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Image: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Holds News Conference In Miami
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters about the cruise industry during a press conference at PortMiami on April 8, 2021.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

As Florida hospitals fill, DeSantis tries changing the subject

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to change the conversation from COVID to the U.S./Mexico border. It's an ugly response to an intensifying crisis.


It was on Tuesday afternoon when President Joe Biden sent a not-so-subtle shot across the bow of two prominent Republican governors, noting that Florida and Texas alone account for one third of the nation's new COVID-19 cases.

Though he didn't name names, the president added, "I say to these governors, 'Please, help.' But if you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) had a full day to come up with some kind of response. Evidently, the Republican couldn't think of anything good, so he went with this.

"He's not shutting down the virus. He's helping facilitate it," DeSantis said of Biden. "Why don't you get this border secure," DeSantis added. "Until you do that, I don't want to hear a blip about COVID from you."

In a message intended for the president, the governor went on to say, "I'm standing in your way" with regards to proposed mandates and guidelines intended to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

He also marveled at Biden's willingness to "single out Florida over COVID."

So, a few things.

Right off the bat, it's worth emphasizing that Biden didn't single out Florida; Florida singled out Florida with its intensifying crisis. As NBC News reported, "The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S."

In fact, roughly a year and a half into the pandemic, conditions in Florida are effectively as bad now as they've ever been, which is bound to get noticed, whether the governor of the Sunshine State likes it or not.

But more broadly, what we saw from DeSantis was a clumsy effort, not to defend his record, and not to help protect his own constituents, but to dramatically change the subject. The COVID crisis isn't the story the Republican wants to talk about, so the governor, embracing "whataboutism" to an absurd degree, tried to shift the focus to a story he likes better.

Forget the pandemic; forget Florida's maxed out hospitals; forget rapidly rising infection tallies; forget lagging vaccination rates. Ron DeSantis would prefer to talk about immigrants and the U.S./Mexico border.

In fact, the ambitious GOP governor's political operation even sent a fundraising letter to his supporters yesterday, suggesting "migrants" are responsible for climbing COVID numbers.

At this point, we could explain that the border is not, in reality, the problem. We could also explain that Florida is one of the hemisphere's largest peninsulas -- it's largely surrounded by water -- and it shares a border with Georgia and Alabama, not Mexico.

But there's ultimately no real point in even taking DeSantis' rhetoric seriously as a substantive argument, because it's not. The governor doesn't have a plan to deal with his state's intensifying public-health crisis; he opposes policies that might help for purely political reasons; and he's on the defensive after the president helped expose his indifference.