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How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic



“We’ve had tremendous success,” the Republican governor of Florida said recently at a vaccine site in Sumterville in the central part of the state when I caught up with him while reporting for this week’s POLITICO Magazine Friday Cover, which we published early for Nightly readers.

“Really good numbers,” he said in front of the pharmacy in the back of a Jacksonville Walgreens.

And just today he hosted like-minded experts in Tallahassee to help him crow and then headed to Panama City for a (very brief) press conference. He all but gloated.

“It’s interesting. Now you’re starting to see some of the mainstream and national media admit: Oh, Florida had schools open — it was the right decision. Oh, Florida has a 4.8 unemployment rate — and yet their mortality rate for Covid is less than a lot of these lockdown states,” he said. “People were saying Florida was going to end up hit the worst on everything.” But Florida’s way? His way? “That’s proven to be a better approach.”

Democrats across the state say this “victory lap” is not only unseemly but premature. They might be right. This past year, after all, has been wrenching. Approximately 2 million Floridians have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 32,000 have died. The disbursement of unemployment benefits has been stingy and uneven. The vaccine rollout has been pockmarked by tales of lengthy waits, balky websites and numerous charges of socioeconomic inequities and political favoritism. And the pandemic of course is not over. Ominous variants lurk.

But after 12 months in which he was pilloried as a reckless executive driven more by ideology than science, dogged by images of crowded beaches and bars and derided as “DuhSantis,” “DeathSantis” and “DeSatan,” Florida has fared no worse, and in some ways better, than many other states — including its big-state peers.

The most controversial policies DeSantis enacted — locking down later and opening up earlier, keeping nursing homes closed to visitation while insisting schools needed to be open to students, resisting intense pressure to issue a mask mandate — have ended up being, on balance, short of or even the opposite of ruinous.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference about the opening of a Covid-19 vaccination site at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. 

DeSantis speaks during a press conference about the opening of a Covid-19 vaccination site at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. | Getty Images

Prognosticators’ grimmest predictions never came true — or haven’t yet — and DeSantis, for now, is more politically ascendant than any governor in the country. In stark contrast to his most conspicuous counterparts — California’s Gavin Newsom, who’s facing a recall, and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, who’s confronting political extinction — the Yale-and Harvard-educated DeSantis’ approval ratings are up from last year’s low 40s and flirting with the mid-50s.

And in spite of some traits that typically would constitute political kryptonite — he’s as awkward as he is ambitious — there’s mounting (albeit ultra-early) polling that suggests DeSantis might be (after Donald Trump) the favorite to be Republicans’ nominee for president in 2024.

“There’s a sweet spot in there that most governors have searched for but few have found,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who’s worked for DeSantis in the past. “He’s managed to figure out the sweet spot between good policy and good politics.”

“He’s in the catbird’s seat,” powerful Trump-tied lobbyist Brian Ballard told me. “The future of the party.”

Why?

The pandemic.

“As of this writing,” Orlando attorney and megadonor John Morgan said, “he won.”

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. We looked with some interest at Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket this afternoon. Of note: He has USC, where he got his law degree, going farther than Georgetown, where is currently teaching at the law school. (Also of note, at least to Nightly’s Tyler Weyant: He has the Maryland women’s basketball team leaving the tournament far too early. Seems the vice president might agree.) Reach out with news and tips at mkruse@politico.com and rrayasam@politico.com, or on Twitter at @michaelkruse and @renurayasam.

BIDEN SCRAMBLES TO AVOID BORDER OUTBREAKS — The federal government does not have a centralized system for tracking or responding to Covid-19 cases among the surge of migrants crossing the United States’ southern border, according to interviews with six senior administration officials and multiple individuals tasked with responding to the influx.

The Biden administration has outsourced most Covid-19 testing and quarantining for migrants to local health agencies and non-governmental organizations. But it’s unclear how many have been tested for the virus, how many have tested positive and where infected people are being isolated along the border, four of the senior administration officials told Erin Banco and Sabrina Rodriguez.

Senior officials said although they do not possess the raw testing and case data, they believe the percent of migrants who have tested positive for Covid-19 is significantly less than the positivity rates in the states they have crossed into. But the disjointed federal response has limited the Biden administration’s ability to understand the scope of the Covid-19 situation along the border and its capacity to contain potential outbreaks in packed detention facilities, officials said. Uncontained, those hotspots could also spread into the wider U.S. population.

The scramble to track Covid cases at the border also shows that a year into the pandemic, the U.S. still doesn’t have the monitoring and communications systems needed to aggressively combat outbreaks of infectious disease — a necessity for a return to normal life.

“It is really important to have a good surveillance system. You want to be able to test and isolate and to prevent infection to others. Outsourcing testing is fine. But you need to have a way to be able to have accurate testing data in one place,” said Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. “The crisis at the border has been going on for a while. … You would think we would have worked out a process and a system by now where we would have an understanding of who was running the tests, what centralized entity was tracking those tests and who was in charge of following up on the results and acting on those results.”

—Senate moves more Biden nominations: The Senate narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, installing a progressive stalwart in Biden’s Cabinet. Also, Ted Cruz said today he would no longer delay confirmation of William Burns, Biden’s nominee for CIA director, and Brian McKeon, Biden’s choice for deputy secretary of State for management and resources. Both were confirmed unanimously later in the day.

— Biden orders U.S. flags at half-staff in honor of Atlanta victims: Biden ordered the American flag be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all U.S. government grounds as a “mark of respect” for the victims of the attacks on three separate Atlanta-area spas earlier this week. The White House also announced that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris would postpone a political event on their trip to Georgia on Friday evening — part of their tour to promote the new $1.9 trillion stimulus package — and would instead meet with Asian American leaders in Atlanta and visit the CDC headquarters.

— Bill Nelson for NASA: Biden is expected to nominate former Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida to lead NASA, settling on a longtime booster of the space program and former astronaut to lead the agency’s return to the moon, according to three people familiar with the decision. If confirmed by the Senate, Nelson would lead the space agency as it partners with the new crop of private space companies to establish a long-term presence on the lunar surface in preparation for sending astronauts to Mars.

— Fudge calls for big boost in HUD funds: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge called on Congress to add up to $100 billion to her agency’s budget and said most of the housing measures that lawmakers have passed to address the pandemic crisis should continue. “I’d like to see most of [the relief measures] permanent, no question about it,” Fudge, who was sworn in last week, told reporters at a White House briefing.

— IRS chief: Tax-deadline postponement could delay launch of child tax credit program: Commissioner Chuck Rettig also said he expected that people will not have to file amended returns in order to claim a new tax break on jobless benefits.

AMERICA’S VAX DIPLOMACY — The Biden administration is finalizing plans to share the U.S. supply of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine with the governments of Canada and Mexico, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed today.

During a March 1 bilateral meeting, Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador discussed the possibility that the U.S. would send Mexico surplus doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The topic of Mexico ramping up its law enforcement presence at the U.S. southern border also came up, according to an individual close to the Mexican president and a senior U.S. administration official.

The Biden administration made some references to the conversation in the hours following the official meeting. But Psaki said definitively that same day that Biden would not consider Mexico’s public request that the U.S. government share its surplus coronavirus vaccine, because vaccinating Americans is a priority. Psaki said today the White House is now “assessing how we can loan doses” to the two countries bordering the U.S. “It's not fully finalized yet. But that is our aim and what we’re working toward.”

The administration is aiming to ship 2.5 million shots to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada out of its 7 million “releasable doses,” she added.

Speaking of AstraZeneca: Several days after most EU countries suspended the use of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s vaccine over blood clot concerns, the bloc’s medicines regulator concluded today the vaccine is safe and effective in preventing Covid-19 and its benefits far outweigh the risks — but it could not eliminate a possible link to a rare type of clot.

The amount of days into Biden’s administration the U.S. took to reach the president’s goal of 100 million doses of vaccine administered in 100 days.

DON’T LEARN THE CHARLESTON JUST YET — The excitement is palpable. Vaccines are being injected into people’s arms, schools are reopening, Instagram feeds are flooded with “Fauci ouchie” selfies, the weather is heating up, the sun is out past 7 p.m., and the promise of a post-pandemic summer has Americans frenzied with the anticipation of a 6-year-old waiting to go downstairs on Christmas morning.

If you believe the hype, we’re in for another “Roaring 2020s,” with all of the frivolity, excess and licentiousness of the 1920s, when a wave of euphoria washed over much of the world following the ends of both the influenza pandemic and World War I.

But what we’re about to face is likely to be quite different, says John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, the definitive history of the 1918 flu pandemic. Perhaps we’ll have a post-pandemic economic boom, but there will likely be less of the excess that defined the Roaring ’20s.

“It’ll probably be without the sense of disillusionment, without the wildness, without the fatalism, without the survivor’s guilt, without asking ‘Why am I alive?’” Barry says. “I don’t think anybody who goes on a cruise ship next year is going to be wondering, ‘Why am I alive? How come I made it?’ Psychologically, that was all part of the Roaring ’20s.”

Behind the flappers, bootleggers and Gatsby-Esque decadence was a hard-won fatalism that came from the level of loss and devastation wrought by the war and the flu, which, unlike Covid, disproportionately killed younger Americans, contributing to a sense among some who survived that since they could die young, they might as well live hard.

Source:-https://www.politico.com/newsletters/politico-nightly/2021/03/18/how-ron-desantis-won-the-pandemic-492163

Image_Source:-https://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/g0c2ew/picture244205007/alternates/FREE_1140/MIA_04RONDESANTISPRESSER_CPJ.JPG

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