Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis found himself listening to President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech when grappling with how the state should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During an exclusive town hall with Newsmax and the hosts of Newsmax TV's “Spicer & Co.” Sean Spicer and Lyndsay Keith, DeSantis told residents of The Villages, a large retirement community, that Eisenhower’s warning of science and government becoming more intertwined made him quickly realize that leaders “can’t just simply let policy be captive to whatever some credentialed expert says.”
Audience members praised DeSantis for the way he navigated the state through the pandemic by protecting seniors, children in schools, religious liberties, and the economy.
One attendee said he would grade DeSantis’ job performance an A plus.
When asked about what advice he has shared with other governors regarding Florida’s coronavirus response, DeSantis said he would tell them to look at the data themselves rather than “subcontract leadership out to some health bureaucrats” who wanted to “close everything indefinitely.”
DeSantis wasn’t afraid to go against the grain when it came to reopening businesses, schools, and prioritizing seniors throughout the pandemic.
“We were the first state to put seniors first for vaccines,” he said. “That was actually against CDC recommendations.”
He scoffed at the health agency for claiming it wasn’t “equitable” to give vaccine doses to seniors first because they “weren’t diverse enough.”
“Are you kidding me?” he said, adding he knew his job was to save lives and that meant getting the vaccine to seniors as fast as possible.
“Ultimately, leadership is about making tough decisions, being willing to lean in against the media, and the narratives, and all the other nonsense that percolated in this country when COVID came,” he said.
It was all applause in the audience when DeSantis rattled off a list of moves he made to protect seniors like not sending infected patients back to their nursing home residences like the state of New York did early on in the pandemic.
“We were the first state to protect nursing homes,” DeSantis said. “We were the first state to say we are going back to school and we are going back to work. All of those decisions were the right decisions, but all of those decisions cut against what a majority of the bureaucrats and the ‘experts’ said we should have done.”
He said Florida’s coronavirus response was rooted in the fact that the virus was impacting seniors who needed to be protected and he didn’t want to sacrifice an entire generation of kids by locking down schools or hurting people’s livelihoods by closing down businesses.
“A leader has got to take a cognizance of everything going on in society, all of these different competing factors, and then you make decisions,” he said.
And while some politicians may feel it is “politically safer” to "hide behind the health bureaucrats,” he said he was the one who Florida voters elected to make decisions.
DeSantis said he wasn’t “close minded” to what health experts recommended, but also noted that they have “been wrong time and time again” throughout the course of the pandemic.
In eliminating Draconian lockdowns, DeSantis said the state’s unemployment rate of 4.7% is way below the national average of 6%.
If the cruising industry is permitted to reopen, he said that would result in at least 10,000 more jobs.
He also pointed out that Florida, unlike many other states, never closed churches or places of worship amid the pandemic. He railed against states that shut down churches but opened casinos or liquor stores.
“We lean on the faith community to advance things that are good for Florida,” he said.
Coming out of the pandemic, he said Florida’s future is “really bright.”
But he reminded the audience that the oasis he helped create this past year could have gone the opposite direction had he lost the 2018 election.
He won the governorship by a mere half of a percentage point. Had a Democrat won the job, he said the state “would have been a total disaster” with kids locked out of schools, nursing homes unprotected from the virus, and higher unemployment rates.
“I work harder than any governor, and I am going to continue to work harder than any governor for our state,” he said.
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