The typical gubernatorial press conference doesn’t generate national headlines, but Gov. Ron DeSantis’ event in his home state of Florida yesterday wasn’t exactly typical. As NBC News reported, the trouble began before the Republican even appeared at the microphone.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked students to remove their masks at an indoor event Wednesday, claiming they were “not doing anything.” DeSantis, a Republican who has been a vocal critic of masks and vaccination mandates throughout the coronavirus pandemic, scolded students who were standing behind a lectern at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he announced funding for cybersecurity education, according to video provided by NBC affiliate WFLA.
“You do not have to wear those masks,” a visibly annoyed DeSantis said as he approached the podium. “I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we’ve got to stop with this Covid theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”
By all appearances, the Republican, whose state is not out of the woods when it comes to the pandemic, didn’t bother to ask whether any of the kids he was berating had any Covid-19 symptoms, compromised immune systems, or vulnerable loved ones at home. Rather, the governor seemed principally concerned with the optics of his press conference.
This was a photo-op, and DeSantis didn’t want to be seen with high-school students who were protecting themselves. He also didn’t want to leave it to the kids and their families to make mask decisions on their own; the Floridian instead appeared eager to bully the children into making the choice that would look better for him on camera.
“DeSantis likes to brag that Florida is ‘the freest state in the United States,’ especially when it comes to personal choice on masks,” the editorial board of The Miami Herald wrote. “Local governments and schools were banned from requiring them. But it appears that freedom doesn’t apply to those who, despite the CDC’s relaxed mask guidance, still are concerned about COVID. Unlike anti-maskers, maskers don’t put other people’s health at risk. So let them be, governor. Save your anti-mask, anti-vaccine diatribes for FOX News. The only one looking ridiculous is you.”
Making matters slightly worse, DeSantis also took some time at the same event to reflect on the crisis in Ukraine, and his impressions of Ukrainians fighting Russian invaders.
“A lot of other places around the world, they just fold the minute there’s any type of adversity,” the governor said. “I mean could you imagine if [Russian forces] went into France, would they do anything to put up a fight? Probably not.”
First, France, a NATO member, has one of Europe’s most advanced militaries and one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. The governor of Florida may not be impressed with France’s security capabilities, but the idea that Parisians would simply “fold” if Russian forces invaded is utterly bonkers.
Second, less than a week ago, DeSantis disparaged two of the United States’ closest allies Australia and Canada, falsely accusing them of imposing “authoritarian rule” on their citizens. Five days later, he needlessly and baselessly insulted our allies in France, too.
I realize that Donald Trump’s model of international affairs is built in part on alienating the United States’ key international partners. But it's still absurd to see his acolyte in Florida follow the failed former president’s lead.