Trump’s line on DeSantis’ covid response doesn’t make much sense


Donald Trump has a growing problem with Ron DeSantis. And judging by one of his first big volleys in their future match of 2024, the former president doesn’t have many compelling ideas on how to fight him.

Trump unveiled an argument against DeSantis this weekend: that Florida had been too slow to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. “There are Republican governors who have not shut down their states; Florida has been closed for a long time,” Trump said, building on a comment he made in November.

It’s clearly an effort to cover his tracks, as DeSantis has camped to Trump’s right in expressing his skepticism of coronavirus vaccines (which, of course, were produced under Trump’s watch). It also goes against Trump’s comment at the time about how the Florida governor was handling the pandemic.

Trump added in his remarks Saturday that DeSantis’ team was “trying to rewrite history” on the governor’s response to the coronavirus.

But if there’s one person trying to rewrite history, it’s Trump.

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DeSantis was initially and heavily criticized for waiting until April 1, 2020 to issue a stay-at-home order. (Incidentally, while explaining the move, DeSantis cited Trump’s brief shift in tone to take the virus more seriously.) A handful of generally smaller, more rural states have never implemented such orders, but Florida was among the last states to do so.

Governors — especially Republicans — started talking about reopening later that month and hatched plans to do so. And Florida was among the most ambitious states to reopen — so much so that it earned DeSantis a lot of criticism at the time.

Indeed, at one point it was actually Asset who criticized heads of state for moving too fast. Asked April 22 about Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) decision to reopen small businesses, gyms, salons and restaurants, Trump said he “strongly” disagrees with what Kemp and the government are doing. accused of violating federal guidelines.

About a week later, however, Trump appeared to approve of DeSantis’ more gradual reopening plan. He hosted the Governor of Florida at the White House to discuss it on April 28, and the next day he remarked that DeSantis had given “a really good presentation of how he does it, what he does it, the way it opens”.

The precise time period Trump is talking about today is unclear. But Florida’s stay-at-home order expired in early May, much like other states. And the state embarked on a relatively quick reopening schedule that culminated in DeSantis lifting all restrictions on restaurants and businesses in late September. (“The state of Florida is probably the most open large state in the country,” DeSantis boasted at the time.) Florida was also one of the first states to order schools to open, and the he administration of DeSantis has been toying with school districts that have refused to resume five-day in-person training by Aug. 31.

And all the while, Trump has hailed both the reopening of Florida in general and DeSantis by name:

  • On June 5, Trump praised Florida in the same breath as Georgia while hailing states with the most ambitious reopening timelines. “Look at what is happening in Florida, it’s incredible. If you look at so many different places that have opened up…the ones that are most aggressively opening up, they’re doing huge business, and that’s what those numbers are talking about.
  • In July, Trump applauded Florida’s decision to reopen schools in the fall.
  • At a covid roundtable in Florida in late July, Trump said DeSantis had done “a fantastic job.”
  • Trump commended DeSantis’ work on the issue at least three more times in August and September.

But perhaps the final blow came in late October 2020. Speaking at a re-election rally in Ocala, Florida, a month after DeSantis ended all major pandemic restrictions, Trump praised the governor specifically for not closing.

“We had surges, and they went up and they went down, and now you’re at your lowest numbers,” Trump said. “And you’re open and you haven’t closed, and you’re just amazing – aren’t you, that guy?

“So we are joined today by one of the greatest governors in our country – and I know a lot of good ones, and I can tell you there are some really bad ones too – but this one is excellent, Governor Ron DeSantis.

Now, a little over two years later, Trump is attacking the governor he once called “awesome” for not shutting down – and whose reopening plan he never voiced disagreement with (unlike that of Georgia) – and claims that DeSantis was too restrictive.

Rhetorical consistency has never been Trump’s strength. We should probably take it for what it is: an attempt to sow doubt in some people’s minds. And lockdowns provide an almost perfect opportunity to do so, given how indefinite and amorphous the term is and how varied the processes for reopening states were.

But if their respective covid records are what Trump has to work with — and if his own record is something he sees as a political vulnerability — that’s telling.


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