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DeSantis already a target as Hurricane Ian hits

As a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane slams into Florida’s West Coast, many Floridians may lose everything — homes, businesses, perhaps even their lives if they couldn’t evacuate in time. 

It’s a serious moment demanding serious journalism, and, across the dial and in the pages of major newspapers throughout the country, serious reporting without opinion or finger-pointing is exactly what’s happening. But this also is an election year that includes Florida’s race between incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former Republican governor-turned-Democratic congressman Charlie Crist (D). 

DeSantis is widely seen as the biggest rival to former President Trump for the Republicans’ 2024 presidential nomination. Some state polls even show DeSantis tied with or beating Trump in battleground states such as FloridaNew Hampshire and Michigan

As a result, we already see more than a few political pundits talking about what a danger DeSantis, a decorated military veteran, is to the country and democracy. 

“Trump poses a greater danger of triggering an immediate constitutional crisis, while DeSantis is more likely to methodically strangle democracy through a series of illiberal Orbanist steps like he has modeled in Florida,” writes New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait

“The fact that Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is favored to win reelection is a clear warning to those worried about declining support for democratic institutions and values in the United States,” says the New York Times’s Thomas Edsall. “The prospect of DeSantis’s reelection in November suggests that under certain circumstances the American electorate will tolerate, if not actively embrace, the abuse of traditional political norms by domineering leaders.”

You get the point. To some, DeSantis needs to be stopped. 

The utter dishonesty of the coverage earlier this year of his Parental Rights in Education Bill was underscored by news organization after news organization calling it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in headline after headline

So it’s no surprise that some in traditional media are trying to turn Hurricane Ian into DeSantis’s Hurricane Katrina, or using the opportunity to take ad hominem political shots. 

Here’s CNN reporter Steve Contorno: “As DeSantis prepares Floridians for Ian, he is urging residents to heed advice from the same local leaders he suggested they ignore during COVID and praising a federal agency he previously alleged withheld aid to the state [because] Biden was playing politics.” 

Then there’s Politico, which reported that “DeSantis still hasn’t faced one of the toughest challenges a Florida leader can encounter: a major hurricane.” The problem is that a five-second check of Google finds this report to be completely false. Hurricane Sally devastated Northwest Florida along the panhandle in 2020, more than 18 months after DeSantis took office. Video of DeSantis speaking about and touring storm damage is readily available to anyone taking just a moment to search for it. 

It’s fascinating how quickly horrific situations can be weaponized to advance a political narrative. During Katrina in 2005, the Democratic governor of Louisiana and Democratic mayor of New Orleans were largely exempt from any blame regarding evacuation efforts and preparation, such as not quickly calling in the National Guard, as only a governor can do. Instead, the finger was pointed squarely at President George W. Bush, a Republican, who certainly deserved some criticism but not the entirety of the blame. 

Fast-forward to 2022: A Democratic president, Joe Biden, is in the White House; a Republican governor, DeSantis, is in charge of the state being hit. But it’s DeSantis who is the media’s focus — not the president, as was the case with Bush. 

Some news reports emerged on Tuesday that Biden had not called DeSantis to coordinate the federal and state response, despite Ian bearing down on Florida in forecast models dating back to a week earlier. So much for political unity in a time of crisis. 

Finally, on Tuesday night, after DeSantis noted Biden hadn’t contacted him as presidents traditionally do ahead of and during emergencies, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed the president called the governor — but only after Ian struck the Florida Keys before moving to the north and east. 

The political division in this country is truly profound and disturbing. At a time of crisis, one would hope we could come together in the same spirit that we did after 9/11. 

Instead, as a catastrophic hurricane was about to hit Florida, we got tweets like this from frequent MSNBC guest and podcast host Rachel Vindman, who wrote: “We should use they/them pronouns for hurricane Ian to annoy DeSantis.” Some 60,000 people “liked” the tweet before Vindman deleted it due to overwhelming blowback. 

If one needed any more evidence that there are some who will exploit any situation – even potentially deadly ones – to score political points, you’re looking at it. 

We’ll soon know how DeSantis handles this crisis. But we’re all still Americans, all ultimately still on the same team, and we should hope for the best for Floridians no matter what it means for DeSantis’s presidential fortunes. And journalists, in particular, should return to being fact-based observers informing the public during a dire time, not partisans taking preemptive aim at their political enemies.

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.

Tags Charlie Crist Florida governor's race Hurricane Fiona Hurricane Ian Hurricane Ian Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis

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