Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis really wants to be president of the United States in 2024. But, the model he’s following—that of a failed, twice impeached, mean-spirited, one-term president—feels outdated and tired now.
It’s the model of an authoritarian politician who bullies and performs. In fact, it’s all a performance for DeSantis, especially when it comes to COVID-19. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he rails against vaccines and masks and bitches and complains when he doesn’t get more money for his unfounded treatments.
So when he strode out to the podium for a press conference at the University of South Florida Wednesday, it wasn’t a big surprise when he bullied seven high school students standing on stage wearing masks.
“You do not have to wear those masks,” the governor said in front of a slew of the press. “I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we’ve gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”
DeSantis is one to talk about “COVID theater,” as that’s all the pandemic has been for the governor, while his constituents died of the virus in record numbers.
Dawn Marshall’s son Eric was one of the students who removed his mask after DeSantis’ comments.
She told CBS17 in Tampa, Florida, that her son felt pressured because the governor is an authority figure, so he removed his mask.
Marshall added that she’s still angry about it.
“He pretty much said, ‘Take off your mask, it’s stupid. Take off your mask, your parents don’t matter.’ Even though I’m telling you parents matter and he’s telling my minor child to take off his mask. He’s putting us at risk. Oh yeah, I was upset. Very upset,” she said
Kevin Brown Sr., whose son was among the seven students standing on stage, says that despite the fact that the governor’s message was to "stop bullying kids,” that’s exactly what he himself did.
"His mother tells him to wear the mask," he told WFLA. "I tell him it's his choice, so he made that choice and the governor has no right to tell no kid or no one that they can or can't wear a mask. He doesn't have that right."
Remember, this is the same guy who proclaimed he was "taking a stand against critical race theory” in Florida schools and in the workplace by enacting the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act," or the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.” Not to mention his support for the Parental Rights in Education proposal, colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
DeSantis is all for anything that muzzles people from speaking the truth—from banning American history under the guise of banning critical race theory (CRT), to voter suppression in Black and brown communities, to peddling misinformation about vaccines and masks as mitigation for COVID-19, to ignoring racist Nazi rallies in his state, to the latest subjugation of the LGBTQ community in classrooms.
Even Trump doesn’t particularly like DeSantis. In January, during an interview with One America News, Trump kinda threw him under the bus over the COVID-19 booster shot.
“Well, I’ve taken it,” said Trump plainly. “I’ve had the booster. Many politicians—I watched a couple of politicians be interviewed and one of the questions was, ‘Did you get the booster?’ Because they had the vaccine, and they’re answering like—in other words, the answer is ‘yes’ but they don’t want to say it. Because they’re gutless. You gotta say it, whether you had it or not. Say it. But the fact is that I think the vaccines saved tens of millions throughout the world. I’ve had absolutely no side effects.”