Editor’s Note: David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion on CNN.
Florida is once again under siege from Covid-19, at the epicenter of a fourth wave.
One in five new cases nationally have been reported in the state – virtually all spurred by the highly contagious Delta strain.
If you were governor, you probably would recognize the threat and think it your duty to work day and night to ensure that every single resident who is eligible gets the vaccinations that can save their lives.
You would think it. But not Ron DeSantis.
Where you might see tragic, unnecessary loss and suffering, Florida’s governor apparently sees something else: opportunity.
Since the pandemic first emerged, DeSantis, an uber-ambitious Donald Trump wannabe, has clawed his way to the top of the potential Republican presidential field with his showy defiance of public health experts and directives.
From the beginning, the noisy right has lionized him for slow-walking or resisting shutdowns, mask mandates and other public health measures. He gained national attention and huzzahs from the base for banning “vaccination passports.”
And now, even as Florida’s emergency rooms and intensive care units are once again overflowing with gravely ill Covid-19 patients, many of them young, DeSantis is picking another fight that may profit his ambitions while jeopardizing public health.
After the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered new guidance last week recommending that schoolchildren be required to mask up this fall, DeSantis stood up again for the sacred right of Americans to expose themselves, their children and others to the deadly virus.
The CDC guidance came amid the Delta-driven Covid-19 surge, which overwhelmingly has impacted the unvaccinated.
Many of the ill are young people who have not taken the vaccine and children under 12, who are not yet eligible for it. So the masking guidance makes sense, and several of the most populous school districts in Florida have announced plans to follow it.
Those counties also are Democratic strongholds, and DeSantis promptly doubled down on his threat to punish school districts that mandate masks for students this fall, going so far as to suggest he would withhold state funding to those that enforce one.
When President Joe Biden singled out DeSantis and GOP Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas – a state that is the nation’s second-leading contributor of infections in this current surge – the Florida governor took to the airwaves to blast the President and cast himself as the leader of the resistance.
“Joe Biden suggests that if you don’t do locked down policies, then you should, quote, ‘Get out of the way.’ Well, let me tell you this: If you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way,” said DeSantis, with a righteous indignation sure to quicken Trumpian hearts and online donations.
DeSantis sees more gold in the battle with the health care bureaucrats and experts he says are lording over the citizenry. Previewing a battle between himself and Biden? That’s a chance he could not pass up. (And in fairness, Biden invited it by singling DeSantis out.)
All of this is in service of the governor’s obvious and overriding goal, which is to be the inheritor of the Trump base in ’24, if the brooding former President takes a pass or becomes too hot for the GOP to handle.
Climbing infection rates and deaths? Hospitals packed to the breaking point? Growing risks to unvaccinated children?
These are problems for another day.