Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried launched a video on Tuesday, in which she made a soft pitch for a potential gubernatorial bid. The video fueled existing speculation surrounding her political future and set Florida’s social media landscape ablaze.
Fried, donning a red dress juxtaposed against her high-ceilinged library backdrop, spent much of the minute-long ad blasting Governor Ron DeSantis with familiar attacks from her pandemic playbook, questioning DeSantis’s leadership and focusing on his ties with former President Donald Trump.
While other Democrats, including former gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham have done their own version of the “DeSantis is evil” shtick in an effort to bolster their political stock, few have done so with the frequency of Fried.
Fried has certainly drained that well dry, but does her attack actually hold water?
We examine three of the charges she levied.
“You won’t hear this from Governor DeSantis, but you need to hear it. This pandemic has been painful”
From the onset, Fried takes a jab at DeSantis, insinuating that he doesn’t understand (or doesn’t care to understand) the ramifications and the toll that the pandemic has taken on Floridians. While many in her party may echo her sentiment, the record doesn’t support this charge. Multiple media outlets have reported that DeSantis has been empathetic towards those who have been impacted by the worldwide contagion. And though he’s been particularly vocal about the pandemic’s impact on businesses, it’s clear he’s also keenly aware of the personal health toll.
Case in point: back in September of 2020, the governor was visibly shaken during a roundtable discussion, getting emotional and choking up in front of reporters while discussing protections for the most vulnerable in Florida. The public display of affection was lauded by The Miami Herald, with the outlet calling DeSantis’s emotional moment “heart-warming and “heart-rending.”
“Many of the folks understand that they have loved ones who are in the last stage of their life. They’re not demanding a medical miracle. They’re not having unrealistic expectations. They would just like to be able to say goodbye, or to hug somebody,” DeSantis said, before pausing to gather himself.
“They just would like to be able to say goodbye”: Gov. DeSantis gets emotional during Tuesday’s roundtable on visitation at long-term care facilities. pic.twitter.com/ldWyQGjM7P
— WPBF 25 News (@WPBF25News) September 1, 2020
The moment was not an outlier either, as DeSantis has on more than one occasion put the Floridians’ safety and wellbeing at the forefront of the coronavirus fight. From opening beaches, protecting business owners, and choosing to safeguard people from overreaching policies that crippled states like New York and California (more on that later), DeSantis has managed to juggle Florida lives and Florida’s lifeblood delicately.
“While he lashes out at everyone else like he’s the victim, we all know who the real victims are.”
It’s no secret that DeSantis is not a media darling, nor is he fond of the media. Many mainstream national and Florida outlets take pleasure in painting the governor as Public Enemy Number One. So it’s only natural that DeSantis pushes back at reporters he sees as pushing “gotcha questions” at him during press conferences.
DeSantis has not shied away from chastising the media, which certainly played in Fried’s accusation that he sees himself as the “victim.” While there is a litany of examples of DeSantis’s pushback against repeatedly discredited claims, Fried’s straight right punch may have been referencing DeSantis’s recent media scuffle that saw many opponents chide him for not wearing his mask during Super Bowl LV.
While attending the game in Tampa, DeSantis drew the ire of the blue checkmark crowd after a photo surfaced showing him seated in an executive suite at Raymond James Stadium without a face mask. The image went viral, leading to many self-righteous social media comments.
— Steve Bousquet (@stevebousquet) February 8, 2021
DeSantis made his case shortly after:
“Someone said, ‘Hey, you were at the Super Bowl without a mask,’” DeSantis said following the backlash, according to Politico’s Marc Caputo. “But how the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on? Come on. I had to watch the Bucs win.”
But DeSantis’s critics, many of whom have certainly enjoyed meals at Florida restaurants since the start of the pandemic, didn’t let up.
The facts of DeSantis’s situation reveal that it was likely even safer than dining out. Not only was Super Bowl attendance limited to 25,000 fans, just a fraction of the stadium’s capacity, but 7,500 of those were vaccinated health workers. DeSantis was also secluded in a private box, not engaging with fans or vendors. And obviously, protocols at Raymond James Stadium allowed people to take off their masks while eating and drinking.
It’s true that DeSantis has aggressively lashed out at what he justifiably sees as unfair attacks against his leadership, but there’s no evidence to support Fried’s claim that he views himself as more of a victim than those who are feeling the full impact of the pandemic.
“Every Floridian who’s lost a loved one, lost a job, lost a way of life, this has been so much harder than it had to be, and we know why — blind allegiance to an insurrectionist.”
Fried’s attempt to land a haymaker misses badly, based solely on state-by-state comparisons. While Democrats and their media allies spent the bulk of their time in 2020 to grossly represent DeSantis’s handling of the pandemic as a failure, the data tells a different story.
With no “how to” manual on how to defeat an invisible enemy, DeSantis, like other governors across the nation, initially followed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and locked Florida down. It didn’t take long for him to realize that was a mistake, and he reversed course in the late spring of 2020. Since that time, Florida has won recognition for finding ways to get businesses open again without locking down. And he’s done so in a way that hasn’t resulted in the kind of catastrophic outbreak predicted by experts. At the time of writing, Florida, the third most populous state in the nation, ranked just 29th in cases per capita and 27th in deaths per capita. Meanwhile, states like New York, which have been excessively praised since the outbreak, and have enforced strict lockdowns on restaurants and businesses, ranks 2nd in deaths per capita, according to Statista.
Even with Florida outperforming New York, the media heaped praise on governors like Andrew Cuomo, despite his nursing home debacle and recent scandal that continues to plague his administration. DeSantis didn’t get the credit or the book deal, but he did get the raw end of the deal.
Choosing to omit Florida’s navigation of the pandemic and shift the narrative to focus on DeSantis’s ties with Trump have become part and parcel with today’s 24/7 news coverage. Fried and other Democrats — aside from anomalies like Jared Moskowitz — have made it their mission to fabricate a black eye on DeSantis’s reputation, no matter the cost.
Fried’s latest video is clearly calculated to resonate with Democrats who won’t like DeSantis no matter what he does, but it’s not a compelling indictment of DeSantis’s actual record.