ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been walking a tightrope for weeks during the coronavirus crisis, trying to protect both residents vulnerable to the virus and the cratering economy in a state of 21 million people.
His dilemma is a clear example of the conundrum facing the president of the U.S. and governors nationwide: His state has both an enormous population — a large percentage of which is old and particularly vulnerable to the virus — and a thriving economy whose collapse could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The success or failure of the Republican governor's decisions could have major consequences for the national economic recovery, not to mention the presidential election. No state is more central to President Donald Trump’s reelection.
Critics say DeSantis is relying too heavily on how his actions could reflect on the president — or affect his relationship with Trump.
“I don’t think Ron DeSantis makes decisions without consulting with the president, or those close to the president,” said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando.
Like Trump, DeSantis has been resistant to impose a statewide shutdown as New York, California and Illinois have done. Instead, the governor — in his second year in office — has pushed an incremental approach, suggesting that restrictive measures be put in place only in the hardest-hit counties. To do otherwise, he said, could cost hundreds of thousands of Floridians their jobs. Nearly a third of Florida's counties have had no cases of COVID-19, but most are small and rural.
While DeSantis has taken a cautious approach about shutting down public spaces and private businesses, he did note that his wife, who is due to have a baby soon, hasn't left their house since the beginning of March.
“She was sick in January. ... We didn’t really know what it was. My kids got a little sick. I was fine. But you know what? It could have been this,” he told The Associated Press after a news conference Wednesday.