As of Friday, Florida hospitals were treating some 17,000 COVID-19 patients, including more than 3,550 in intensive care, according to tallies by the Washington Post. The need for oxygen to treat patients has become so dire in some regions that Orlando officials implored residents Friday to conserve water in order to preserve the liquid oxygen used in water treatment.
At the same time, heated disputes over masking in schools are erupting as children return to school and thousands of students and staff have already been forced to either isolate or quarantine. DeSantis himself helped stoke the mask fury by banning school districts from requiring universal masking—the only available line of defense for kids under 12 and too young to get the vaccine. When some school districts revolted by issuing mask mandates anyway, DeSantis threatened to dock the pay of school officials who implemented mandates. At least five of Florida’s 67 school districts have now defied DeSantis’ ban, including the state’s largest and second largest districts, Miami-Dade and Broward.
While his state convulses with chaos, anxiety, illness, and death, DeSantis is happily preening and punishing for the cameras.
On Friday, DeSantis’ handpicked Board of Education announced school officials in Broward and Alachua counties—two of the first to implement mask mandates—would lose their salaries unless they reversed their masking policy in the next couple days. The threat very well may not shake their resolve, as both President Biden and citizen activists have pledged to make up for any shortfall in funding.
Politically, taking punitive action against school districts that mandate masks is an abysmal move, with just 22% of Americans supporting the idea. But what’s a GOP 2024 hopeful to care when Fox News is salivating to give him primetime slots even as he ensures COVID-19 will inflict maximal damage on his constituents. In fact, a lengthy investigative report by the Tampa Bay Times found that DeSantis had scheduled more meetings with Fox’s Sean Hannity in the first half of 2021 than with his own lieutenant governor. Meanwhile, the governor has failed to schedule even a single one-on-one meeting this year with Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, the state’s top public health official, according to the Tampa Bay Times piece.
DeSantis clearly has the Fox sweepstakes tied up and therefore nothing else matters to him, not even anguish and death in his state. It’s a dodgy political bet for a guy who beat his Democratic challenger in 2018 by less than half a point, 49.6% – 49.2%, and Democrats are eager to capitalize on it.
Two Democratic candidates for governor, Rep. Charlie Crist (who’s also the state’s former governor) and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, have been ripping DeSantis’ handling of the surge. This week, Crist launched a “five figure” statewide ad buy including two counties that implemented mask mandates.
“Florida leads the nation in new Covid cases, jammed hospitals and deaths,” Crist says in the ad. “And now Ron DeSantis wants to defund schools where they’re asking kids to wear a mask.”
This week, political journalists spent an inordinate amount of time flogging President Biden for the chaotic and tragic scenes streaming out of Afghanistan. The quickly evolving humanitarian crisis there and massive U.S. evacuation effort is an important story, no doubt. But among reporters favorite things to do was to play a clip of Biden claiming several weeks ago there was “no circumstance” in which people would be airlifted off a U.S. embassy as they were in Saigon at the end of Vietnam. “It is not at all comparable,” Biden insisted in an early July press conference. Then journalists would immediately cut to the anguished crowds in Kabul at the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
At the beginning of this week, I argued the next several weeks of news out of Afghanistan could be brutal for Biden politically but that Democrats should stay focused on the president’s domestic agenda as it could likely be among the most consequential issues in 2022.
The story in Afghanistan is far from over and it’s impossible to know at this point how it will end and what narratives will ultimately prevail in voters’ minds. The issue will almost certainly be litigated in the 2024 presidential race, but more than likely next year’s midterms will be dominated by the pandemic and economic-related matters.
In important swing states like Arizona and Florida—where governors’ deliberately put kids in harm’s way to score political points—their abysmal pandemic policies will get top billing. Floridians can get ready to see a lot of ads with DeSantis declaring, “We’ve succeeded” and celebrating victories for “freedom” against a backdrop of raucous school board meetings, rising coronavirus infections, and kids engulfed in a maze of tubes in Florida ICUs. In fact, a quick review of the digital front pages of news outlets in South Florida, Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville reveals not a single story about Afghanistan. All but one of them led with a pandemic related story (tropical storm Henri got top billing in the Orlando Sentinel), and they all included at least one story impugning DeSantis, such as, “Ron DeSantis’ colossal COVID-19 gamble: schools, vaccinations, masks—and his political future” or “Florida’s COVID deaths climb as children lead state in positivity rate.”
DeSantis isn’t only a depraved narcissist, he seems to have forgotten the pandemic sunk Donald Trump, who also got so hopped up on Fox News bluster that he assumed he was politically invincible.