Remember the good ol’ days early in Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s first term when even centrist Democrats gave him high marks for his stances on the environment and other issues? His approval rating soared.
As the young, popular leader of a large, important state, DeSantis began popping up in conversations about a possible presidential run. He was a man on the move.
As it turns out, though, that might have been the worst thing that could have happened to him. Once he got those presidential stars in his eyes, things changed. He gave off an air that anyone who disagreed with him is stupid.
That’s where we are now.
DeSantis’ hard-line position on masks appears to have boomeranged on him. A recent survey from St. Pete Polls, commissioned by Florida Politics, showed 62% of Floridians favor mandatory masks in schools.
And that was before DeSantis threatened to withhold salaries from school superintendents and board members who defy his executive order forbidding mandates. He looked and sounded like the schoolyard bully. He made victims of those who say he is wrong.
The Governor champions freedom and says he abhors the big hand of government. Yet, he stripped the authority of local governments to set their own pandemic protections. He told cruise line operators in Florida they can’t require proof that passengers were vaccinated against COVID-19.
Norwegian Cruise Lines pushed back and sued to overturn the ban, and a federal judge agreed the company could ignore DeSantis. Other cruise lines likely will follow, leading to a possible embarrassing defeat for the Governor.
The two best weapons against the delta variant of the virus are vaccinations and masks. DeSantis would have been smarter to tell Floridians that they don’t have to do either one, but businesses could refuse to serve them.
I don’t know if DeSantis listens to anyone outside his closely protected echo chamber. However, it probably doesn’t help that his recently hired press secretary, Christina Pushaw, is widely seen as combative and contemptuous.
In a crisis — and this is one — those aren’t good traits.
The Governor appeared at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. He was there to tout the $1,000 bonus payments for teachers, and Lakewood was a good choice. Teachers there helped raise the school from an F in 2019 to an A in 2021.
That’s a remarkable achievement, and they certainly deserve the money. But they got the money because of the COVID-19 relief package championed by President Joe Biden, not DeSantis.
In fact, just a few days before, DeSantis told the President that he didn’t want to “hear a blip about COVID from you, thank you,” adding, “why don’t you do your job?”
That was after Biden said, if GOP governors like DeSantis weren’t going to help, “at least get out of the way of the people trying to do the right thing.”
The hard-core base loved that, of course.
I’ll bet it didn’t play that well in the middle, though. They don’t want to take a cruise and wonder if the person across from them is contagious. They want their kids safe in school, and if masks help (and they do), make everyone put ’em on.
Independent and moderate voters will decide the next election, and DeSantis has some explaining to do to those folks. The red-meat crowd alone won’t be enough to push DeSantis over the top.
We probably wouldn’t have had this discussion if he stayed on the path that made him so popular at the start. Alas, sometimes ambition can lead a person astray.