DeSantis, Idalia
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) speaks during a press briefing at Pinellas County Emergency Management, in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia, soon expected to become a major hurricane to make landfall along the Florida Gulf Coast, Monday. Photo credit: © Martha Asencio-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire

Idalia will likely kill many Floridians and undoubtedly rob countless families of everything they have, but the storm presents a massive opportunity for one resident of the state: Ron DeSantis, whose campaign has been faltering ever since it began.

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UPDATED AUGUST 31, 2023 — In the story below, we described Hurricane Idalia and its aftermath as an opportunity for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to portray himself as a true leader who can transcend partisanship. He managed to do so for about twelve hours before he made things political and tried to play a tough guy by warning that his state’s Second Amendment proponents would shoot looters.

For DeSantis, Hurricane Idalia Hits at the Right Time

AUGUST 30, 2023 — For all intents and purposes, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) paused his presidential campaign earlier this week to lead his state through the emergency that Hurricane Idalia brought to its shores Wednesday morning. In reality, however, the next few days will probably be the most important of his political life.

While Idalia will likely kill many Floridians and undoubtedly rob countless families of everything they have, the storm presents a massive opportunity for one resident of the state: DeSantis, whose campaign has been faltering ever since it began.

If he wants to have any chance of resurrecting his presidential aspirations, he has to do a great job in steering the Sunshine State through this disaster. Not just a capable job or a good job — he has to be great.

A hurricane provides him with the perfect opportunity. He already failed another crisis in his state: the murder of three Black people in Jacksonville earlier this week. There, the odds were stacked against him because his own policies, especially pertaining to education and voting rights, are rightfully viewed as racist.  

And he certainly didn’t help himself by saying that maybe some slaves benefited from their plight because they learned how to be blacksmiths. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he was booed in Jacksonville when he addressed a crowd after the murders. It’s not a good look, and it reminded everybody of his policies and made them wonder whether they contributed to such a hateful act.

Idalia is completely different.

In fact, it could not be a more perfect disaster for DeSantis.

First of all, he gets to be the hero in this tale and not the villain. For a couple of days, the national spotlight will be on him for once and not on Donald Trump. In a primary field in which the former president sucks up all of the oxygen in the room, that is the rarest of opportunities.

Next, DeSantis gets to display the one thing that every American wants from a presidential candidate: leadership.

He gets to stand in front of cameras in gear that looks as though he just pulled puppies out of the water and give Floridians and the rest of the country the impression that he has got a handle on things. If he pulls it off, these are images that will stick with Americans… also because his campaign will undoubtedly make commercials out of them.

And, while Idalia is a massive storm, it is also not too massive, which means it will probably not result in the major casualties that would have been the result if it had been bigger or hit elsewhere.

If a few people are dead, then the public will probably blame them. Maybe they didn’t heed an evacuation order or did something stupid when they were told to stay inside.

If hundreds die, however, the public is much more likely to blame the government because that looks as though something went wrong.

While it is obviously still too early to tell, there are no indications right now that Idalia has caused an extreme loss of life. And, so far, DeSantis seems to have done a perfectly fine job.

Finally, a hurricane is nonpolitical. It kills indiscriminately and destroys the property of Republicans and Democrats alike. That’s probably good news for DeSantis, who has been trying to politicize everything he does as governor.

That, however, hasn’t worked. It hasn’t made Republicans like him more, but it has made everybody else like him less.

A natural disaster allows him to transcend politics for once. There will be no opportunity to invoke wokeness or any of that other nonsense he likes to drone on about. In the best case for DeSantis, he would get to direct his emergency response teams to save a library or two to show that he can do more than ban books. It would be even better for him if some theme parks were hit and he would get to offer his nemesis Disney “all the help it needs as one of our state’s most important employers.”

Even without such fortuitous breaks, DeSantis has an opportunity that almost no other presidential candidate ever gets.

Only a governor gets this kind of stage with this kind of responsibility, and few of those need to steer their states through a similar catastrophe.

For example, there is no conceivable disaster that would require Vivek Ramaswamy’s skill of speaking nonsensically yet passionately about issues he seems to have very little grasp of. There is no opportunity for a senator like Tim Scott or for former governors like Nikki Haley or Chris Christie to shine right now.

Mike Pence already had his moment of heroism while the nation was watching. His problem is that Republican voters don’t appreciate that he did the right thing on January 6.

No, this is unique.

And for DeSantis, that reset he has been hoping for? It’s here.  


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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