Washington Whispers: Ron DeSantis Ushers In the Delta Variant
Updated: Aug 19
By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Hallelujah! At long last, there are now Republican governors, including Alabama’s Kay Ivey, West Virginia’s Jim Justice, and Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson, urging their constituents to get vaccinated. Perhaps they’ve finally noticed that the virus is killing off their Republican vaccine-refusing voters. But don’t get your hopes up that the GOP has come to its senses about Covid-19.
At least five other Republican governors— Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Texas’ Greg Abbott, Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts, Iowa’s Kim Reynolds and Arizona’s Doug Ducey—are ferociously opposing even mask mandates.
Of these governors, DeSantis is the most flamboyantly defiant, and his obstinance is having real world consequences. Twenty percent of the new cases of Covid in the U.S. are in Florida. Florida hospitals have reported placing emergency room patients in beds in hallways and are again banning visitors and postponing elective surgeries. The patients are getting younger, some in their 20’s; according to Dr. Aharon Sareli, Chief of Critical Care at Memorial Healthcare System, “We’re seeing some of those patients deteriorating and becoming critically ill and into our intensive care unit. Unfortunately, we’re seeing some of those young patients dying in our ICU’s.”
And what is Governor DeSantis’s response? To deny and distort, and to pose as the defender of individual freedom and parental choice above all other rights, including the right to live. But his statements and actions are sending the unvaccinated to their deaths. Despite the outcry at the national level and in his own state, DeSantis is unapologetic and unrelenting.
The question is: why? The answer: ruthless political ambition.
A Deadly Political Gambit?
On August 3, President Biden announced that Florida and Texas, both Republican-led states, account for one-third of all new COVID-19 cases in the entire country: "Look, we need leadership from everyone. And if some governors aren't willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it." He added the plea: "I say to these governors, ‘please help.’ But if you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives."
DeSantis responded to Biden the next day, naturally on Fox News: "If you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida? I'm standing in your way…. If you're trying to deny kids a proper in-person education, I'm gonna stand in your way and stand up for the kids in Florida. If you're trying to restrict people and impose mandates and ruin their jobs and livelihood, if you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way. I am standing for the people of Florida."
DeSantis’s belligerent rejoinder said nothing about protecting the people of Florida from the hospitalization and death that Covid and the Delta variant can bring them. Rather, he changed the subject to education, jobs, and personal freedom.
In addition, DeSantis tried to counter-attack, saying: "Why don't you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don’t wanna hear a blip about Covid from you, thank you.” He claimed that Biden has “imported more virus from around the world by having a wide-open southern border."
But Desantis’s claim about the border is false. Apart from the fact Biden has not created a “wide open border,” the Covid-19 spike is occurring in the states with low vaccination rates, many of them not near our southern border. But the Florida Governor apparently doesn’t care about facts.
DeSantis has dismissed the current rise in cases as seasonal, based on people spending more time indoors to avoid Florida’s summer heat. He has maintained that there are still fewer Floridians dying now than last August because of his prior focus on vaccinating seniors and nursing home residents. On CBS Miami, DeSantis maintained: “Even among a lot of positive tests, you are seeing much less mortality that you did year-over-year.” He added, “Would I rather have 5,000 cases among 20-year-olds or 500 cases among seniors? I would rather have the younger.” But whether to protect the young or the old should not be an either-or proposition, and DeSantis was sidestepping the number of young that are now becoming critically ill or dying.
Adding injury to insulting excuses, DeSantis has issued an executive order banning school districts from mandating that students and school employees wear masks in school, leaving the decision to individual parents. Districts that do not comply with his order and nevertheless require masks could be denied funding.
To the degree DeSantis deigns to address life and death issues, he simply attacks the media for reporting on the record hospitalizations, claiming that such reporting will discourage people having heart attack or stroke symptoms from going to an emergency room. Or he tries to deflect by reinterpreting their questions and attacking them for asking.
When at an event at Shark Valley, a reporter asked about seven children in the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital with Covid—two of them in the ICU—DeSantis replied: “You’re blaming the kids, saying they weren’t wearing masks so they’re in the ICU. With all due respect, I find that deplorable to blame a victim who ends up being hospitalized.” Clearly, the reporter was not blaming the kids but the man—DeSantis—who issued state’s anti-mask executive order. This blatantly twisted sophistry is stomach-churning.
What Motivates DeSantis’ Actions?
When it is so clear that vaccination and masks are the best keys we have to prevent hospitalization and death from Covid and its variants, why would any sane leader not only fail to lead, but deliberately obstruct efforts to stop this dread disease?
DeSantis, who graduated with honors from Yale (undergraduate) and Harvard (law school), cannot, as some yahoos might, plead ignorance or stupidity as the reason. Rather, DeSantis has aspirations to the presidency and he has tied his political future to the fascistic goals of the Trumpist wing of his party.
In that pursuit, Governor DeSantis has advocated voting restrictions, a law banning “sanctuary cities” that protect undocumented immigrants, a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory, and actions to prevent Twitter and Facebook from censoring politicians who post misinformation. He also signed legislation restricting transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports. Making masks a political rather than a health issue is one of the more prominent tactics of the nation’s right-wing leaders.
In some quarters, this has been working for DeSantis. In June, he beat former President Trump in a straw poll taken at the Western Conservative summit in Denver. Amongst the 31 contenders, 74 percent of participants favored DeSantis, as against 71 percent of votes for Trump.
In July, according to Politico, Republican strategist Kevin McLaughlin said, “Voters crave authenticity, and [DeSantis] comes across as very authentic…. While some candidates are busy trying to ‘create’ an image or persona that will resonate with GOP presidential primary voters, DeSantis is just doing his job and letting his actions do all the talking.”
Those actions include a reelection campaign for governor that is selling snarky merchandise saying “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that, in an effort to enhance his presidential chances, DeSantis is determined to see Biden’s efforts against Covid fail, even if his own Republican voters die in the process. Mary Trump, the psychologist niece of the former president, has suggested, that is the position of a “homicidal sociopath, instead of a savvy politician.”
However, it is possible that DeSantis’s denigration and obstruction of our available defenses against Covid will turn out to be a miscalculation on his part. A poll by Florida Politics released on August 4, found that 62 percent of Florida voters (84 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents, and 39 percent of Republicans) support a mask mandate for schools. When their children start falling ill, perhaps the percentage of Republicans will increase.
And while a Florida Chamber of Commerce poll conducted in May showed DeSantis’s approval rating at 55 percent, in a survey conducted by St. Pete Polls (an aggregate by the two pollsters, Real Clear Politics and Five Thirty Eight) on August 2-3, his approval rating had fallen to 43.7 percent.
The St. Pete Polls survey found that 45 percent of voters said they would vote for Florida’s Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist for governor in 2022, while only 44 percent said they would vote for DeSantis. Previously a Republican, Christ served as governor from 2007 to 2011. He has been critical of DeSantis’s recent Covid policies.
If DeSantis loses his 2022 reelection bid for governor, it will likely destroy his political viability and throw cold water on his chance at a 2024 presidential nomination. But even if it does, there are many other sociopathic contenders ready and willing to take his place. And a number of them, along with DeSantis, are smarter than Donald Trump, and therefore are potentially more effective demagogues. We cannot let down our guard against them.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.