SURFSIDE, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis defied mask regulations as the coronavirus swept Florida. Later, he retaliated against racial justice protestors, chastised President Joe Biden on immigration, intervened in the transgender athlete debate, and signed broad voting reform legislation.
DeSantis has stood somberly with local authorities, including Democrats, as they evaluated the damage in the two weeks since a 12-story condo complex in this seaside hamlet abruptly collapsed, killing at least 78 people. When Biden came to visit, he nodded in agreement and praised their appearance as proof that people of opposite political beliefs can work together in a crisis. He also skipped a rally in Sarasota that included former President Donald Trump, whose early backing was important in DeSantis’ victory in the governor’s campaign in 2018.
DeSantis has frequently followed Trump’s lead since his election. The tragedy in Surfside, though, is exposing voters to a different side of the governor as he prepares for reelection next year, which may drive him into a presidential candidacy. He’s still the right-wing populist who opposes Trump. But, unlike the past president, DeSantis is demonstrating that even in the midst of a crisis, he can moderate some of his most vehement partisan statements.
“The governor took a firm stance. He hasn’t wavered. In an interview, Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava, a Democrat who has previously sparred with DeSantis, claimed he has been constructive. “Hats off to the governor for his unwavering support throughout this difficult period.”
The degree of collaboration was “astonishing, even shocking,” according to Surfside mayor Charles Burkett, a nonpartisan.
DeSantis isn’t ushering in a new age of cooperation, nor is he bringing his party’s election doubters back to reality. Direct concerns about whether Biden’s election victory was fair to have been avoided by the governor. DeSantis announced an unprecedented proposal to deploy cops from Florida to the southern border a day after the government collapsed, a move Democrats criticize as political theatre.
Nonetheless, DeSantis’ actions are diametrically opposed to Trump’s. Former President Barack Obama threatened to withdraw funding from Democratic governors such as California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo who had criticized him. At times, his responses to people’s suffering looked unsympathetic or awkward. Trump, for example, threw rolls of paper towels into a mob of locals during a visit to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
DeSantis is “less terrifying than Trump,” according to Mac Stipanovich, a veteran Republican campaign manager “Even as he courted the previous president’s supporters, he has alienated certain voters.
DeSantis “has a highly tuned understanding of what is the finest red meat to feed to the MAGA base on any given day,” according to Stipanovich. “As soon as this catastrophe has passed us by, everyone will be at one other’s throats again.”
Indeed, the discussion may quickly shift to how state and municipal governments deal with aging infrastructure. Miami-Dade County officials have begun a 30-day assessment of structures over 40 years old. DeSantis has questioned whether a statewide examination of older structures is necessary.
While good disaster responses can enhance a governor’s political standing, the benefits aren’t always permanent. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were lauded for their swift responses to severe storms. Trump, who has never held a government position before campaigning for president, beat both men for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Some Democrats appear to have been taken off guard by DeSantis’ handling of the tragedy, leaving them without a coordinated reaction.
Representative Charlie Crist, a Democrat running for governor against DeSantis next year, did not reply to a request for comment on the governor’s response to the crash. Local authorities, Biden, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were hailed by Nikki Fried, Florida’s Democratic agriculture commissioner who is also running for governor. DeSantis, on the other hand, was chastised by her for entering the politically sensitive immigration discussion by dispatching Florida law enforcement to the Mexican border.
“Despite the fact that the Florida Division of Emergency Management has been working around the clock to support search and rescue efforts, it is unfortunate that Governor DeSantis diverted first responders to the southern border during this incredibly difficult time for the Miami community and our entire state,” she said.
Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat running for Senate against Republican Marco Rubio, said she was “pleased to witness the fruitful collaboration between local, state, and federal officials as we fight to save lives.”
“We must put partisanship aside and do what is right for our community in times of crisis,” she added.
At a crucial time for Republicans, DeSantis is getting national notice. While Trump mulls whether or not to run for president again in 2024, those who want to succeed him are moving quickly to position themselves as his successor if he decides not to run.
Trump is OK with his alliance with DeSantis for the time being. However, many individuals close to Trump and his staff said the former president has been watching DeSantis as he wooed donors at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida and garnered support in conservative circles. Many Republicans secretly anticipate Trump to turn on DeSantis if his popularity increases and he poses a challenge to Trump’s position as the party’s unquestioned leader.
Last week, when Trump refused DeSantis’ request to postpone the event in Sarasota, their feud became public for the first time. Trump told the conservative news network Newsmax that he and DeSantis had “mutually agreed” that the governor should forgo the event. Trump began his comments with a minute of sorrow for the victims and their families in Surfside.
In subsequent interviews, Trump has attempted to maintain his advantage in the relationship, bringing up his early backing. He’s also stated that if he decides to run for president again, he’ll consider DeSantis as a possible running mate.
DeSantis has stated that winning reelection next year is more important to him than winning in 2024. He’s one of the few prominent Republicans who hasn’t visited Iowa, the site of the first presidential caucuses and a state dominated by conservative evangelicals who may tilt the GOP’s direction.
Instead, DeSantis has spent much of his summer attending political fundraisers in Pennsylvania and California. Tony Krvaric, who helped organize a DeSantis event in San Diego, said the governor’s popularity was at an all-time high, and his response to the collapse boosted his image even more.
Krvaric stated, “He handled it professionally and with sensitivity.”