A battle is being played out between two of the most heavyweight politicians in the nation. On one side is President Joe Biden, who is keen to deflect attention from the numerous crises his administration faces. On the other, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), who – riding high on a wave of popularity – is now feeling the brute force of Democrats and the media united against his political future. As is often the case, only one side can win, and neither opponent will walk away unscathed.
Dueling narratives over the rise in COVID infections and the historically high number of illegal border crossings have pitted the two men against each other in a war of words. The president is attempting to shift the blame onto DeSantis for the increase in coronavirus cases, arguing that his refusal to follow federal advice risks lives. DeSantis is countering by saying that it matters little whether he follows government suggestions when the virtually open border allows a stream of unvaccinated migrants into the country.
Setting Out the Stalls
Taking aim specifically at DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the president said on Tuesday, August 3, that “We need leadership from everyone and if some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it.”
“I say to these governors, please help. If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of people who are trying to do the right thing,” he implored, “Use your power to save lives.”
It seems DeSantis was unwilling to take the rebuke without getting his own position across. At a presser on Wednesday, August 4, the Florida governor struck back, saying:
“Joe Biden suggests that if you don’t do lockdown policies, then you should ‘get out of the way.’ But let me tell you this: If you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way. I’m not going to let you get away with it.
“If you’re trying to deny kids a proper in-person education, I’m going to stand in your way and I’m going to stand up for the kids in Florida. If you’re trying to restrict people, impose mandates, if you’re trying to ruin their jobs and their livelihoods and their small business, if you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way and I’m standing for the people of Florida.”
The Criticism Tour
The main point of DeSantis’ argument is that by failing to deal with the historic number of illegal migrant crossings, Biden has opened the nation up to continued infection. “Why don’t you do your job, why don’t you get this border secure and until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you,” the governor said.
Speaking on The Ingraham Angle, DeSantis set out his position, shifting part of the blame back on the president. He stated:
“They don’t tell us. We try to do investigations. Sometimes we have gotten some documents and put two and two together. They do fly in … unaccompanied minors and a lot of military age males coming through the border … You have law enforcement there helping Governor Abbott. They said of the illegal border crossers they come in contact with, a majority of them want to end up in Florida. We are working on strategies to be able to deter that.”
“This is a guy that ran for president saying he would shut down the virus. He was not going to shut down America or the economy. He would shut down the virus. Yet what is he doing? He is bringing in people from over 100 different countries across the southern border,” the governor said. Citing the recent reports of surges in the Delta Plus and Lambda variants, DeSantis outlined the dangers of allowing illegal immigration to continue unchecked. He warned:
“Every variant on this planet – some we don’t even know about – are absolutely coming into our country that way … He is lecturing people about imposing COVID restrictions and lockdowns and not only doing nothing to stop the border surge but actually facilitating it, on the other hand, he just loses all credibility when it comes to COVID.”
Where does President Biden’s credibility on COVID stand?
Who Has COVID Credibility?
When Florida vaccination numbers (from Johns Hopkins) are compared with a state of the most similar size – New York – there is very little difference: 50.5% of Floridians versus 57% of New Yorkers. DeSantis was widely praised for his initial prioritization of the elderly and immune-compromised in the vaccine rollout, and many of the initiatives between the states have been similar. In fact, for some time, Florida was lauded for its response and figures despite having a more elderly population living in denser areas. What went wrong?
Biden posits the increase in cases is due to DeSantis being unwilling to impose further mandates as per the president’s request. Governor DeSantis claims the infection increase comes largely from illegal migrants. As ever, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. So who can win the battle when no defined parameters of success are outlined?
The Dalai Lama once said, “Real power has to do with one’s ability to influence the hearts and minds of others,” and this is an adage that both Biden and DeSantis have sought to use. Emotional arguments coupled with data that supports the purveyor’s position will be pushed ad nauseam until one narrative takes traction over the other. The final goal, however, is power. The president seeks to fend off a potentially powerful competitor before he becomes a serious contender to take the throne. DeSantis is trying to build up his support both locally and nationally to sweep him back to the governor’s mansion in January 2023, and perhaps even, in time, to the White House. But in what condition will the American battlefield be left when the smoke clears?
Read more from Mark Angelides.