For now, DeSantis zings Trump with policy victories

(AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

We get that certain folks — you know, the politically obsessed; in other words, us — are eager to see the haymakers fly. If Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis really is the Main Event of 2024, shouldn’t we get on with it?

While journalists shuttle back and forth reporting what this one said about that one, we’re keeping score at home, tallying up the zingers and underlining the duds, all the while waiting for the knockout blow that sends the latest pretender reeling.

So mix it already, y’all. Right? The first events of the 2024 presidential campaign might be a year off, but it’s never too early to see who has a glass jaw. Which is why we see breathless headlines such as the one in The Hill Tuesday: Trump-DeSantis rivalry approaches boiling point.

OK, as much as anyone loves a good political brawl, and nothing gets the juices flowing like indulging our inner middle-schooler shouting, “Fight! Fight!”, upon closer inspection, the rivalry presumed by The Hill has barely reached a simmer.

Not that Donald Trump, the only announced candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, hasn’t been slinging punches and trying out nicknames — DeSanctimonius? Really? Do better, No. 45 — the governor of Florida and, really, the commander of the spotlight, is barely playing.

Yes, he paused Tuesday in sunny Bradenton to acknowledge the Trump buzzing:

“You take a crisis situation like Covid, the good thing about it is that when you’re an elected executive, you have to make all kinds of decisions, you’ve got to steer that ship,” DeSantis said Tuesday at an event on education in response to a question about Trump’s recent attacks. “And the good thing is that people are able to render a judgment on that: whether they re-elect you or not.”

“I’m happy to say in my case, not only did we win re-election, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has in the history of the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.

“What I would say is, that verdict has been rendered by the people of the state of Florida,” he added.   

Otherwise, DeSantis simply keeps rolling out well-defined public policies designed to improve, enhance, and otherwise advance life in the Sunshine State. A week after revealing his public safety goals for the 2023 legislative session (beginning March 7), the governor announced his “Moving Florida Forward” plan, an ambitious four-year, $7 billion program designed to mash the accelerator on desperately needed road projects.

He’s not playing favorites, either. Desultory traffic choke points exist around the state; there’s not a region anywhere that would not see needed reconstruction, widening, improved interchanges, and more.

We expect, however, the subsequent relief for travelers, commuters, and goods will come merely as confirmation for the governor’s critics that DeSantis remains a fascist. After all, wasn’t it Mussolini who made the trains run on schedule? (Stop messing with our useful mythology, Snopes.)

Anyway, while DeSantis was layering on effective and needed improvements to Florida’s infrastructure (without raising taxes), Trump the Rerun was entertaining reporters aboard his traveling circus jet over the Eastern Seaboard with claims invented for the occasion. 

“Florida was actually closed for a very long time. Remember, he closed the beaches and everything else,” Trump said of DeSantis. “You know? They’re trying to rewrite history.”

That’s not just making stuff up; it’s doing it with the volume cranked to 10. Then again, loud wrong is Trump’s milieu.

Wait. Maybe maybe “a very long time” in Trump World means anything beyond what’s required to deliver a Big Mac to the drive-through window. But in the world where sensible people live, DeSantis’ (science-guided) actions to end pandemic lockdowns were, by many accounts, controversially swift.

Let’s fast-forward through the spring of 2020, when COVID swept ashore, and DeSantis grudgingly ordered phased closings, culminating in an April 1 stay-home directive. That “very long time” Trump noted? Beaches outside the teeming southeast Florida petri dish began reopening 17 days after they were shut down. Businesses followed a month later. The entire state outside southeast Florida entered Phase 2 reopening by June 3. By the middle of July, all theme parks in the state had reopened their gates.

The headline on Michael Kruse’s March 18, 2021, critique of the Sunshine State’s COVID-19 response speaks volumes: How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic.

Politico? Oh, my. 

But after 12 months in which he was pilloried as a reckless executive driven more by ideology than science, dogged by images of crowded beaches and bars and derided as “DuhSantis,” “DeathSantis” and “DeSatan,” Florida has fared no worse, and in some ways better, than many other states — including its big-state peers. 

The most controversial policies DeSantis enacted — locking down later and opening up earlier, keeping nursing homes closed to visitation while insisting schools needed to be open to students, resisting intense pressure to issue a mask mandate — have ended up being, on balance, short of or even the opposite of ruinous.

In these early rounds, the DeSantis-Trump bout starkly resembles 1974’s Rumble in the Jungle, when, at 32, Muhammad Ali reclaimed the heavyweight boxing championship, beating George Foreman with his now-legendary rope-a-dope strategy. Just now, with public policy actions fairly shouting for him, DeSantis seems content — as Ali was — to let Trump keep raining pointless blows.

Foreman is a Trump pal. He may want to advise him on the wisdom of getting punched out early against an opponent who knows how to deliver the goods.

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Stephen Moore 12:00 AM | February 22, 2024