Yesterday, the policies of two right-wing governors up for reelection next year, Texas' Greg Abbott and Florida's Ron DeathSantis, dragged the U.S. over the 120,000 new daily cases mark-- a number that hasn't been seen since Trump invited COVID-19 to make America its home. DeathSantis gave Florida over 20,000 new cases yesterday and Abbott infected 14,1733 Texans. The two states also had the most daily deaths again. Only 49% of adult Floridians are fully vaccinated and just 44% of adult Texans are. Texas daily cases are up 156% in the last two weeks and in Florida daily cases are up 103%. In that same period, hospitalizations are up 88% in Texas and 116% in Florida.
While Gov. DeathSantis is threatening to withhold funding from any Florida school district that mandates masks, Daniel Chang and Ana Claudia Chacin, writing for the Miami Herald, reported on the surge Florida's children's hospitals are seeing in COVID cases. "More Florida children were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday than in any other state, reflecting a rapid rise in serious illness among an age group considered to be at the lowest risk of severe outcomes from the disease and many still not eligible for the vaccine... Only Texas reported a higher total number of pediatric patients in hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 on Tuesday-- 142 children-- compared to 135 in Florida. Although cases have spiked across all age groups in Florida, a Miami Herald analysis of weekly case data revealed that the sharpest increase over the past month has occurred among kids under 12."
And that seems to have lead another Miami Herald reporter, Ana Ceballos, to wonder if DeathSantis is governing or campaigning. His misguided policies sure appeal to the GOP base. She wrote that DeathSantis "has a stable of taxpayer-paid staff that works to arrange logistics, security and messaging for his events, and just in the last month that has included: A mission to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, a prime-time Fox News Town Hall on Cuban relations, and a closed-door discussion on mask wearing that his 'official' political team used in a fundraising email. For DeSantis, who has not officially announced his reelection bid, the official events highlight the fine line he walks between governing and campaigning. His official state business is increasingly being promoted and used for fundraisers by his independent political action committee, taking advantage of narrow state laws that separate coordination between campaigns and outside groups."
DeSantis flew to Del Rio, Texas, on the state plane to co-host a press conference with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. At the press event, both Republican governors criticized President Joe Biden’s border policies and touted DeSantis’ decision to send more than 50 state law enforcement officers to help Texas secure the U.S. border. Florida taxpayers are paying for the month-long mission, whose total cost has not yet been tallied by state officials.A couple of hours before the start of the press conference, DeSantis’ affiliated political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, used the official event as a fundraising pitch.
“Today, I am heading to Texas for a firsthand look at the raging crisis on our country’s southern border,” the fundraising email said, noting that DeSantis was “the first governor to send resources” to the U.S.-Mexico border after Abbott asked other governors for help.
More than 2,000 donations poured in that weekend, the vast majority were small-dollar donations given online through fundraising efforts like the email DeSantis’ political arm sent out, according to campaign finance reports.
... Much of DeSantis’ state-level policy priorities center on themes that have a national appeal to Republican voters, who, according to early polls, have quickly anointed him as a leading contender for president in 2024.
Since taking office, DeSantis has piggy-backed on many national issues, a sample of which includes banning so-called sanctuary cities, fighting calls to “defund the police,” barring the academic concept of “Critical Race Theory” in K-12 schools, and making changes to the state’s voting system after President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.
“There’s a trend of the nationalization of state elections, where we are seeing increasing contributions from out of state to candidates across the country, for state office,” said Pete Quist, the deputy research director of OpenSecrets, which tracks state and federal political contributions. “It increases the profile that you have for potential donors.”
Even though DeSantis is not an officially declared candidate in the 2022 governor’s race, he has spent a portion of the summer aggressively fundraising in Southern California, Nevada, New Hampshire and just last week, in Wisconsin. Those out-of-state fundraisers-- which are common for politicians seeking a higher-office-- have helped his political committee build a treasure chest with about $44 million on hand as of late June, according to campaign finance reports.
Florida law sets a $3,000 contribution limit to candidates for statewide office, but there is no limitation to the amount a political action committee can receive or spend.
DeSantis’ affiliated political committee has had multimillion-dollar monthly contribution hauls since February. In July, the political committee brought in an additional fundraising consulting firm and acquired an email address list from Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire, one of America’s fastest-growing conservative media companies, for $3,000 as a means to expand its fundraising operations, according to campaign finance reports and committee treasurer Nancy Watkins.
Keeping the cash flowing into the political action committee could be a reason why DeSantis has not yet officially announced his bid for reelection...
DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic has elevated his national profile, more so as he attacks Biden and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. DeSantis’ political team, for example, is selling “Don’t Fauci My Florida” drink koozies and T-shirts and regularly sends out fundraising emails attacking Fauci’s “lockdown policies.”
In response, Fauci has said DeSantis is “doing egregiously political things” as part of his response to the pandemic in Florida, where this week there’s been record-breaking COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat with DeSantis. I don’t want to go down to his level. He’s doing egregiously political things, having T-shirts that say ‘Don’t Fauci my Florida,’ selling beer mugs with derogatory statements about me-- raising political money by trying to discredit me. So I don’t want to get into the mud with him,” Fauci said during a Wednesday interview with McClatchy.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’ political team is bragging that the anti-Fauci merchandise is “FLYING off the shelves, with orders coming in from coast to coast!”
DeSantis’ political arm is also fundraising off of his feud with the White House over mask mandates in schools. On Tuesday, Biden delivered a stern message to governors like DeSantis who are pushing back against mask mandates in schools: “Get out of the way.”
A day later, the governor held an official press conference in Panama City to talk about Hurricane Michael recovery efforts. But what got the most attention was his response to Biden, who he accused of “helping facilitate” COVID-19 by not securing the border with Mexico.
“Why don’t you get this border secure?” DeSantis said. “Until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you.”
A few hours later, his political team sent out a fundraising email using the governor’s statements almost verbatim.
“Until Joe Biden gets the border secured and this crisis under control, I do not want to hear a blip about COVID from him or his administration,” the fundraising email said.
...[S]ome of the governor’s critics view the media attention as a strategy, too.
“I think he is not just messaging to Floridians but to potential voters in the next presidential election,” said Ben Wilcox, the executive director at Common Cause Florida, an organization that has legally challenged some of the governor’s legislative priorities.
It looks like a pretty perfect correlation, but... what do I know about math? Maybe it's just a coincidence, but these are the Florida counties with the lowest vaccination rates-- along with their 2020 Trump percentages. All these counties have fewer than 30% of adults fully vaccinated, making them extremely risky to travel to and best avoided.
Baker- 21% (Trump- 84.7%)
Homes- 21% (Trump- 89.1%)
Washington- 22% (Trump- 80.1%)
Union- 23% (Trump- 82.2%)
Dixie- 23% (Trump- 82.8%)
Gilchrist- 24% (Trump- 81.5%)
Glades- 24% (Trump- 72.8%)
Calhoun- 25% (Trump- 80.8%)
Liberty- 25% (Trump- 79.9%)
Lafayette- 26% (Trump- 85.5%)
Taylor- 26% (Trump- 76.5%)
Suwannee- 26% (Trump- 77.9%)
Hardee- 26% (Trump- 72.1%)
Putnam- 28% (Trump- 70.1%)
Bradford- 28% (Trump- 75.8%)
Columbia- 29% (Trump- 72.1%)
In his Washington Post column this morning, Eugene Robinson noted that "This is the GOP’s pandemic now. Cynical and irresponsible Republican politicians have created an environment that is killing Americans who shouldn’t have to die, swamping hospital systems with desperately ill patients, and generally ensuring that the pain and disruption of covid-19 are with us longer than they need be or should be. And they’ve done so in their own self-interest. Yes, the more-infectious delta variant is driving this new wave. But vaccination and mask-wearing have the power to check that spike in cases, and to prevent those new diagnoses from turning into hospitalizations and deaths. Can we possibly be so stupid that we ignore all empirical evidence and insist on inflicting grievous self-harm? Ambitious Republicans are betting that the answer to that question is yes."
I spoke to some of the progressive candidates running for office in Florida this cycle, starting with Senate candidate, Alan Grayson. Grayson came right to the point, not even mentioning DeathSantis' silent partner, Marco Rubio: "Every single COVID decision he has made has been a decision in favor of more disease, and more death." He told me that Naftali Bennett, Israel's prime minister, put it very colorfully yesterday: "When you don’t get vaccinated, you’re endangering yourself, you’re endangering those around you, and it’s life-threatening. It’s as if you’re walking around with a machine gun firing Delta variants at people." Joshua Hicks is a candidate for the Jacksonville City Council and he reminded us that "This is and has always been about public health and safety. We will get past this difficult time if we stick together, get vaccinated and wear masks in crowded indoor areas. Most importantly, we need to believe in science. Unfortunately, because of pure ignorance, a clear disregard for his oath to serve and protect, and because he's only focused on placing his political future first above the safety of Floridians, Ron DeSantis is responsible for the rising number of cases here in Florida, including the increased death toll because of COVID-19. The Delta variant is spreading rapidly across the state, including right here in Jacksonville, and that's because of a failure of leadership. Ron DeSantis should focus on saving lives and placing public health first in Florida, rather than ignorant political soundbites for a 2024 Presidential campaign that will never happen, since he's going to lose in 2022."
Congressional candidate Cindy Banyai added that "Vaccines and masks are about both individual and community health. It is a privilege of citizenship to be able to participate in social activities such as education, public transit, and recreation. It's sad that opportunist politicians like Ron DeSantis and Byron Donalds are calling for selfish individualism instead of public health and pretending it's freedom. Governor Who? exemplifies the worst in politics by blaming the rising COVID crisis of the water-bound state of Florida on southern border crossings. He even tops off his far-fetched claims with big government overreach by prohibiting schools districts and local governments from issuing mask and vaccine mandates, despite record high COVID cases and hospital admissions. Shame on Ron DeSantis."