Every weekend, we look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, public policy, and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”
Florida remains the national COVID-19 hotspot, and DeSantis’s political future hinges on his stubborness
One year ago today, Florida had just emerged from the blistering peak of the pandemic, giving Governor Ron DeSantis confidence that his no-restrictions, no mandates policy was working. The virus had peaked on July 12th with what was then a record-high 15,300 new cases.
This year is different. During the month of August, we’ve been averaging far more cases every single day – over 20,000 cases per day since August 10th, peaking at 24,720 on August 17th, but with no real decline yet to materialize.
Part of the challenge for DeSantis is that there’s no backing off his well-known policy to eschew restrictions and fight tooth-and-nail against mask mandates, even if there is a rising tide of public opinion against him.
Make no mistake, though, millions of Floridians, and tens of millions more Americans outside of Florida, staunchly back DeSantis’s stance on the matter, which has largely helped propel the governor into the national spotlight as a potential successor to Donald Trump in 2024. Those same people, and yes, even many millions of Floridians who disagree with DeSantis, are enjoying the fruits of his grand political gamble: the freedom to make plans, travel and conduct business in one of the few states that, for the most part, is doing all it can to return to the pre-pandemic sense of normalcy that was lost so abruptly in March of last year.
DeSantis has vowed to never return to that pandemic panic state. It’s a promise he cannot break or he’ll lose the political base now starting to coagulate at his feet, cementing him in place, but also providing invaluable political support that other 2024 contenders can only envy.
To be sure, that steadfastness has given millions of people both inside and outside the state the confidence to make travel plans, rent vacation homes on the beach, book a cruise, and visit restaurants knowing they’ll be open, all of which helps prop up the state’s all-important tourism industry.
But that economic success is only one edge of the proverbial double-edged sword. More tourist activity, by default, means more cases of COVID-19, more hospitalizations, and more deaths. Look no further than the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Meade County, South Dakota, where the per-capita case rate now rivals our own. Travel and crowds are what this virus loves, and Florida offers both in abundance, thanks largely to the confidence that DeSantis has given to business owners and sun-loving travelers alike.
Democrats keep harping that DeSantis must admit his approach to the problem is wrong, and they’ll continue to implore him to reverse course. Some of them might actually be sincere in the sound bites they regularly deliver to the media. But most are just doing their job, which isn’t to get him to reverse course, per se, but to inflict as much political damage as possible in order to wear DeSantis down ahead of his own gubernatorial re-election campaign next year.
Don’t misunderstand – Democrats would absolutely love it if DeSantis reversed course – and not just because it would validate their own political position, but it would also weaken DeSantis far more than his stubbornness ever could.
Anyone with an ounce of political experience knows that DeSantis simply cannot back down at this point or he’s toast with the rank-and-file GOP base who love the unshakeable confidence he seems to have in himself. Republicans love a winner, and will not tolerate a wishy-washy elected official, no matter how right or wrong he may be. And that’s why Florida isn’t ever closing for business as long as DeSantis is governor.