Talking Points

Republican governors are repeating Trump's COVID mistake

Are Republican governors willing to do anything to slow the spread of COVID-19? Right now, it looks like most of them would rather jump in the way of any action that officials in their states might take to fight the virus.

This is especially true in Florida, which continues to set records for coronavirus hospitalizations. On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis — a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 — basically vowed not to do anything about the situation. Indeed, the state's Department of Health is moving forward with implementing a law to fine businesses that require "vaccine passports." DeSantis is also blocking schools and government agencies from imposing mask mandates.

"We are not shutting down," DeSantis said. "We are going to have schools open. We are protecting every Floridian's job in this state. We are protecting people's small businesses."

President Biden on Tuesday called out DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for their obstructionism. "I say to these governors, please help," Biden said. "If you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives."

Not every conservative GOP governor is so obstinate, of course. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson seems to be looking for solutions for his hard-hit state, although he boxed himself in by signing a law banning mask mandates earlier in the pandemic. For the most part, though, it seems easier for Republican elected officials to maintain their popularity with the party's base by blocking action than by doing something productive about the crisis they face.

Perhaps that's a good way to win GOP primary elections. It's less certain, though, whether the broader electorate will reward ostentatious displays of anti-governance. Former President Donald Trump, after all, lost the White House largely because of his awful handling of the pandemic. And at least one recent poll shows DeSantis' standing is slipping with Florida voters. It's hard to imagine him winning a presidential nomination if he loses a gubernatorial election next year. Trying to mitigate the spread of COVID isn't just the right thing to do — in the long run, it's good politics.