Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is facing a critical moment in his presidential campaign as he deals with the challenges of responding to a hurricane and campaigning. This one-two punch is testing his leadership and ability to govern through crises.
First, a shooting in Jacksonville left three Black people dead in a racist hate crime. Shortly after, Hurricane Idalia hit Florida’s Big Bend region as a Category 3 storm, causing widespread devastation. These emergencies have forced DeSantis off the campaign trail and given him an opportunity to demonstrate his competence under pressure.
Republican strategist Alex Conant emphasized the importance of executive leadership during a disaster and praised DeSantis for his handling of Hurricane Idalia. He believes that DeSantis’ focus on competent leadership is what won him re-election and will resonate with voters.
These crises come at a crucial time for DeSantis, who is facing concerns about his campaign. He is trailing behind former President Donald Trump, the dominant frontrunner in the race, and has faced multiple campaign leadership shake-ups. The super PAC supporting his candidacy has also halted its operations in key states, indicating further trouble.
Despite these challenges, DeSantis has managed to appease some donors with his performance during the first primary debate, where he avoided attacks and contentious exchanges. However, others have been put off by his focus on inflammatory issues and his far-right positions.
In an effort to pivot away from the cultural war issues that have defined his campaign, DeSantis has projected the image of a competent manager and leader who can work across party lines. He has prioritized the needs of the people during the storm, emphasizing that this is not the time for politics.
During press briefings, DeSantis has maintained a measured tone, providing factual information, expressing gratitude towards first responders, and urging residents to follow advisories. He has refrained from making political comments or attacking the press. However, he did warn potential looters, “you loot, we shoot.”
Meanwhile, DeSantis’ campaign has been highlighting his leadership through news conference clips and updates. The governor has also had multiple conversations with President Joe Biden, with both men praising each other’s responses.
When asked about Trump’s lack of a statement on the storm, DeSantis dismissed the concern, stating that his focus is on protecting the people of Florida and being prepared.
Overall, DeSantis is being tested on his ability to lead during a crisis while maintaining his campaign momentum.