'A big fat target': Analysis explains how DeSantis could use the COVID-19 pandemic as a 2024 'secret weapon'
A new analysis is explaining how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) could use the COVID-19 pandemic to his advantage if he opts to run for president in 2024.
"The federal COVID response has become a red-meat issue for the party's base, and DeSantis' 2020 actions are much more aligned with the GOP's tone today," Axios’ Caitlin Owens reports.
Owens also noted that the Republican governor has admitted he wished he'd pushed back against Donald Trump and his administration during the critical moments when he disagreed with the former president's course of action in responding to the pandemic. As Owens notes, this includes "the Trump administration's calls for lockdowns early on in the pandemic."
Multiple political strategists weighed in with their predictions about a possible 2024 presidential run for DeSantis, explaining why COVID could be a key platform issue for the Florida governor.
Republican strategist Alex Conant, who worked with Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) election campaign back in 2016, noted how DeSantis' conservative values appear to align more with the party.
"DeSantis is a conservative rock star in large part because of how he handled COVID in Florida," said Conant. "He'll certainly make the implicit contrast with Trump. Whether he makes an explicit contrast at some point depends on how the campaign plays out."
A number of other strategists also pointed out different ways DeSantis could use the pandemic against Trump. Brendan Buck, a former adviser to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, recalled the COVID shutdown in 2020 and how Trump initially aligned with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who Republicans have widely condemned.
"He introduced the country to Dr. Fauci, and the far right is not going to forget that. Not that Trump handled the pandemic like Dr. Fauci would have wanted him to, but if you're looking at a way to hit him from the right, that's a big fat target," said Buck.
Although Trump was widely popular among Republican voters, Conant noted that the COVID-19 pandemic response was the biggest drawback of his presidency.
"Trump's handling of COVID is clearly one of the president's biggest vulnerabilities with independent voters and conservative voters for very different reasons," Conant said. "No one is going to forget putting bleach in bodies and downplaying the initial threat, and conservatives won't forgive him for pushing some of the more restrictive policies.”
Matt Gorman, a former Republican campaign operative, also offered a brief take on how the political battle could play out. "Trump benefits if you're chasing him down every rabbit role and fighting with him everywhere. If you be strategic and fight with him on terms favorable to your candidacy, that is where you can take advantage of him," said Gorman.
"COVID is one of those examples where, when it comes to DeSantis, where he could fight him on favorable ground," Gorman added.
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