Ron DeSantis has hit the temporary pause button on his 2024 bid as Hurricane Idalia makes landfall in Florida, vowing not to let politics get in the way of his storm response. “You do what you need to do,” he told reporters Tuesday, “and so that’s what we’re doing.” But politics have continued to loom large over the moment, as the governor’s team attempts to use his hurricane response as a selling point for his struggling campaign: “This is strong leadership in times of crisis,” spokesman Andrew Romeo wrote Tuesday, “that Americans can expect from a President DeSantis.”
As CNN pointed out Tuesday, the storm—which hit the state as a Category 3 hurricane—represents a significant test for DeSantis, whose leadership at home has been under strain amid the demands of his campaign and the fallout from the anti-“woke” culture wars on which he built his brand. The governor has faced particular backlash in recent days following the racist shooting at a Jacksonville dollar store—including getting booed off the microphone over the weekend at a vigil for the three victims. “He lit the match and fanned the flames and emboldened the individual to do what happened,” State Representative Angie Nixon told MSNBC Monday. Team DeSantis balked at the criticism: “He will not tolerate racial hatred or violence in Florida,” his spokesman, Bryan Griffin, told the AP.
Still, DeSantis has only doubled-down on his “own the libs” posturing—even as it comes at the direct expense of his own constituents. As Politico pointed out Wednesday, the Florida governor is rejecting nearly $350 million in energy initiatives through President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act—including funding for programs that would provide rebates to those who purchase energy efficient appliances or retrofit their homes; combat pollution; and make solar panels more accessible to lower-income Floridians. That puts DeSantis at-odds with Biden—who he hopes to run against next year, if he can only revive his lagging GOP primary campaign—as well as with his own state legislature, which approved the Florida energy department’s request for the funding before the governor took out his veto pen. “It’s unfortunate that some officials are putting politics ahead of delivering meaningful progress for hard-working Americans,” a White House spokesman told the outlet.
Hurricane Idalia has only highlighted the egregiousness of his political stand; as Politico notes, the IRA money could help Floridians weatherize their homes in the face of storms like Idalia. “He’s senselessly making the state more vulnerable,” Florida Democrat Darren Soto told the outlet.
The scrutiny over DeSantis’s leadership extends beyond his home state: His endless culture wars in Florida increasingly seem to be spooking donors—including his biggest donor, hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, who told Reuters this month that he would not contribute any more unless DeSantis moderated his approach. “Extremism isn’t going to get you elected,” he told the outlet.
DeSantis, meanwhile, home from the campaign trail to face down multiple crises, has called for unity amid the storm. “There’s a time and a place to have political season, but then there’s a time and a place to say that this is something that’s life threatening,” DeSantis said earlier this week, ahead of Idalia’s arrival. “We have a responsibility as Americans to come together.” The question is how equipped DeSantis is to make that happen, after all he’s done to help drive them apart.