The GOP governor is urging people to get vaccinated as Florida’s Covid infections spike. But some in DeSantis’ base are openly questioning him.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Covid crisis has wedged Gov. Ron DeSantis between two competing forces: public health experts who urge him to do more and anti-vaxxers who want him to do less.
The Republican governor has come under attack from the medical community and Democrats as the Delta strain of Covid-19 sweeps through Florida, turning it into a national coronavirus hotspot. The state recorded more than 73,000 infections last week — four times as many as the start of July — leading to overcrowded hospitals and more than 300 deaths in the most recent seven-day period. Florida is now home to one in five new cases of Covid-19 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But as DeSantis encourages vaccinations — he said “vaccines are saving lives” — he is facing a backlash from the anti-vaccination wing of his political base. It’s the same group that praised him and helped thrust him onto the national stage for his hands-off approach to the virus. DeSantis, with 2024 presidential ambitions, has to walk the line between keeping his conservative base satisfied and keeping his state from becoming more of a disease hot spot.
“Don’t let political correctness get in the way of health choices,” former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said recently of DeSantis’ comments, speaking on “The Right Side with Doug Billings,” a conservative radio host and podcaster.
Another conservative radio host, Stew Peters, last week called DeSantis a “sellout” and suggested the governor was taking bribes, though didn’t specify from whom.
As infections and hospitalizations surge in Florida, DeSantis has largely encouraged vaccinations while still rejecting restoring any Covid-related lockdowns or mask mandates. He remains one of the most vocal voices pushing for schools to do in-person learning, and successfully pushed to prohibit local governments from instituting pandemic regulations.
It’s a strategy that helped him rise through the GOP ranks nationally and allowed for early claims of success as the pandemic in Florida did not live up to the worst fears of the national experts, despite spring 2020 photos of packed spring break parties in the state and fears of superspreader events. But as Covid infections swell across the state, DeSantis’ major achievement has the potential to backfire on him ahead of his 2022 reelection campaign and potential 2024 presidential bid.
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