Hurricane Ian pummeled Florida last week as a category 4 storm, one of the most powerful to ever make landfall in the United States. And not more than a week later — right on schedule — the state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis remains confronted with a hostile press that’s eager to turn the governor’s political ambitions into Fort Myers Beach: once a sunny paradise and now a tropical wasteland.
As traumatized residents survey the damage and prepare to rebuild from what the governor described as a “500-year flood event,” swaths of the state remain underwater and without power. According to Fox Weather, more than 600,000 Floridians are still without electricity after the storm ripped across the peninsula.
“You’re looking at a storm that changed the character of our state,” DeSantis said at a Thursday press conference.
So naturally, DeSantis, who is rivaling Donald Trump in every poll for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is a prime target for media partisans who are exploiting the tragedy and going on the attack.
Katrina Floods Louisiana, Drowns Bush Presidency
In 2005, President George W. Bush became the subject of criticism over the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, a category 3 storm that killed more than 1,800 people, left millions more homeless, and flooded New Orleans for weeks. Four days after landfall, rapper Kanye West castigated the president as a racist in an interview alongside actor Mike Myers on NBC.
“George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” West said.
There’s plenty of criticism to be made of the federal response to the Gulf hurricane. Government agencies were unorganized and unprepared, communication broke down, and coordination between state and federal officials led to indecisiveness when there was no time to waste. The accusation that Bush led an inadequate effort out of racism, however, was as unhinged as it was unfair, yet it marked the beginning of the end of his presidency, which later became embroiled in ongoing wars in the Middle East and the 2008 financial crisis. Bush’s approval rating began dropping, and he never fully recovered.
Five years later, Bush would reflect on Katrina as one of the “lowest” points in his presidency and write in his White House memoir of being “disgusted” by West’s racist smear.
DeSantis’s Katrina Moment
Florida faced its most destructive storm in decades under DeSantis’s tenure one month before the governor’s re-election is set to be a springboard for a competitive presidential campaign.
On Monday, DeSantis’s opponents in the press launched efforts to make Hurricane Ian the governor’s Hurricane Katrina, thwarting momentum for a White House run and potentially derailing a second term as Florida’s chief executive. According to RealClearPolitics’ latest aggregate of polls, which often inflate Democrat support, DeSantis has led in every single survey this year except for one. A single summer poll conducted Aug. 2-3 reported DeSantis’s Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, up by 1 point and well within the survey’s 1.6 percent margin of error.
Now it’s no longer the president being scrutinized by the corporate press. It’s the Florida governor.
Amid rapid rescue efforts and urgent storm repairs, CNN challenged DeSantis Sunday on why the hurricane hit Fort Myers over Tampa. Lee County — where Fort Myers is located, more than 100 miles south of St. Petersburg, which was the forecasted target of the hurricane’s landfall — did not order residents to evacuate as did neighboring jurisdictions.
“Why do you stand behind Lee County’s decision to not have that mandatory evacuation until the day before the storm?” pressed CNN’s Nadia Romero.
DeSantis answered the question with a question. “Where was your industry stationed when the storm hit?” DeSantis quipped. “Were you guys in Lee County? No, you were in Tampa.”
The governor broke down the storm’s forecast, which initially placed cities further up the coast in the hurricane’s worst path of destruction.
“We had most of our supplies stationed in the Tampa Bay area. As that track moved, we shifted our response further south as well,” DeSantis added.
One day prior, the governor explained at a press conference why evacuation orders in the surrounding areas came later than in other parts of the state as the weather forecast changed.
“They were following the data, and you remember people were looking initially at the panhandle on Sunday,” DeSantis said.
Drudge Report linked to the New York Post’s coverage of the governor’s explanation as if DeSantis were on defense and confronting a scandal.
“DeSantis defends late evacuation order,” read the news aggregator.
Fabricated evacuation drama aside, Politico published a hit piece on Monday afternoon that lambasted the governor for reaching into “the president’s wallet,” as if American tax dollars were the sole property of President Joe Biden.
The 1,000-word article by Politico’s Max Dixon reads as if it were written by a Democratic operative with aggressive demands that DeSantis pay tribute to the president at every opportunity.
Dixon condemned the governor’s use of federal funds to set aside $12 million for migrant flights to sanctuary cities, never mind that a near majority of constituents support the effort. Dixon also criticized the governor’s opposition to federal aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, never mind that the funding bill was “chock full of pork” that had nothing to do with immediate storm relief.
And Dixon complained that the governor gave police officers $1,000 bonuses financed by federal dollars without “mention[ing] the connection to the president.” Never mind that DeSantis consistently denounced blue state bailouts, where billions of dollars were poured in to save the economies of locked-down jurisdictions at the expense of free-state taxpayers such as Floridians. Was DeSantis expected to forfeit his state’s share of federal tax dollars that his own residents were forced to shell out in the first place?
The performance of any government official ought to be scrutinized in the aftermath of a major natural disaster, especially one as big as Hurricane Ian. After all, competent leadership can be the difference between a death toll of a few dozen and one of 1,800. The attempts to fabricate scandal so far around DeSantis, however, are as unfair as smearing Bush as a racist amid recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. A fair and true grade on the governor’s performance won’t be calculable for weeks, but requesting federal assistance and following the storm forecast can hardly knock off points.