Throughout the COVID pandemic Gov. Ron DeSantis has attempted with some success to portray inertia as virtue. His nonfeasance in refusing to do what he should have been done in terms of mitigating the spread of the virus coupled with his malfeasance in preventing local governments and private businesses from doing what they would have done has served him reasonably well politically. Until now.
Now Florida is ground zero in a COVID explosion that is setting records for cases and hospitalizations, if not yet deaths. And as those doleful numbers have climbed, DeSantis’ poll numbers have fallen, to the point that St. Pete Polls, a well regarded polling operation in Florida that showed DeSantis with a positive 15 percentage point net approval rating in May (55% to 40%), now shows him with a negative 5 percentage point net approval rating (44% to 49%).
Moreover, his double digit leads in May over his potential Democratic opponents in the 2022 gubernatorial race, U.S. Rep. and former Gov. Charlie Crist and Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Nikki Fried, have evaporated, proving once again that it ain’t over until it’s over, particularly in politics.
Not surprisingly, DeSantis and his apologists have been stung into feverish action. What is surprising is how inconsistent and irrational their efforts to deny reality and deflect blame have been.
In fact, they have been conducting a clinic in informal logical fallacies. DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw, to cite just one example, tweeted that Florida is not going to take the path of California’s mask mandates, because “... lockdowns have destroyed small businesses, decimated the middle class & kept kids out of school for going on 2 years.” This not very subtle sleight of hand, which is an impermissible dialectical shift, equates masking with lockdowns, and then attacks lockdowns, which, even if her premises are true, produces a false conclusion, as no one is proposing lockdowns in Florida. Or in California, for that matter.
DeSantis himself recently rolled out a big ol’ red herring combined with an appeal to emotion — specifically, white fright — when he blamed undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border for the rising wave of delta variant COVID infections. In case your memory fails you, this is a return to the tried and true Trump trope of diseased, brown skinned invaders.
But the boldest move by DeSantis in the context of shaping the COVID narrative is his invention out of whole cloth of a new right that trumps (no pun intended) the private property rights on which conservatives usually agree a free society is founded and that is also superior to the rights to free speech and to bear arms that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. I refer to the ability to go wherever you please without having to provide proof of vaccination against a highly infectious and deadly disease, thus potentially endangering employees and responsible, vaccinated patrons in privately owned places of business, whether a small clothing boutique or a massive cruise ship.
If you are my employee, I can terminate you for urging your fellow employees to join you in refusing to be vaccinated if vaccination is company policy, because your right to free speech does not protect you from the consequences of that speech, provided those consequences are not imposed by government. And I can bar you from entering my place of business if you are carrying a gun, even with a permit, or just for not wearing shoes or a shirt, because it is my property, not yours, and this is America. But I cannot ask you if you are vaccinated against COVID and tell you to take your business elsewhere if you say no or refuse to answer, because, thanks to DeSantis, you now have a right that hitherto did not exist: the right to risk infecting others with a serious disease without their knowledge.
I am well aware that the price of DeSantis’ comeuppance on COVID is being paid in the coin of the suffering and deaths of those he’s done so little to protect; my daughter is a nurse in a hospital that smashed its record for COVID admissions last week. But I would be lying if I said I do not feel any schadenfreude in watching DeSantis and his toadies struggle in the net created by his obdurate incompetence.
Mac Stipanovich was chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and a longtime Republican strategist who is currently registered No Party Affiliation.