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On Covid-19 crisis, Florida's DeSantis starts to lose the plot

Instead of maintaining a vaccines-and-freedom-are-both-good posture, DeSantis participated in a deeply problematic press conference.


As a practical matter, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis isn't investing much energy into efforts to end the pandemic. The Republican governor is, however, actively involved in standing in the way of others who are trying to end the pandemic.

For example, as the number of Covid-related child deaths in Florida grows, DeSantis and his administration continue to fight against policies that would require mask protections in schools. As President Joe Biden takes steps to ensure vaccinations among public sector employees, the Republican governor yesterday vowed to fine local governments "$5,000 for each employee who is required to be vaccinated."

How would any of this help bring about an end to the deadly public health crisis? It wouldn't, but like too many in his party, ending the pandemic isn't DeSantis's principal concern.

It was against this backdrop that the GOP governor held a press conference yesterday on vaccines. As The Tampa Bay Times reported, it didn't go well.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stood silently Monday as employees for the City of Gainesville repeated misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines during a news conference set up by his office. "The vaccine changes your RNA," said Darris Friend, who said he's about a year and a half away from retirement after 22 years with the city. Another implied that the vaccine could kill her.

Ideally, the governor, in a position of authority and ostensibly aware of reality, would've explained to the public that vaccines do not change people's RNA and do not put lives in danger.

But as the Times' report added, DeSantis "shifted his feet in apparent discomfort" but did not correct the obvious misinformation being peddled by confused people speaking alongside him.

And for the Florida Republican, this was an unfortunate turning point.

For much of the year, DeSantis has tried to thread a needle, telling the public that vaccines are good, while simultaneously insisting that they remain entirely voluntary. The former was intended to make the governor appear reasonable in the eyes of the reality-based community, while the latter would keep the ambitious politician popular with his party's rabid base.

For all intents and purposes, the strategy unraveled over the summer as Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and fatalities spiked, and the governor struggled to justify his passivity in the face of an ongoing public health disaster.

But yesterday, DeSantis started to lose the plot altogether. Instead of maintaining a vaccines-and-freedom-are-both-good posture, the Republican participated in a press conference in which the public was told bizarre nonsense about the one thing that can help end this nightmare.

As Jon Chait explained, DeSantis couldn't step up, play the role of leader, and do the right thing because Republican politics has descended to a new level.

"Once a political party's percentage of kooks has risen above a certain threshold, it's no longer practical to kick them out," Chait wrote. "They must instead be placated. It is a constant process of papering over distinctions to avoid an internal schism that would enrage the kooks. The Republican party didn't set out to position itself with vaccine skeptics. But they have found themselves, once again, standing shoulder to shoulder with the absurd, looking down at their feet and pretending it isn't happening."