IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the welcome segment of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2021.Joe Skipper / Reuters file

Ron DeSantis’ free market principles come with caveats

Many Florida business leaders want their employees to wear masks during the pandemic. Ron DeSantis doesn’t much care what those business leaders want.


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has spent much of the pandemic pushing a partisan political agenda. The Republican governor — labeled “Do-Nothing DeSantis“ by The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board — preferred passivity to action, except to appoint a radical state surgeon general, push Covid-19 treatments that don’t work, and lash out at educators who wanted to use mask protections to stop the spread of infections.

Yesterday, however, DeSantis broke some new ground:

“Too many businesses, particularly corporate chains, force their employees to wear masks all day. This is unfair to the employees, who should have the same choices as everyone else. It’s past time for these workers to be liberated from corporate forced masking policies.”

When DeSantis invested an enormous amount of time and effort into blocking schools from trying to protect kids through mask requirements, there was at least a governmental connection: Florida’s public-school system was (and is) a part of the state government. DeSantis is the state’s chief executive, so it stands to reason he’d be involved in trying to shape assorted agencies’ and departments’ Covid policies.

But the governor clearly has broader ambitions. As far as the Republican is concerned, businesses are doing too much to protect their workers during a pandemic. It therefore falls to DeSantis to use his office to demand that businesses make decisions in line with GOP preferences.

It’s reminiscent of the governor clashing with cruise ship operators last year. As NBC News reported in the spring, executives at companies such as Norwegian Cruise Line said DeSantis’ vaccine policies would make it harder for them to safely return to the seas. Their concerns were hardly surprising: as was obvious before 2020, a virus can spread quickly among people confined to a boat.

DeSantis effectively told the ship operators to meet his demands anyway.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, a staple of Republican orthodoxy for generations has been an unshakable belief in the free market and the power of decision-making in the private sector. The right has long embraced the idea that when Democratic public officials make policy demands of private enterprise, it constitutes “big government” and “socialism.”

It’s curious to see those free-market principles get pushed aside during a pandemic when business owners want to take steps to protect their workforce and their customers during a pandemic.