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DeSantis becomes the latest Republican to evolve on disaster aid

As a congressman, Ron DeSantis rejected a key disaster relief package. As a governor, the Florida Republican has evolved in politically convenient ways.


Over the past decade or so, an unsettling number of Republicans have voted against federal disaster aid packages, only to adopt an entirely different position when it’s their constituents who need a hand. In fact, the club features some high-profile GOP figures, including Sens. Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Rand Paul.

That same club now has a new member. The New York Times reported:

As a freshman congressman in 2013, Ron DeSantis was unambiguous: A federal bailout for the New York region after Hurricane Sandy was an irresponsible boondoggle, a symbol of the “put it on the credit card mentality” he had come to Washington to oppose. “I sympathize with the victims,” he said. But his answer was no.

As the Times’ report noted, the far-right Floridian is now offering the public “tonal whiplash,” insisting that the kind of disaster aid he used to vote against is the same kind of disaster aid the people of Florida now need.

But this isn’t the only example of the GOP governor’s “tonal whiplash.” As my MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones noted, “DeSantis has portrayed himself as a foil to the Biden administration, filing lawsuits to undermine President Joe Biden’s agenda while taking public — and personal — potshots at the president.”

This week, however, the governor has been downright polite, not only in his direct interactions with the Democratic president, but even in public when describing the cooperative, coordinated response to Hurricane Ian.

The Times’ report added, “The present circumstances have inspired a less swaggering posture toward a leader whom Mr. DeSantis has long called ‘Brandon’ as a recurring troll, aimed at the man he might like to succeed. ‘Dear Mr. President,’ the governor’s request for a major disaster declaration and federal assistance began on Wednesday.”

The same article quoted former Rep. David Jolly, who served in Congress alongside DeSantis as a Florida Republican, saying, “Ironically, there’s nobody in America that Ron DeSantis needs more than Joe Biden.”

I’ve seen a fair amount of commentary this week along similar lines: DeSantis may not like it, but he seems to realize that the Sunshine State has suffered a devastating blow. Sure, the governor could run to Fox News and refer to Biden as “Brandon” a few dozen times, satisfying his most rabid supporters this election season, but given the circumstances, the Floridian wants the White House to approve desperately needed assistance.

So, he’s playing nice.

To be sure, the pleasantness is welcome. My point is certainly not to criticize DeSantis for taking the high road as his state begins to pick up the pieces in the wake of a deadly disaster.

But it occurs to me that the governor doesn’t actually need to play nice — because Biden is the kind of president who’d do right by Florida anyway.

As regular readers may recall, during Donald Trump’s presidency, the Republican used to complain bitterly about California’s approach to forest management — an issue he only pretended to understand — and at one point published a tweet claiming that he had ordered FEMA to send the Golden State “no more money.”

While there was no follow-through on the presidential chest-thumping, Trump continued to make related threats, saying on Twitter that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom should “no more” turn to “the Federal Government for $$$ help.”

Around the same time, Miles Taylor, a Republican political appointee who served as chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, claimed that Trump had previously directed DHS officials to deny wildfire relief aid to California because the state didn’t support the then-president politically.

The message to officials everywhere was unsubtle: If your state is suffering, the delivery of disaster aid might depend on whether Trump sees you as a loyal ally.

The idea that Biden would be in any way similar to his predecessor is obvious madness. It’s not as if DeSantis called the Oval Office yesterday and was told he’d have to rake Floridian leaves more effectively if he expected post-Ian aid to arrive.

It’s a good thing that the governor is trying to get along with the president, at least on one issue, and at least for a short while. But it’s worth reflecting on the fact that Biden is the sort of leader who’d deliver for a state that didn’t vote for him simply because it’s the right thing to do.