DeSantis campaign now selling "Don't Fauci My Florida" merchandise

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Made me chuckle. The man knows what his base wants to hear and he’s happy to supply it, whether that takes the form of legislation, public comments, or even t-shirt slogans.

It’s unclear when this shirt went on sale but I find it interesting that the tweet was sent on July 12, one day after Kristi Noem dinged certain unnamed Republican governors for acting like they’d never locked down their state when they actually had. DeSantis already Fauci’d Florida last year when he issued a stay-at-home order, albeit only for a month.

Noem wants to position herself as the anti-Fauci in the 2024 presidential primary. DeSantis won’t relinquish that title to her. It’s not just about lockdowns either: One reason why he’s been a stickler about banning vaccine passports is because he wants to show the large anti-vax minority in the GOP that he’s sympathetic to them even if he doesn’t condone their opposition to vaccines. News broke last night that Norwegian Cruise Lines was suing his administration in federal court to try to get DeSantis’s ban struck down, news of which doubtless came as a thrill to the governor. If he wins that court battle, he’s an anti-vax hero. If he loses, no problem. At least he “fought.”

Here’s the DeSantis campaign storefront at WinRed, which includes the Fauci t-shirts. As others have pointed out, the “Keep Florida Free” flag emblazoned with DeSantis’s name is a complete rip-off of Trump merchandise, from the font to the color scheme to the red border with stars in between. He’s never been subtle about which voters he’s cultivating for a 2024 run. As for whether Florida might need to be Fauci’d again anytime soon, WaPo notes today that “The state is reporting daily cases close to four times the national average — 26 new infections per 100,000 residents, the second-highest number in the country. The state’s latest covid-19 death rate is almost double the national figure, and it ranks fourth for current hospitalizations.” All of that is true, but daily deaths in Florida right now are lower per capita than they are in California, which has probably been “Fauci’d” more than any other state.

In fact, daily deaths in Florida at the moment are around their lowest of the entire pandemic:

Last week average deaths per day dipped to 22, but until recently the last time the number had been below 30 was April 2020, the first weeks of COVID in the U.S. For the moment, Florida’s experiencing the same thing the UK is, a surge in cases that hasn’t (yet?) translated into a surge in deaths because the oldest and most vulnerable members of the population are vaccinated.

A top British health advisor actually sees a benefit to the “casedemic” they’re experiencing right now in that it means many unvaccinated people will gain natural immunity at a moment when hospitals aren’t under stress and have the capacity to treat them. That means those people won’t be at risk this fall, when COVID is expected to gain steam again and put more pressure on ERs with new admissions. Few states have fully vaccinated as much of their populations as the UK has (in fact, I believe Vermont is the only one), but Florida is relatively well positioned to manage the coming wave. They’ve given first doses to 55 percent of the population, more than any other Trump state and just a hair shy of the national average.

Which is not to say that they have the most immunity of any red state, though. That may be … Kristi Noem’s South Dakota, which is at rock bottom for daily new cases right now and seeing among the fewest hospitalizations per capita of any state. They may have reached herd immunity. The caveat, which DeSantis might mention a time or two on the campaign trail in 2024, is that they reached it because the virus rampaged across the population there. Dr. Ashish Jha compared the similar daily case numbers between South Dakota and Vermont recently and pointed out that they took two different paths to get there:

While nearly 75 percent of Vermonters have had at least one vaccine shot, putting the state near the threshold for herd immunity, only half of South Dakotans have had at least one shot. South Dakota’s substantial population immunity instead comes in large part from prior infections, particularly during the fall. This massive surge in infections was driven by the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August that brought nearly half a million people to South Dakota, sparking outbreaks across that state and, indeed, the nation. With little to no interest on the part of its governor to squelch the outbreak, South Dakota reached the highest levels of infection seen by any state during the pandemic. At its peak, the state was reporting more than 160 new cases per 100,000 residents. Vermont, in comparison, never climbed above 30 cases per 100,000.

Unsurprisingly, these states experienced stunningly different outcomes. Adjusted for population, nearly six times as many people died in South Dakota from covid-19 as in Vermont (230 per 100,000 in South Dakota compared to just 40 per 100,000 in Vermont). In real numbers, while about 250 Vermont residents died from the disease, more than 2,000 South Dakotans died. And as of today, Vermont has a lower unemployment rate, suggesting that there need not be any trade-off between public health and the economy.

South Dakota has had considerably more cases and deaths per capita than Florida has had but DeSantis will have to be tactful in pointing that out. The sort of primary voters who’d buy a “Don’t Fauci My Florida” t-shirt don’t want to hear about how state and local pandemic restrictions might have saved lives. They want to hear that lockdowns, masks, and social distancing don’t matter. If South Dakota had a worse pandemic than Florida, that’s because fate wanted it that way.

Well, fate and the anti-vaxxers:

I’ll leave you with this story quoting ER doctors, including one who works in Miami, discussing the frightful condition of infected people in their 20s and 30s who come in needing treatment for a bad case of the Delta variant. They’re sicker than they used to be, said one, and they’re going downhill quicker. “They rapidly decline, very fast, and then even after intubation we’ll see them rapidly decline and unfortunately we are seeing people passing quicker than before.”