Thirty five months into his term as Governor the reality is abundantly clear – Ron DeSantis is the most skilled politician 21st Century Florida has seen. In fact, I don’t think their is a close second. We’ve previously on these pages, written at length about the Governor’s ruthlessness in acquiring and holding governing power, which is awe-inspiring for any student of Machiavelli to observe.
But much of DeSantis political skill revolves around his ability to maintain his conservative base while meandering all over the ideological spectrum in actual practice. We’ve discussed previously that DeSantis governs and acts at times like a Socialist while attacking socialism. He governs and acts like a populist while claiming conservatism (they are most certainly not the same thing).
He acts like an environmentalist one day and a friend of developers the next. He approves one damaging road to the Everglades ecosystem (the Kendall Parkway) while simultaneously working harder than any of his predecessors in either party to remove another road, which has caused unquantifiable ecological harm (the old Tamiami Trail) .
His ideology is undefined, yet he is seen by many in the national media (who love lazy narratives) as a hard-edged conservative.
No issue is this act more evident than on Covid vaccines. We know Governor DeSantis is anti-mandate, but is he pro or anti vaccine? Is he vaccine hesitant? It’s hard to really tell. This topic has become especially interesting with President Trump’s surprising full-on embrace of vaccines and boosters this week, creating a potential contrast with DeSantis (which likely favors DeSantis in a potential 2024 primary contest). But DeSantis position remains muddled.
I wouldn’t call DeSantis position’s ambiguous, I would call them strategic. It’s also quite dangerous as his embrace of the Anti-Vaxx and Vaxx-hesitant side has undoubtedly led to the deaths of many Floridians (though as I urged the other day, Floridians need to start taking responsibility for their own misdeeds if they get COVID through being unvaccinated or not wearing masks or social distancing in situations where they could) .
First the Anti-Vaxx and Vaxx-hesitant side:
- DeSantis doesn’t generally make anti-vaccine remarks but he’s very clearly enabled anti-vaxxers even at press events he is a part of since September. One such case was a press conference in Alachua County where some crazy conspiracy theories were spouted while DeSantis stood off to the side.
- DeSantis appointed a Surgeon General in Dr. Joseph Ladapo who is at best a vaccine skeptic, and at worse, outright anti-vaccine.
- In September, DeSantis said ““You know the breakthroughs are not that rare…The vaccinations have been effective against preventing severe illness, but it hasn’t created the type of herd immunity that we hoped.“
- Also in September, DeSantis said referring to vaccines, ““It’s about your health and whether you want that protection or not. It really doesn’t impact me or anyone else.”
- The pictured Anti-Fauci merchandise sold by Governor DeSantis’ official shop speaks for itself.
These are pretty clearly pieces of evidence that aligns DeSantis with anti-vaccine forces. But then what about the following items? These are very clearly pro-vaccine any way you spin it.
- By my count Governor DeSantis made in excess of FIFTY pro-vaccine appearances between March and July (and that is just what I counted. It’s probably higher) . That’s a lot any way you cut it.
- In July, DeSantis was pretty straight-forward in saying ““These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
- In the Spring, DeSantis was aggressive about using the state’s resources to encourage vaccinations among seniors.
- Even through the COVID surge during the summer when Florida’s ICU units overflowed, and DeSantis rhetoric shifted, the state continued to spend a lot of effort on PSA’s and other public campaigns to promote increased vaccinations.
Quite frankly I think DeSantis is significantly smarter than President Trump (who really is a lazy & undisciplined idiotic buffoon who somehow stumbled into the White House) and any leading Democratic officeholder in the currently outside a few, like Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont. He knows what he is doing and saying.
Unlike the national Democrats who don’t seem to get vaccines are an issue where opposition is strongest among working class voters of ALL RACES (which is of particular concern to me as a Democrat), DeSantis knows where his base potentially lies. But he also knows many seniors, particularly in Southwest Florida and communities like The Villages who traditionally vote GOP, are generally pro-vaccine.
In summary, entering 2022 as we face our highest COVID spike in this state right now, expect this meandering act by the Governor to continue. DeSantis will not saying anything directly anti-vaccine when he personally speaks, but will continue to enable surrogates to ratchet up anti-vaccine anger which ultimately benefits him politically. His position will remain one of strategic ambiguity.