Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis polls well in the 2024 GOP presidential wannabe pack, always in second place behind former President Trump. Should the path to the nomination open up, the former congressman is hard at work on his record as governor, trying to Make COVID Great Again as the delta variant rampages through the critical battleground state, overrunning hospitals and costing untold lives.
Throughout the pandemic, DeSantis has fought restrictions and closures. But as the school year begins amid a dangerous surge of the new, more transmissible variant, he is now digging in on the mandate issue, taking to court a private business requiring vaccines, and threatening the salaries of school officials requiring masks. The result is not just the threat of new infections, but the staggering rate of current ones that cause sick and vulnerable Floridians without COVID-19 to go without medical care.
If you get crushed in a condo collapse, DeSantis is urgently concerned — or at least that’s how he appeared, showing up each day of the search-and-recovery operation after the Champlain Towers disaster in Surfside, Fla., last month. He’s there for you once you are dead or feared to be, but try calling an ambulance today in a desperate state and you’ve got the wrong guy.
Yes, DeSantis has encouraged vaccinations, and yes, much of this same madness is also happening in Texas. But there Gov. Greg Abbott is not positioning himself to win a national election and lead the free world.
Coronavirus deaths in Florida were up 74% last week from the previous week, and more than 150,000 new infections were reported in the same seven days. DeSantis’ policies — of letting a virus sicken so many people the hospitals can’t function — are a failure, and the numbers bear that out. His approval rating is now underwater after reaching 55% in one poll as recently as May. A majority of Floridians disapprove of his job performance, with independents approving by only 39%.
For someone who intends to win a second term as governor and then a national election, DeSantis is losing more voters with each passing, grim week. Some of them are literally dying, while others realize they are living in a failed state. Cancer patients, teachers, parents, doctors, nurses, anyone who has a stroke or a car wreck or a severe injury — and everyone who loves any of them — does DeSantis expect them to be on board?
It’s hard to know whether the case numbers, death numbers, or poll numbers have spooked him but he suddenly appears to be searching for distractions or distortions to grab headlines, cure the sick and soften the blow of the grisly data.
His latest strategy is to curb hospitalizations and death by distributing Regeneron, the monoclonal antibody treatment Trump received while hospitalized with coronavirus last year, to infected Floridians through mobile units in order to prevent severe illness.
And from The Department of Interesting Timing, the state has just altered its infection reporting standards, a year and a half into the pandemic. The Florida Department of Health announced it has changed the way it reports new infections and deaths related to COVID-19, which experts said distorts the data.
After threatening to dock the salaries of school district officials who require masks, the governor seemed to back down somewhat when they pushed back, because while their districts could still face financial sanctions, DeSantis doesn't actually have the power to cut the pay of school superintendents and board members. Instead of leaving the mask decision to local officials based on infection rates in their districts, DeSantis has gone to war with those who insist students don them during the school day. DeSantis had issued his threats after Broward and Alachua counties announced that they will defy his order that parents make individual choices about their children and masks. The governor's office issued a statement calling on the “activist, anti-science school board members” to cut their own pay in order to “own their decision.” The superintendent and school board chair in Alachua responded that “the death or serious illness of a child as a result of COVID-19 exposure is a far more serious injury than any discomfort that may be experienced due to universal masking.”
On Wednesday the Hillsborough County school district will hold an emergency meeting after reporting that 5,599 students and 316 staff were in quarantine or isolation Monday after testing positive for the virus or coming in contact with someone who did. The district noted it will be considering mitigation techniques “up to and including mandatory face coverings for all students and staff.”
As this brawl dominates the headlines across Florida, DeSantis is also trying to stop a cruise line from requiring passengers to show proof of vaccination before embarking on their ships. In an act of next-level showboating, DeSantis is fighting to stop Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings from requiring vaccines for passengers. Last week a judge ruled in favor of the company’s request for a preliminary injunction, stating Norwegian would likely prevail with its argument that the new Florida law banning vaccine passports violates the right to free speech and burdens interstate commerce. The judge agreed the company would suffer “significant financial and reputational harms'' if it could not enforce its mandate.
DeSantis announced he will appeal the ruling and put out a statement saying the executive order prohibiting vaccine passports “does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone’s speech rights.”
Throughout his leadership in the pandemic, DeSantis has shown little concern that impeding local control and local authority, and using government to intrude on private business, was once antithetical to true conservatives. He knows that this GOP is the party of Trump, in which today’s Republican and “conservative” leaders can make decisions and punish those who disagree with them.
DeSantis is not leading Florida out of catastrophe. Rather, he is fighting for fighting’s sake, because somehow he thinks it will help him become president. And he knows people are dying because of it.