Covid Hero or ‘Lockdown Ron’? DeSantis and Trump Renew Pandemic Politics

Hank Miller, a 64-year-old Iowa farmer, started paying attention to Gov. Ron DeSantis during the coronavirus pandemic, when the Florida governor was a constant presence on Fox News highlighting the reopening of his state.

While Mr. Miller voted for former President Donald J. Trump in 2016 and 2020, he now plans to support Mr. DeSantis, in part, he said, because he was “disappointed” with Mr. Trump for following the advice of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, whom Mr. DeSantis has said should be prosecuted.

“I liked how DeSantis responded to the pandemic,” Mr. Miller said at a coffee shop in Grundy Center, Iowa, where Mr. DeSantis campaigned on Saturday. “He didn’t just shut things down.”

Mr. DeSantis, far behind Mr. Trump in the polls in Iowa and nationally, is clearly hoping that such feelings are widespread among Republican primary voters. The governor’s record on Covid-19 provides perhaps his strongest contrast with the former president, whose administration spearheaded the development of the coronavirus vaccines that are now deeply unpopular with the Republican base.

The virus could be an important wedge issue for Mr. DeSantis, who at times has struggled to provide voters with a clear case for why he would be a better president than Mr. Trump, the Republican front-runner. But there are questions about whether a pandemic that many Americans see as long over will resonate with the electorate in 2024.

Now, a recent resurgence of Covid-19 cases is giving Mr. DeSantis a chance to press the argument. In response to the uptick, a small number of schools, universities and hospitals have told students, patients and employees to wear masks again. Mr. DeSantis and other Republicans have seized on that as evidence that the Covid-19 debate, which they frame as a civil rights battle, is far from over.

Mr. DeSantis emphasized that point during his swing through Iowa on Saturday. “When you have people going back to restrictions and mandates, this shows that this issue has not died,” he told reporters outside the coffee shop in Grundy Center. “This shows that if we don’t bring accountability with my administration, they are going to keep trying to do this.”

Since returning to the campaign trail after Hurricane Idalia, which hit Florida last month, Mr. DeSantis has seemingly made the virus his No. 1 issue. He has appeared repeatedly this past week on Fox News and other conservative media outlets lauding his pandemic policies, and has done interviews with local news media outlets in Iowa and New Hampshire. He even held a news conference in Jacksonville — in his role as governor — to promote the way he handled the virus.

“I can tell you here in Florida, we did not and we will not allow the dystopian visions of paranoid hypochondriacs to control our health policies, let alone our state,” Mr. DeSantis said on Thursday at the event in Jacksonville, which, in the absence of formal policy announcements, had the feel of a campaign rally.

Mr. DeSantis is taking advantage of an apparent shift in the national mood on the virus, even among Democrats. Only 12 percent of Americans say they typically wear a…

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