efforts to overturn the election — wanted to prevent anyone from reading it.
And former President Donald Trump, in a recent interview with Fox News, said the Biden administration is "destroying" the country "with woke."
The word has appeared in dozens of Republican speeches, tweets and other statements of late. Republicans said it is less a coordinated messaging push and more of an instinctive sense that the label would work as shorthand to denigrate a progressive worldview — and it's a word they're hearing from their voters, too, as it buzzes around conservative media.
Yet lawmakers and operatives who spoke to NBC News varied in how they define the idea, while others said they didn't know much about "wokeness" at all.
"I guess it's just instinctual — like you know when you see it," a Republican Senate aide said of what is meant when something is deemed to be "woke," adding: "It's more talking about a particular worldview of racial, social hierarchies and social leveling and things like that. If you're using it the right way, it does have a distinct meaning, but there is also obviously a tendency to just call any and everything 'woke' when it might mean 'liberal,' and those don't exactly mean the same thing."