When Ron DeSantis ran for governor of Florida in 2018, he made a politically savvy decision: He would be the most pro-President Trump candidate possible. He popped up on Fox News Channel repeatedly, understanding that it would be an effective way to get Trump’s attention. After he earned Trump’s endorsement in the Republican primary — and then won his party’s nomination — his campaign ran an ad touting how loyal he was to the president’s vision. At one point in the spot, he helped his young daughter build a wall with her blocks.
After narrowly winning the general election, he remained loyal to Trump. After the coronavirus emerged in the United States, he echoed Trump’s insistences that economic activity should not be constrained to slow the virus’s spread.
At one point in late May, DeSantis stood in the driveway of the White House after meeting with Trump, attacking members of the media for criticizing his decision not to limit business activity.
“You’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York,” DeSantis said. “‘Wait two weeks, Florida is going to be next. Just like Italy, wait two weeks.’ … We’re eight weeks away from that and it hasn’t happened.”
“We’ve succeeded and I think that people just don’t want to recognize it because it challenges their narrative, it challenges their assumption,” he later added, “so they’ve got to try and find a boogeyman.”
At the National Review, Rich Lowry echoed DeSantis’s rhetoric, asking where the Florida governor should go to get his apology.
Lowry should have waited a few weeks. On the day DeSantis spoke at the White House, Florida was seeing 724 new coronavirus cases a day on average. Three weeks later, the average was more than 1,200. Three weeks after that, more than 7,100, 10 times the figure as when DeSantis was taking his victory lap. At the worst point over the summer, Florida had nearly 12,000 new infections a day and 185 new covid-19 deaths.
A White House report recommending that Florida curtail the availability of indoor dining and other activity to slow the spread of the virus was reportedly muffled by DeSantis’s administration. On Tuesday, he appeared at an event to encourage restaurants to remain open, claiming — falsely — that restaurants aren’t a significant driver of new cases. (He also declined to refer to President-elect Joe Biden as president-elect.)
Last week, Jones’s home was raided by state police who seized computers she was using to create a standalone data tracker. She is accused of illegally accessing state computer and messaging systems; she claims the state sought to silence her.
In the end, Trump would almost certainly have won Florida no matter what the coronavirus death data showed. His victory was powered heavily by a shift among Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, where a 290,000-vote loss in 2016 became an 85,000-vote loss in 2020, as his statewide win margin grew to 260,000 votes. But with Trump leaving office and DeSantis sticking around for at least another two years, the question remains: Did his administration intentionally misrepresent coronavirus data for political purposes?
In other words: Did DeSantis’s loyalty to Trump and favored position as a keep-the-economy-open poster child manifest in less-dire death totals?
In a word: Yes.
Carl Hiaasen in The Miami Herald:
From the beginning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been a course of secrecy, cold-blooded deception and negligence.
Now comes the raid by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on the home of Rebekah Jones, the ex-state health data analyst who started her own COVID dashboard after complaining that the DeSantis administration was twisting statistics to underplay the severity of the pandemic.
The governor initially said he didn’t know about the investigation or raid. On Friday, he admitted he did, fumed about the term “raid,” and then huffed out of a press conference. Look for him soon on Fox News.
Seizing Jones’ computer — ostensibly to investigate a “hacking” incident — has all the appearance of clumsy retribution for embarrassing DeSantis. So spongy was the state’s search warrant that it prompted the resignation of former prosecutor Ron Filipowski from the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, to which DeSantis had recently reappointed him.
Filipowski, a Marine veteran and lifelong Republican, said that DeSantis has been “reckless and irresponsible” in dealing with the pandemic, and that Floridians “are not being told the truth about COVID.”
A recent investigative series in the Sun-Sentinel provided sickening details about the depths to which DeSantis sunk to please President Trump, his super-spreader idol.
In late September, for instance, the Florida Department of Health — DeSantis’ pliant Ministry of Propaganda — told county officials to stop making public statements about COVID-19 until after the Nov. 3 election.
News releases or media posts must not mention the virus, the order stated. It came from Alberto Moscoso, communications chief of the state health department. He left his job Nov. 6.
The motive for muzzling local health departments was obvious. Florida being a key state for Trump, DeSantis didn’t want voters to be reminded that COVID-19 was on a deadly surge.
On Sept. 25, DeSantis himself ordered a full reopening of bars and restaurants, and sought to stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates. Between Sept. 30 and Election Day, at least 2,526 Floridians died of COVID-related causes.
That number, which came from the state, is probably higher. Real experts believe the state’s death toll has already passed 20,000. Many of those victims could have avoided getting sick, but we have a governor who has shunned medical warnings in favor of “blue sky messaging.”
DeSantis’ own spokesman has disparaged the use of masks and tweeted that the coronavirus is “less deadly than the flu.” That yammering stooge, Fred Piccolo Jr., still has his job, which is all you need to know about DeSantis’ true priorities.
From the pandemic’s early days, his administration hid key information about the spread of the virus in nursing homes, prisons, hospitals and even public schools. Only the threat of lawsuits by family members, news organizations and patient advocacy groups has pried loose the data.
The governor habitually edits COVID statistics to paint the cheeriest possible picture. His latest spin is that most newly infected patients are younger, healthier and asymptomatic, which curiously fails to explain why hospital beds and ICUs are filling up with coronavirus patients.
Who in Florida can forget DeSantis’ smug victory sit-down with Trump at the White House? That was more than seven months and 18,000 deaths ago, but the governor’s arms are probably still sore from patting himself on the back.
Later he toured the state with Trump’s pandemic guru, Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and Stanford University Fellow who doesn’t like masks and preaches for a fully reopened economy.
Seeking infectious-disease advice from a guy who reads X-rays for a living is like hiring a dentist to do your colonoscopy — it’s not exactly in his wheelhouse. The Stanford Faculty Senate “strongly condemned” Atlas’s position as “contrary to medical science,” and he recently resigned from the White House.
Mercifully he has not resurfaced at DeSantis’ side, but there’s still time.
These days — when he’s not harassing the whistleblower who caught him fudging the COVID statistics — the governor is following Trump’s cue and focusing exclusively on the coming vaccines.
Like the President, DeSantis had little use for virus scientists until now, when they’re poised to save his political future.
Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University reports that new COVID-19 cases are doubling every 78 days in Florida . As of this writing, more than 4,500 persons are hospitalized here with the illness, nearly twice as many as a month ago.
True, lots of people who once scoffed at the idea of masks are wearing them now, but lots of people are dead who might never have been infected if their friends and loved ones had been more careful.
Or if we’d had leadership that sent the right message from the first day, instead of spinning upbeat story lines while trying to gag local health officials who knew what was coming.
Heartsick families, packed hospitals, crushing unemployment — but in the DeSantis version of reality, nothing but blue skies.