DeSantis vs. Trump on COVID Response: Who's Right?

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

The COVID pandemic was an impossible situation for Donald Trump. The economy was doing great, and Democrat efforts to take him down had failed. He was coasting to reelection, and it seemed everyone knew it.

Even now, with Trump running for president again, his decisions during the pandemic are being attacked from within the GOP—namely from Ron DeSantis. As someone who likes both candidates and would vote enthusiastically for either in the general election, I think this line of attack is somewhat unfair.

When the pandemic hit, the Democrats and the mainstream media saw an opportunity to take Trump down, and he most certainly knew that everything he did would be scrutinized. Trump may have been the one to make the final call on various decisions, but he was making decisions based on the advice of his advisors. During a pandemic, your medical advisors are the ones you listen to. One of the most significant recommendations Anthony Fauci made to Trump was to impose lockdowns. Trump didn’t want to shut down the country but was advised to do so. As leaders of a nation, presidents must navigate complex policy decisions over a wide array of issues, and it’s impossible to be an expert in every domain. Presidents assemble teams of advisors with diverse knowledge and experience. Fauci, as the longtime head of the NIAID, was his top COVID advisor.

Yes, we know now the lockdown didn’t do any good; presidents are not immune to receiving bad advice. Barack Obama’s economic advisors claimed that the economic stimulus package of 2009 would create jobs and keep the unemployment rate below 8%. Instead, the unemployment rate hit 10%, and all the stimulus seemed to do was create record debt and give us the longest economic recovery in history behind the Great Depression.

“I think [Trump] did great for three years, but when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020, that destroyed millions of people’s lives,” DeSantis said last week. “And in Florida, we were one of the few that stood up, cut against the grain, took incoming fire from media, bureaucracy, the left, even a lot of Republicans, had schools open, preserved businesses.”

We have the benefit of hindsight now, and it’s clear that the lockdowns didn’t slow the spread of COVID and did more harm than good. I blame Fauci for that. I can’t pretend that Trump was a health expert who shouldn’t have trusted Fauci. Virtually everyone did in the beginning, and even DeSantis offered some praise for Fauci in the early weeks of the pandemic. As early as May 2020, DeSantis sought to reopen Florida, and Trump also spoke out against the lockdowns and was pushing to reopen the economy and even criticized Fauci. At this point, it was up to the states to resolve, and many did, like Florida and Texas.

Trump and DeSantis were no different. They assumed early on that medical officials were keeping politics out of their decision-making, and rather quickly pushed for things to reopen. Trump is wrong to accuse DeSantis of managing the pandemic worse than Andrew Cuomo, and DeSantis is wrong to imply that Trump should’ve known from the get-go not to take Fauci’s advice. Both men should be using this opportunity to push for the de-politicization of our medical bureaucracy, not attacking each other for how they handled an impossible situation.


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