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Will COVID-19 Threaten Ron DeSantis’ Political Ambitions?

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

It is all but a given that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has presidential aspirations. Over the past year, he has distinguished himself as the frontrunner for 2024, if former President Donald Trump decides not to run again.

The governor has often been described as a sort of Trump 2.0 – a Republican politician with the former president’s strengths and none of his weaknesses. Like Trump, DeSantis has never been afraid of taking the battle to the left-leaning activist media, who, in some ways, have made him their new boogeyman.

However, some seem to believe the COVID-19 pandemic could hamper DeSantis’ future plans for higher office. Infection rates are continuing to increase in Florida, and hospitals are experiencing understaffing and other tools for helping patients. Politico reported:

About 16,000 people are hospitalized. Child infection rates have shot up. School districts — even in Republican strongholds — have rebelled against DeSantis’ anti-mask mandates. And cruise lines are resisting DeSantis’ vaccine passport ban. Even his recent poll numbers are slipping.

A recent poll found that DeSantis’ approval rating has dropped to 43.7 percent amid increasing COVID infections and the spread of the Delta variant in the state. Interestingly enough, a Quinnipiac University Poll released on Wednesday found that 59 percent of Floridian respondents do not want DeSantis to seek the White House in 2024.

The governor has come under fire for his refusal to enact onerous COVID restrictions like Democratic governors have. He also made the controversial decision to enact a ban on mask mandates in Florida’s schools. This action was met with resistance from local communities pushing back against the measure. On Friday, DeSantis experienced a setback when Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled that he does not have the authority to punish districts for requiring masks in schools.

Another Quinnipiac poll revealed that the anti-mask sentiment isn’t quite as popular with the majority of Florida residents. It revealed that about 60 percent approved of requiring masks in classrooms.

A Republican consultant who worked with the governor in the past told Politico that “there’s no question it’s impacting him politically.”

He continued:

“You can tout all the freedom and anti-lockdown that you want. There’s no political strategy for sick kids and tired parents.”

Several Florida counties have issued mask mandates in defiance of DeSantis’ orders. What is notable about this trend is that two of these counties – Sarasota and Indian River – are in conservative areas of the state.

Still, it is important to remember that DeSantis still remains popular among conservatives, even if his overall approval in the state is not as high as it was. On the right, the governor’s opposition to mask mandates in schools is a popular position. Indeed, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that requiring children to wear masks in classrooms does not curb the spread of the virus, so it is not as if the mandates are truly necessary.

It’s also worth noting that even though the COVID issue is hurting DeSantis politically at the moment, 2024 is still a long way away. By the time the campaign season begins, it is not likely that the coronavirus will be as much of an issue. Yes, the Democrats might try to keep the pandemic hysteria going for as long as possible, but it is not likely they will be able to eke out another two years of using the virus to get the American public to give up more freedoms.

Moreover, one can’t forget how badly the Democrats have been performing since President Joe Biden took office. His administration has already managed to foul things up beyond imagination — especially when it concerns the migrant crisis, inflation, and the debacle currently going on in Afghanistan. Beyond that, Democrats in Congress have been unable to pass any meaningful legislation.

The incompetence of the Biden administration will likely continue into 2024. The president’s performance just this year would likely be enough to cost the Democrats the White House in the next presidential election. The left would surely hope the COVID issue would harm DeSantis enough to prevent a successful presidential bid, but it is more likely that it is a minor setback than a deal-breaker.