The past few months have not been particularly good for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
His utter lack of decisiveness and his misstatements in dealing with the state’s ongoing fight against coronavirus has drawn him lots and lots of attention – none of it good.
“We’re looking like ‘Flori-duh’ again, Gov. DeSantis. Any idea how that happened?” reads a new op-ed from the Miami Herald editorial board. It reads, in part:
“You know what Florida really needs right now?
“But in Ron DeSantis, Florida, at this most challenging time of the coronavirus, has a hesitant leader who continues to split the baby; a man who we would like to think is acting against his better judgment, perhaps, for political favor, but to the detriment of the rest of us.”
Among the mistakes DeSantis has made, according to the op-ed: Not closing down the state’s beaches as spring breakers partied last month, not yet approving retroactive unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs and pushing hydroxychloroquine, a still unproven drug to treat coronavirus. (Hydroxychloroquine is also being heavily pushed by President Donald Trump, the man to whom DeSantis, a Republican, owes his governorship.)
Add to that a few things that happened just yesterday:
* DeSantis declared WWE – yes, professional wresting – an “essential” business in the state, meaning that the organization could run live shows from its facility in Orlando. (Sidebar: I am a GIANT pro wrestling fan. But did we need a live “Monday Night Raw” on, uh, Monday night?)
* Florida’s surgeon general Scott Rivkees said that social distancing and mask-wearing should continue in Florida until a vaccine for coronavirus is approved. (That is likely to be a year or so from now.) Rivkees was almost immediately then “whisked away” by the governor’s spokeswoman, according to the Tampa Bay Times. DeSantis’ communications director Helen Ferre disputed that Rivkees was pulled out of the conference, telling CNN in a statement that “Dr. Rivkees was not pulled out of the press conference, which ran longer than expected. He had a pre-scheduled meeting with Governor DeSantis’ Deputy Chief of Staff Adrian Lukis he needed to attend. Afterwards, he went to the State Emergency Operations Center with DEM Director Jared Moskowitz.”
This bevy of mistakes – public relations and otherwise – comes less than a week after DeSantis suggested that he might re-open Florida schools sooner rather than later because “this particular pandemic is one where, I don’t think nationwide there’s been a single fatality under 25.” According to the CDC, 9 people under the age of 25 have now died from coronavirus.
And that error came after weeks of criticism of DeSantis for resisting the issuance of a stay-at-home order in the state – particularly given its considerable senior population and the virus’ demonstrated deadliness for those 65 years and older.
When DeSantis did finally put out a stay-at-home order, his reasoning for doing so was, uh, questionable. “When you see the President up there and his demeanor the last couple of days, that’s not necessarily how he always is,” DeSantis explained. So, Trump’s more somber “demeanor” at one press conference was the key to DeSantis’ decision? Righto!
DeSantis’ defenders note that while Florida is the third most populated state in the country, it is barely in the top 10 of states with the most coronavirus cases and its numbers of deaths (499) are nothing close to New York (10,000+), New Jersey (2,400+) and Michigan (1,600+).
“Florida now has twice as many coronavirus cases (20,601) as South Korea (10,537).
“About 30 million more people live in South Korea than in Florida.”
The simple truth about DeSantis that has been exposed over the past month is this: He simply wasn’t (and isn’t) ready for the challenge that coronavirus poses to his state. He spent three terms representing Florida in the US House before launching what was, at the start, considered a long-shot bid for the state’s open governorship in 2018 (DeSantis had served as a Judge Advocate General in the Navy.) DeSantis was plucked from obscurity by Trump, who endorsed his primary bid – catapulting him from forgotten to frontrunner. Trump was also by DeSantis’ side during the general election, campaigning for him on the day before the 2018 vote.
While DeSantis’ fealty to Trump – he ran ads during the campaign showing him chanting “build that wall” at his toddler daughter – served him well in getting to the governor’s office, it has been a less effective strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in Florida.
A much less effective strategy.