DeSantis brands self as the anti-Fauci GOP presidential candidate, but that wasn't always case

The ongoing information war between Florida's governor and President Trump has led to an influx of old reciepts.

Published: June 2, 2023 11:20pm

GOP presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ascended to conservative folk hero status during the pandemic, bucking federal government guidance by keeping much of the state open amid lockdowns and dismissing masks as political theater. 

"No lockdowns in Florida. It's not going to happen," he said in March 2021, amid an approaching second wave of lockdowns. "We're not going to let anyone close schools. We're not going to let anyone take your jobs, and we're not going to let anyone close your business." 

But his pandemic response didn't always differ from that of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who helped lead the White House response in the Trump and Biden administrations and recommended shuttering schools and other public gather spaces as a way to prevent the spread of the virus.  

And while DeSantis now tries to cut a path for himself as the GOP candidate with the best pandemic credentials, he will ultimately have to get past front-running candidate former President Donald Trump, who has also made a brand of publicly criticizing Fauci's guidance.

"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 in announcing his presidential bid. 

To be sure, as the fast-spreading pandemic infiltrated the U.S., Trump indeed turned to Fauci, the country's top infectious disease scientist, to help lead the country's response. 

However, Trump eventually disagreed with Fauci's austere, big-government guidance, which included wearing masks, and grew tired of what the former president considered Fauci's outsized public persona in the crisis. 

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DeSantis’ criticism of Trump and Fauci hit an obstacle this week when comments resurfaced of DeSantis praising Dr. Fauci’s action at the beginning of the pandemic. 

One example was him saying in March 2020 that Fauci, then-Vice President Mike Pence, then-Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, and Dr. Deborah Birx, also a member of the Trump White House's Covid Response team, had so far "worked very hard."

"They’re really doing a good job," he continued. "It’s a tough, tough situation, but they’re working hard."

And on the same day DeSantis announced his run for president, Trump issued a press release with examples of what he thought further proved "DeSantis’ lying record on COVID."

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One example highlighted was when DeSantis, in March 2020, thanked Birx and Fauci for supporting a travel restriction.

"Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci agree; there is too high a risk that travelers from the NY Tri-State Area have been exposed to #COVID19," DeSantis tweeted. "I appreciate their support for my executive order requiring such individuals flying into FL to self-quarantine for 14 days."

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DeSantis’ team has responded by arguing Trump never fired Fauci, something DeSantis claims he would have done early on.

Others have pointed out that Trump defended Fauci from criticism early on and allowed him to stay in the administration.

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Vaccines have been another dispute between the political rivals.

Trump has pointed out that while he was in office, DeSantis supported his Operation Warp Speed program to get a vaccine made and approved as quickly as possible and said the vaccines were "saving lives."

In April of 2021, DeSantis received a vaccine and, throughout the pandemic, advocated for getting them to senior citizens.

"If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero," he said.

Vaccines have been a double-edged sword for Trump.

In the beginning of the pandemic, he likewise declared the vaccines were "safe and effective," and his administration referred to their development under OWS as a historic achievement.

But mandates for them – to maintain active military status and to return to such places as schools, restaurants, and offices – over time alienated voters who argued forcing them to get a shot was a health risk and violated their constitutional rights.  

More recently, Trump said in early-balloting state Iowa that "everybody wanted a vaccine at that time" but was "never" for mandates.

In November 2021, DeSantis outlawed vaccine mandates in his state.

On lockdowns

Despite locking down his state in April 2020, DeSantis announced by the end of that same month that a reopening process could begin, boasting that they’d "flatten[ed] the curve" or rising cases. By Sept. 25, the lockdown in Florida was lifted.

Opposing lockdowns has noticeably been a focus of DeSantis' campaign rhetoric.

In his campaign announcement video, he said Florida "chose facts over fear" and "held the line when freedom hung in the balance," appearing to clearly allude to the pressure by public health officials to continually push for lockdowns after Florida reopened.

Trump, in turn, points out that DeSantis, at least for some, "shut down" the state, even its beaches, unlike other Republican governors. 

Trump also said Florida was third in Covid deaths in the country, and that even "New York had fewer deaths!"

DeSantis called the charge "ridiculous," accused Trump of locking down the country, and called elevating New York’s Covid response a sign he’d “double down on his lockdowns."

Follow Addison on Twitter.

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