As Florida faces the worst outbreak of COVID-19 yet, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to show incompetence in the face of a crisis. While schools and local governments try to prioritize the safety of students and the vulnerable, DeSantis attempts to overrule them while campaigning around the country as the new face of the Republican Party.
It’s no secret to Floridians the pandemic is still raging: every day the news headlines tell us of a new peak in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state. Despite this, many Floridians refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated, legitimized by DeSantis.
Unlike former President Donald Trump, DeSantis does not mince words. He is deliberate in rallying up his base on issues like Critical Race Theory and the media, while appealing to moderates over issues like unemployment benefits and anti-mask mandates.
As DeSantis faces stiff competition in his reelection bid and eyes a potential 2024 presidential run, it is vital we examine his policies and rhetoric regarding the pandemic. The only thing worse for the country than another term of Trump is a more well-spoken, deliberate Republican who can win disaffected voters; that is DeSantis.
Many people across the country, including myself, thought the pandemic was nearing its end early this summer. A majority of Americans had at least one dose of the vaccine as cases, hospitalizations and deaths fell.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 misinformation and vaccine skepticism contributed to disappointing vaccination numbers. As people in the U.S. are winning $5 million lotteries for getting the shot, people in the third world are begging for vaccines but simply do not have access.
While cases and deaths hit lows earlier in the summer, the new Delta Variant has put DeSantis’s popularity at risk.
The Florida Department of Health reported over 150,000 COVID-19 cases and 286 deaths in the week from August 6-12. Florida has now hit the highest infection rate since the start of the pandemic and leads the nation in cases and deaths.
The summer of 2021 is a very different time than the beginning of the pandemic, though. We have several COVID-19 vaccines, proven in study after study to be highly effective against the virus and the Delta Variant. Despite this, barely half of Floridians are fully vaccinated.
On July 30, DeSantis signed an executive order banning local governments from instituting mask mandates in schools. Many of the largest counties in Florida have defied this order, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Alachua and Hillsborough. Parents can opt out of the requirement with some paperwork, but some schools are fighting against this.
DeSantis and the state government have threatened to withhold funding from schools, and by extension teachers, if masks are required for students.
The dangerous actions of the DeSantis administration have even prompted the possibility of federal intervention. Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced the Biden administration is looking into their options to support school districts “who are taking steps to protect the people in their communities.”
Instead of supporting local governments’ efforts to protect children and their families, DeSantis has actively worked against them. As schools reopen in counties where COVID-19 is surging, the governor is putting thousands of lives at risk.
The Race for Governor
In the 2018 governor’s race, DeSantis only beat his opponent, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, by less than 35,000 votes. Since then, Florida has moved to the right, but Florida is nowhere near a safe Republican state.
The main opposition to DeSantis is from former Rep. Charlie Crist. Crist is a Democratic congressman and former Republican Governor of Florida, which could threaten DeSantis’s position with moderates and independents, especially if cases continue to rise.
Another threatening sign for DeSantis has been a recent boost in fundraising for Crist’s campaign. In the month of July, he raised over $500,000, giving him $2.2 million in cash on hand. Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried has raised $1.4 million this year, lagging behind Crist but taking the fight to DeSantis within his own cabinet.
A recent St. Pete poll found DeSantis losing to Crist by 1.5%, and Fried losing to DeSantis by 3%. Considering DeSantis’s far-reaching popularity around the country, the race appears to be narrowing. Recent elections have called into question the usefulness of polls, making this 2022 election far from predictable.
Despite these prospects, it’s still a steep uphill battle for Florida Democrats in 2022. DeSantis has become a national figurehead for Republicans, fundraising across the country. While Florida law prohibits DeSantis from campaigning for himself on duty, it is perfectly legal for him to raise money for the very “independent” Friends of Ron DeSantis political PAC.
DeSantis’s campaigning at the border, billionaire fundraisers and Fox News has paid off. He raised over $4 million in July, dwarfing his top opponents. This means defeating him at the ballot box in 2022 will take an organized effort from Florida Democrats — not known for their organization or competence in recent years.
The Battle Continues
Florida’s rising COVID-19 numbers and the governor’s response have drawn strong opposition from local governments, the White House, and Florida Democrats. If cases continue to rise, the pandemic could become unimaginably worse as hospitals become overwhelmed with wave after wave of infected, unvaccinated patients.
We need a leader to step in to put an end to the damage COVID-19 is wrecking in Florida— and clearly, DeSantis is not that leader.
The arsenal of donations and national backing that DeSantis has secured are certainly worrisome, but he is defeatable. Just like Trump, there’s only one way to overcome the danger DeSantis poses to the state and country: making your voice heard by voting.
Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.
Featured Image: Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2021 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida. Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3DyiQGC)