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In recent months, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been tested by several serious crises and has demonstrated an ability to rise above politics that has won praise from both Democrats and Republicans. His response to the pandemic and its aftermath has received grudging admiration from the national press while his low-key competence in dealing with the collapsed condo building in Surfside has generated plenty of plaudits from local Democratic officials.
He’s wildly popular among Republicans and looks unstoppable for re-election in 2022. His fundraising operation is light years ahead of his Democratic challengers, former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, and Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried. He leads both Democrats by wide margins in the polls.
DeSantis plays well with others. The Surfside disaster showed DeSantis at his best — politically and managerially.
The Republican governor set aside his attacks on Democrats amid the crisis in Surfside, where more than 90 people were killed after a condominium collapse. For more than three weeks, DeSantis stood side-by-side with Miami’s Democratic mayor and other elected officials, offering assistance and support as emergency workers searched for survivors. He publicly thanked President Joe Biden for federal help during the catastrophe and even skipped a rally in Sarasota with former President Donald Trump.
Although mentioned prominently as an alternative to Trump if he doesn’t run in 2024, DeSantis refuses to say if he would challenge the former president for the supremacy of the party. His failure to show up at Trump’s Sarasota rally didn’t draw the kind of criticism from the former president one might expect and DeSantis himself has steered clear of directly criticizing Trump.
Both men appear to be saving their ammunition for the Democrats. And the insurrection in Cuba has given DeSantis a wonderful opportunity to score heavily against Joe Biden and highlight the Democrats’ weakness. And he has used the recent uptick in positive COVID tests to assert his leadership among Republicans.
DeSantis this week accused the Biden administration of “cowardice” over its handling of Cuba, saying it provided a “weak” response to the wave of protests that have spread across the island nation. His campaign team unveiled new merchandise, including T-shirts and hats that read “Don’t Fauci My Florida” as the state’s Covid rates have begun to rise.
DeSantis then appeared Wednesday morning at a state board of education meeting, where he assailed teaching critical race theory in schools and pushed to ensure educators instruct students about the “evils of communism.”
“His ability to successfully juggle multiple important policy fronts at once is one of the main reasons Floridians love our governor,” said Christian Ziegler, vice-chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
Endearing himself to the large and politically active Cuban community in Florida is only one positive among recent moves by DeSantis. The governor has also taken on Big Tech, signing a bill that would prevent social media companies from deplatforming politicians. And he was one of the first GOP governors in the nation to look to ban the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms.
These actions make him popular with Republicans, but what about Democrats and independents? What scares Democrats most about DeSantis is that they can’t portray him as the bogeyman. They aren’t going to be able to stampede minorities and independents to the polls out of fear. In fact, a fair number of centrist Democrats will vote for DeSantis in 2022.
Where Trump was easy to demonize, DeSantis presents a far more difficult target. Democrats are actually going to have to win on the issues against him. And that’s just fine with Republicans.