On May 20, Ron DeSantis declared victory over the coronavirus.
That’s the day the Florida Republican governor’s interview with National Review editor Rich Lowry published, in which DeSantis touted his handling of the pandemic and blasted the media for their allegedly overwrought critiques of his seemingly laissez-faire approach to the virus.
“None of these people knew anything about Florida at all, so I didn’t care what they were saying,” DeSantis told Lowry in the piece, headlined “Where Does Ron DeSantis Go to Get His Apology?”
“One of the things that bothered me throughout this whole time was, I researched the 1918 pandemic, ’57, ‘68, and there were some mitigation efforts done in May 1918, but never just a national-shutdown type deal. There was really no observed experience about what the negative impacts would be on that.
“So I was very concerned about things on that side as well and I think that’s why I had a more nuanced and balanced approach than some of the other governors. Because you have some of these health officials saying, ‘You’ve got to do this. This is science,’ or whatever. But really, these were unchartered territories.”
CNN also reported Tuesday that 43 hospital ICUs in 21 Florida counties are at capacity and show zero ICU beds available, according to data released by the Agency for Health Care Administration. Those counties include Miami-Dade, (which includes the city of Miami), Broward (Ft. Lauderdale) and Hillsborough (Tampa).
Which certainly doesn’t look like winning.
It’s not hard to see what happened here.
On May 4, DeSantis allowed the state to partially reopen. That made it among the earliest states to do so – following in the footsteps of places like Georgia and Texas. (Florida was also one of the last states to close; DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order on April 1, just a week after insisting he would not do so because it would put people “in prison in their homes.”) DeSantis resisted calls to make mask-wearing mandatory. “This has to be voluntarily because the Constitution is not suspended just because there is a virus,” he said in mid-June. “You do have a right to protest, you have a right to go to religious service, all these other things.”
So, 16 days after the state had partially reopened, DeSantis took a victory lap because there had been no surge in cases. And in early June, the state entered Phase II of its reopening which, among other things, allowed bars to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity. Most beaches had been reopened since mid-April, a decision DeSantis largely left up to county officials.
And then, predictably, the virus asserted itself. On June 29, there were more than 6,000 cases a day. By July 1 there were more than 9,000. And last Friday, July 3, Florida hit its single-day record for cases: 11,406.
How did DeSantis respond to the surge? His administration issued an executive order Monday making clear that all public schools in the state will return to five-day-a-week, in-person classes by August. While that decision thrilled President Donald Trump, who is in the midst of his own push to reopen schools nationwide, it seemed a decidedly odd decision given the current state of the pandemic in Florida. And DeSantis has been resistant to any rollback of his phased reopening of the state – including any sort of mandatory mask-wearing effort (as Texas has done). “There’s no need to be fearful,” DeSantis said Monday.
There are two political lessons to be learned in DeSantis’ struggles.
1) Never declare victory until you know you’ve won.
2) If circumstances change, you need to change too.
What Florida looked like on May 20 – when Lowry wrote the column – and what it looks like today are radically different. DeSantis was quick to take the credit when it looked as though his hands-off approach was working.
In an appearance with Trump in Washington on April 28, DeSantis said, “Everyone in the media was saying Florida was going to be like New York or Italy and that has not happened.”
He added: “We understood that the outbreak was not uniform throughout the state, and we had a tailored and measured approach that not only helped our numbers be way below what anybody predicted, but also did less damage to our state going forward.”
But DeSantis has been resistant to either taking the blame for the current situation or putting in place measures that will slow the raging epidemic in the state.
To put it in Florida terms that DeSantis can understand: The Miami Hurricanes football team doesn’t stop playing at halftime just because they are ahead by three touchdowns. Unfortunately for the governor, that’s exactly what he did.