For all the cries about “DeathSantis,” Gov. Ron DeSantis is in better shape than his critics may realize.
Sure, he’s presiding over a state that is regularly seeing 17,000, 18,000 even 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day in recent weeks.
Yes, he aligned himself with President Donald Trump right from the start, an allegiance that is more toxic now than ever.
He was inaugurated just two years ago and, after a brief honeymoon in which would-be detractors thought for a moment he might actually be a “good” Republican, COVID-19 came along to whisk away any shred of bipartisanship that had existed in his early months.
Critics, most of whom are unrelentingly harsh, bash DeSantis over and over again for mishandling the pandemic — there was not nor will there be a statewide mask mandate and the vaccine rollout had an unenviable and botched rollout — but their battle cries may be shaping up to be the equivalent of throwing spaghetti at a wall.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the criticism is warranted. DeSantis’ early decisions on the pandemic likely cost lives and certainly he had more than enough time to ensure shots in the arm once a vaccine arrived didn’t result in damning images of senior citizens camping out overnight … in captain’s chairs, in the cold … for their chance to get one.
DeSantis’ decent positioning is less a credit to what he has done right than it is to how much everyone else has done wrong.
After the November election and, even more so, after last week’s events in the U.S. Capitol, DeSantis is in far better shape politically than his eventual rivals, and certainly better than his haters predict.
And that might just be enough.
Let’s set on a shelf for a moment DeSantis’ 2022 prospects and look two years beyond. DeSantis is perhaps in prime position for a 2024 presidential run. He has become a fixture on national cable, a God among gods on Fox News. And even though his presence on more left-leaning networks (read: a CNN exchange with a reporter who, depending on who you ask, either shamed DeSantis or got shamed by him) has been less than flattering, the far-right base eats up what they see as the Governor’s fearless commitment to freedom and the economy.
More than that, his would-be rivals have all endured a series of self-inflicted wounds that will follow them well into the 2024 cycle.
Take Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as exhibit A. He not only led efforts in the U.S. Senate to challenge the legitimacy of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory despite dozens upon dozens of court challenges upholding the election as both fair and free of any meaningful fraud, he continued to do so even after a mob of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol at the behest of their flawed leader.
It’s not a good look to be still aligned with a President largely, even among some in his own party, believed to have encouraged the first U.S. Capitol breach since the War of 1812.
For exhibit B, I present to you the once rising star, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley who, like Cruz, refused to back down from baseless claims of a stolen election and, worse, was photographed saluting the mob that would eventually send members of Congress scattering to offices and closets, taking shelter under desks and barricading doors with Capitol office furniture.
That image will no doubt be plastered all over every piece of negative creative there is come the start of the 2024 cycle.
Then there are DeSantis’ potential Florida rivals. It’s no secret DeSantis and his predecessor, now Sen. Rick Scott, have no love lost between them. But Scott’s positioning on Trump’s anti-victory won’t play well should he decide to name himself to the 2024 GOP ticket.
Before Wednesday’s terrifying assault on Democracy, which led to five deaths including a Capitol police officer, it’s worth mentioning, Scott expertly calculated his play on how to respond to calls to reject slates of electors in swing states Biden won. He waited until the 11th hour to announce, hedging his bets right up until the last minute by dodging any sort of answer at all. By the time he came out with an announcement, it played to both those who respect the legitimate outcome of the election and those who believed Trump had been robbed.
He rejected claims of a stolen election in all but one state, Pennsylvania, where an argument was easier to defend. There, it wasn’t about dead people voting or rogue Democrats stuffing ballots in unmarked vans in parking lots in the wee hours of the morning. It was about a political process that allowed ballots to be counted later than some thought they should.
Had Wednesday’s riotous events not occurred, Scott could have likely defended that decision away. But when he decided to vote against certifying Pennsylvania’s results even after the insurrection Scott voluntarily gave himself a Scarlet Letter. Now he will forever be labeled complicit at best and, at worst, an enabler.
Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t much better off. In a damned if you do, damned if you don’t turn of events, Rubio’s vote to certify Pennsylvania’s results could land him in the untenable position of fighting off a primary challenge in 2022 when he’s up for reelection.
Add to that the South Florida Senator has been all over the map with his post-riot comments and the picture doesn’t look much better for 2024. In several media appearances and in public comments since Wednesday, Rubio has often in one breath defended the pro-Trump mob and condemned their actions.
Which is worse, aligning oneself with potential domestic terrorists or refusing to take a position one way or the other? A friend of everyone is often a friend of no one. I see “Spineless Rubio” nicknames coming — to an extent, the already have.
All of this while DeSantis is soldiering on with the pandemic.
Yes, he’s taking a lot of grief. Yes, he often looks petulant in his reaction to it. Indeed, he continues to amass scars from Florida’s soaring COVID-19 case load and the mounting body count.
But he has governors of other states such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to deflect some of his own failures.
DeSantis has avoided scandals like Newsom’s French Laundry fiasco in which he was photographed at the swank French restaurant flouting his own COVID-19 guidelines. DeSantis can’t be a hypocrite if he doesn’t make the mandates himself, right?
New York has seen a whopping 122 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC. Florida, you ask: 105. Meanwhile, California has seen 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days while Florida has tallied just shy of 82.
It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as them. And DeSantis has free-market, freedom-loving, pro-economy arguments on his side. Never has the Sunshine State taken as drastic of measures against the pandemic as California and New York and the economy, even though it’s still taking a hit, is showing signs of success.
Economists revised an anticipated $5.4 billion revenue shortfall in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 fiscal years. They’ve since shaved $2.1 billion from that estimate.
That forecast will only get better as tourism returns and with it flights and cruises.
All DeSantis has to do now is get the vaccine in as many arms as possible. Enter his partnership with Publix last week to administer vaccines to seniors 65 and older, and others like it. The start might have been rocky, but Floridians have a short memory if he gets it right in the long run.
My analysis of DeSantis remains consistent. He’s not as great as he thinks he is, but he’s nowhere near as bad as his critics contend.
As he rounds the corner into the halfway point in his first term, with vaccines rolling in and warm weather on the horizon DeSantis has the opportunity to reestablish himself in a way others lack.
The question at this point will be not whether he can weather the past 11 months and all of its challenges, but whether he can finish the second half of his first term without squandering the opportunity to survive.