Ron DeSantis: A Steady Hand in a Sea of Chaos

John Mac Ghlionn, Why is Florida so weird? It’s a question that most of us have asked at least once in our lives.  Is it the humidity? The strange animals? The drugs? Maybe a combination of all three.

If the United States was a classroom, and Florida was a pupil, the Sunshine State would be the class clown. The type of individual who brings an agitated iguana to school and unleashes mayhem.

The state of Florida is, for lack of a better word, strange….but things are beginning to change. The class clown is fast becoming the star pupil, and Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Governor, has played a huge role in this transformation.

The Road Not Taken

On Saturday, April 24th, more than 15,000 UFC fans gathered inside the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville. The event was momentous for two reasons: 1) The fights were sensational. 2) This was the first full capacity indoor sporting event the United States had seen in over thirteen months. UFC 261 was simply electric, the energy palpable.

At the post-fight press conference, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Dana White, the UFC president, said, “(i)t’s time to get back to normal. I know a lot of you guys in the media don’t feel exactly the way I do about a lot of things, but you can’t deny it felt pretty f*cking good to be in Florida this week and be normal.”

Normal and Florida in the same sentence, now that is strange. Then again, Florida has always been an outlier, stubbornly refusing to adhere to certain norms. In COVID times, Florida’s rebellious streak has paid off.

In February of last year, American governors came to a fork in the proverbial road. With COVID sweeping the land, how strict should the restrictions be, they asked. Some governors, like Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom, opted for more austere measures. Meanwhile, governors like Ron DeSantis opted for a more relaxed approach, deciding to treat Floridians as autonomous humans capable of thinking for themselves. Although restrictions were in place for periods of time, their severity paled in comparison to the restrictions seen in California and New York.

With two roads diverged in a wood, DeSantis chose the one less travelled. The governor, in true Floridian style, chose to be bold. But this was a highly calculated form of boldness, the type of boldness that deserves to be praised.

On May 3rd, a little over a week after the UFC event, DeSantis approved the suspension of all Covid related restrictions.  Florida, he assured the public, “was no longer in a state of emergency.” For all intents and purposes, the Sunshine State is open for business.

Pragmatic and reasonable, DeSantis, quite rightly, is getting the recognition he deserves.  And not just from those on the right, either.

In a recent monologue, Bill Maher, the left leaning comedian and commentator, praised DeSantis, calling the 42-year-old a voracious consumer of the scientific literature.” Pragmatism, calculated risk-taking, and priorities, like getting elderly residents vaccinated first, are what make DeSantis so popular.

As David Frum wrote in a recent piece for The Atlantic, the governor “has scored two major victories.”The first victory involves the “unemployment rate in Florida.” Interestingly, over the last 12 months, according to Frum, the unemployment rate “never spiked as high as it did in some other states.” Last month,  the state’s “unemployment rate stood at 4.7 percent, placing it 19th in the country.” California’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, stood at 8.3 percent.

The second victory for DeSantis, as Frum notes, involved his decision to open “schools to in-person learning” back in August. From poor internet connections to lack of parental supervision, remote learning is problematic for many reasons. DeSantis, the father of young children, was clearly aware of this fact, so he decided to put students back in classrooms. A bold move at the time, but ultimately the right one.

In deciding to go against the political grain, DeSantis displayed the qualities of a real leader – someone willing to challenge the prevailing narrative. While Dr. Fauci thinks Americans will be still wearing masks in 2022, DeSantis is reluctant to issue any sort of mandates on masks. And for good reason.

DeSantis’s hutzpah is admirable. As Governors like Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom continue to lose the trust of the people, the governor’s star continues to rise.  Is a run for president on the cards? If a recent poll by Tony Fabrizio, a GOP pollster, is anything to go by, the answer is very much yes.

Going back to those two roads diverged in the proverbial wood, is DeSantis sorry that he could not travel both? Hardly. After all, the road he chose may end up taking him to the White House.

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