DeSantis' response panned as 'divorced from scientific evidence'

In April, Ron DeSantis defended his pandemic response, saying "the results" speak for themselves. I don't imagine that's a line he's eager to repeat now.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference in Apopka, Fla., on July 17, 2020.Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

It wasn't that long ago when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) admirers in conservative media were celebrating his coronavirus leadership as a national model worthy of emulation. Highlighting predictions of a serious COVID outbreak in the Sunshine State, Fox News' Sean Hannity declared on May, “The mob and the media ... owe Gov. DeSantis a huge apology."

The same day, National Review published a piece with a memorable headline: "Where Does Ron DeSantis Go to Get His Apology?" The praise added, "DeSantis and his team have followed the science closely from the beginning."

As we recently discussed, the idea at the time was that the Florida Republican had implemented an effective plan for his state, and that DeSantis' critics, who raised the alarm about possible outbreaks, were wrong. Now that Florida has more confirmed coronavirus cases than New York, a rising death toll, and has overburdened hospitals, the praise for the conservative governor has predictably evaporated.

But as notable as DeSantis' failures have been, it's important to come to terms with why his pandemic response has come up short. The Washington Post had a great report on this over the weekend:

As the virus spread out of control in Florida, decision-making became increasingly shaped by politics and divorced from scientific evidence, according to interviews with 64 current and former state and administration officials, health administrators, epidemiologists, political operatives and hospital executives. The crisis in Florida, these observers say, has revealed the shortcomings of a response built on shifting metrics, influenced by a small group of advisers and tethered at every stage to the Trump administration, which has no unified plan for addressing the national health emergency but has pushed for states to reopen.

Richard Hopkins, an epidemiologist who spent 19 years at the Florida Department of Health, told the Post, in reference to DeSantis administration officials, “They keep hoping it’s going to go away by itself. I don’t know what’s going on -- whether they’re afraid that they will get primaried by someone to their right if they take appropriate public health action.”

So much for DeSantis having "followed the science closely from the beginning."

The whole article is worth your time; it's a striking portrait of an unprepared governor. But reading it, I was reminded of the confidence DeSantis displayed shortly before his state's outbreaks began in earnest.

As regular readers know, the Floridian appeared at a White House event in late April and sounded like a man eager to boast. When a reporter asked the Republican governor about criticisms he'd received over his delayed decision to close down the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis said "the results" speak for themselves.

I don't imagine that's a line he's eager to repeat now.

Also in the late spring, the governor chided reporters, reminding them of predictions that Florida's numbers would resemble New York's. "We've succeeded and I think that people just don’t want to recognize it because it challenges their narrative," DeSantis said in May.

It was unfortunate chest-thumping at the time. Just two months later, it's vastly worse.