OXON HILL, Md.—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his anti-lockdown policies during the COVID-19 pandemic as the key to Florida’s post-pandemic economic success, slamming the ideology of former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci as “Fauci-ism.”
Speaking Friday at The Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit, DeSantis also subtly criticized former President Donald Trump, who has accused the Republican governor of closing down his state “for a long period of time.”
DeSantis noted that after he won the Florida Governor’s Mansion by a razor-thin margin in 2018, analysts told him to tread lightly, “to trim my sails, not to rock the boat, kind of keep my head down.”
He rejected that advice, DeSantis said, and went on to “get ahead of public opinion” and “advance a conservative agenda that would take Florida in a great direction.”
“I have never consulted a poll about any decision I’ve made,” DeSantis said. He criticized Republicans who “get into office and they’re almost like potted plants. They don’t want to do anything with the authority that they have.”
“My view is we gotta go on offense,” he said. “We need to be raising issues when other people are avoiding to do it. And we are not going to worry about what the Left and the media say about us. We are going to do what is right.”
The Florida governor touted his massive electoral landslide in 2022, winning by over 1.5 million votes, with 60% of the Hispanic vote, flipping “blue urban counties like Miami-Dade red” by double digits. He touted victories in the Florida Legislature and in school board races, and the fact that for “the first time since the Civil War era, there was not one single solitary Democrat elected to statewide office in the Sunshine State.”
DeSantis insisted that politics “is about producing results,” and claimed that “we have produced results that have been second to none throughout this country.”
Florida is the fastest-growing state in the country, leading the nation in net migration every year since DeSantis took office as governor. It leads the nation in new business formations, in education freedom, and in parental involvement in education.
DeSantis touted the Sunshine State’s freedom from a state income tax, recommending the policy for Maryland and Virginia. He also celebrated Florida’s status holding “the second-lowest state per capita tax burden in the United States” and “the second-lowest per capita debt burden,” noting that his administration has accumulated “the largest budget surplus in the history of the state of Florida by a country mile.”
“Now, none of that would have been possible had we not been the ones [who remained calm] when the world went mad during COVID, when common sense suddenly became an uncommon virtue,” the governor declared. “We in Florida stood as a refuge of sanity, as a citadel of freedom for people in our state … coming in from other states and even people that came from around the world to escape what was going on in their states or their countries.”
“We refused to let our state descend into some type of Faucian dystopia where people’s livelihoods were destroyed and their freedoms were curtailed,” DeSantis said. “No, we chose freedom over Fauci-ism, and I think it’s important.”
The governor touted policies focused on “keeping people employed businesses viable, making sure kids can be in school, banning vaccine passports, banning COVID shot mandates for schoolchildren, and, of course, saving people’s jobs for those who did not want to take the mRNA shot.”
“Every time we needed to step up, we did,” DeSantis added.
Then DeSantis got in a subtle dig at Trump, who has attacked the Florida governor since announcing his 2024 presidential candidacy. DeSantis has yet to enter the race, but he has traveled to the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, signaling a likely presidential run.
“I think it’s important that people aren’t allowed to rewrite history about any of this,” the governor said. “Fauci-ism was wrong. Fauci-ism was destructive. Fauci-ism was responsible for students being locked out of school throughout this country for a year. Fauci-ism was responsible for people being forced to take backs, Fauci-ism was responsible for putting us on a path to some of the economic problems that we see now.”
“We can never let that happen to our country again,” he added.
DeSantis did not mention Trump by name, but the former president previously has attacked him on COVID-19.
“There are Republican governors that did not close their states,” Trump said in January, CNN reported. “Florida was closed for a long period of time.”
In March, Axios reported on Trump’s five-part strategy against DeSantis, who poses the greatest risk to Trump’s victory in the GOP primaries, early polls show. The former president reportedly plans to continue to attack DeSantis on COVID-19, focusing on the early days of the pandemic, when DeSantis did briefly order lockdowns.
Yet DeSantis reopened schools earlier than other states, opposed vaccine mandates, and refused to reimpose restrictions after the early COVID-19 outbreak.
Trump has accused DeSantis of attempting to “rewrite history,” and DeSantis’ remark Friday appears to be an attempt to turn the tables in the debate.
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