Since the coronavirus first emerged, advocates of an aggressive response to the pandemic have used the light touch of Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as a symbol of what not to do.
The problem is, they can’t seem to stop vacationing there.
DeSantis has earned himself accolades for refusing to let “hysteria” influence his policymaking, a laissez-faire approach best illustrated in his response to a critic at a football game this year: “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”
The message, tailor-made for a former bartender, appears to have resonated with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Yes, the congresswoman may have disparaged “unvaccinated tourists” for moving on with their lives and once said that repealing mask mandates “endangers” people. But two weeks ago, as her local newspaper reported that New York had just reached “a jaw-dropping all-time record” of daily coronavirus cases, AOC wasn’t there to read it.
She was in Florida, mask-free, sipping a drink out of a martini glass on an unannounced vacation.
God bless her. But what would spur Ocasio Cortez—who recently painted the United States as “desperate” amid “the ravages” of the virus—to vacation in a state that “chose freedom over Fauci-ism,” in the Republican governor’s words? She’s not the first bona fide member of the lockdown lobby to do so, either.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has imposed a mask mandate on two-year-olds, acknowledged that his family spent Thanksgiving in Florida. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in April that she was “concerned” about people traveling to Florida but two weeks earlier had quietly chartered a Gulfstream G280 to visit family in the Sunshine State. More recently, U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who once mocked DeSantis’ “death-cult,” was spotted on vacation last week dining mask-less at Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
The media has followed suit.
CNN anchor Don Lemon in August criticized DeSantis’ approach to COVID-19 as “depraved” and accused him of putting “political gain ahead of children’s lives,” though the cold-blooded depravity didn’t stop Lemon’s poolside trip to Florida three months later.
And NBC, whose news division on January 30 described the Republican governor as “missing in action” as case numbers “spiked to new heights,” still decided to host its January 31 New Year’s Eve party in, of all places, Miami.
Is it possible that DeSantis is onto something?
The good news is that business leaders are flocking to Florida, too, attracted to the light-touch pandemic policies that have fostered a culture of freedom from the governor’s office on down.
When Delian Asparouhov, a principal at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, casually suggested relocating from Silicon Valley in December, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez responded within three hours: “How can I help?” The venture capital firm signed a lease for an office in Miami soon thereafter.
Many others feel the same way. The Sunshine State added 211,196 residents from July 2020 to July 2021, according to U.S. Census numbers, with no sign of slowing down.
Yes, a democratic socialist sipping a martini at a South Beach sushi joint is funny, and we on the Right will enjoy our laughs.
But Democrats would be wise to acknowledge that Ocasio-Cortez choosing to spend her holiday in a restriction-free state led by a Republican whose election she tried to prevent is more than bad optics. It is a canary in the coal mine, a symbol of a restless country’s mood, and a sign of what is coming next.
The New York congresswoman, whom DeSantis once described as “socialism wrapped in ignorance,” apparently has seen the light, and she isn’t the only one.
Two years from now, the famous slogan covering the green grass of the Sunshine State—“Make America Florida”—won’t just be a popular yard sign. It will be the next Republican president’s national mandate.