Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s not an autocrat. He’s a trendsetter.
During a news conference in Orlando on Thursday, a reporter asked DeSantis to respond to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s accusations that the Governor is a “dictator.” Laughter from the audience of DeSantis’ supporters drowned out the end of the reporter’s question as he smirked and rolled his eyes.
Crist, DeSantis’ Democratic challenger, frequently uses the “dictator” and “autocrat” label to criticize the Governor over his policies on abortion and education material, namely restrictions on “woke” instruction and discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Crist has also likened DeSantis to a “wannabe dictator” after his decision to suspend Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren over Warren’s stated refusal to enforce bans on abortion and gender-affirming surgery. All of those policies and actions currently face court challenges.
However, when defending his record, DeSantis immediately pivoted to his long-held opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns.
“I think the people that are dictatorial are the ones that want to lock you down. I think the people who are dictatorial are the ones that wanted to lock kids out of school for a year, which all of them wanted to do here in Florida, and I stopped it and made sure the kids could be in school,” DeSantis said.
“I think it’s dictatorial to say that someone should lose their job based on their choice about whether to get a COVID shot or not. So that’s just the reality.”
In the first month of the pandemic, DeSantis ordered restaurants, bars, beaches and more to close to the public, positions he initially resisted. But since the summer and fall of 2020, DeSantis and Florida have become symbols of freedom for the COVID-19 lockdown and mandate resistance.
Last fiscal year, Florida was the leading state in both domestic and international net migration.
“People vote with their feet,” DeSantis said. “People were not begging to get into San Francisco over the last two years. They were not begging to get into New York. They were not begging to get into Chicago or Minneapolis. People were doing whatever they could to get to the state of Florida.”
During a speech in Iowa in 2021, South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem implied DeSantis was pretending he never shut down beaches. But on Thursday, it was DeSantis who accused others of rewriting their record on the pandemic.
“Now there’s a lot of revisionist history. Everyone says, ‘Oh, we were supporting the Governor all along.’ No, that was not true,” DeSantis said. “I was out there on my own doing what I thought was right, and I was willing to take whatever political consequences came my way.”
He didn’t elaborate on who those turncoats are, and his Press Secretary, Bryan Griffin, didn’t shed much more light.
“He was referring to critics — especially those claiming to be on the side of freedom — who were pro-lockdown and wanted to keep kids out of school or were apathetic when the Governor was standing alone (keeping) Florida open,” Griffin said.