IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why DeSantis' new anti-vaccination mandate policies matter

The problem is not just that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a step backwards on vaccines, he did so while turning a serious issue into an ugly joke.

The substance of Florida's new state laws against vaccination requirements are important in their own right. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday signed new measures, quickly approved by GOP state legislators, that will punish private employers who want to require their workers to be protected during the Covid-19 crisis.

The policies are hardly subtle: Republicans in the Sunshine State appear eager to thumb their noses at public health officials, the private sector, and most importantly, President Joe Biden's administration as it tries to end the pandemic.

But once in a great while, there are symbolic gestures that matter, too.

In May, for example, when DeSantis signed new voter-suppression measures, he did so in Palm Beach (Donald Trump's home county), in front of a group Club 45 USA (Trump was the nation's 45th president). The governor gave Fox News exclusive access — and he signed the bill live on the air.

As we discussed at the time, while Florida Republicans pretended their voting changes weren't political, the governor signed a Republican bill, designed to help give Republicans an electoral advantage, at a Republican club, while granting exclusive access to a cable network aligned with Republican politics. The symbolism and optics were intended to convey a larger message.

Yesterday, he did it again. NBC News reported:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several anti-vaccination mandate bills into law Thursday at a Honda dealership in Brandon, on the outskirts of Tampa — an apparent tip of the hat to a notorious right-wing anti-Joe Biden meme.... After the signing, DeSantis was asked whether the event had been held in Brandon to troll the president. "I think that Brandon, Florida, is a great American city," he said with a smile.

Look, there's no point in being coy. In a state with 411 municipalities, DeSantis and his team had all kinds of choices for where to hold yesterday's signing ceremony. They chose a car dealership in a Tampa suburb called ... Brandon.

Why Brandon? Because in far-right circles, "Let's Go, Brandon!" is now an unofficial slogan of the Republican Party. As The Associated Press recently summarized, "The line has become conservative code for something far more vulgar: 'F Joe Biden.' It's all the rage among Republicans wanting to prove their conservative credentials, a not-so-secret handshake that signals they're in sync with the party's base."

In other words, Florida's governor and his team appear to have been playing a classless little game yesterday, turning a serious issue into an ugly joke.