Florida Governor Ron DeSantis navigated Hurricane Idalia and its potential political implications this week, as residents of the state were spared from a devastating blow. DeSantis' successful response to Hurricane Ian last year played a significant role in his reelection victory, and he hoped to replicate this success in handling Idalia. The reopening of a major bridge just three days after Hurricane Ian serves as evidence of DeSantis' effective administration skills, which he frequently cites on the campaign trail. As Hurricane Idalia approached, DeSantis suspended his campaign to focus on overseeing the state's response.
By Thursday, the storm had passed Florida, causing significant property damage but relatively few deaths. DeSantis' advisers and donors privately expressed that a successful hurricane response could potentially help him close the gap with former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024. Republican strategists praised DeSantis for his handling of the storm so far, emphasizing that the true test lies in the post-storm recovery process.
Throughout the crisis, DeSantis has remained active on social media and held multiple press conferences per day, highlighting his interactions with emergency response officials. He has also been careful to separate the hurricane from presidential politics, emphasizing the need for unity and cooperation during life-threatening situations. Despite his focus on the storm, DeSantis has continued to engage with his supporters, asking for donations to help kick off his return to the campaign trail.
The successful management of a major storm is crucial for politicians seeking office, and Hurricane Idalia presented an opportunity for DeSantis to showcase his leadership skills on a national stage. The aftermath of a major storm can leave lasting impressions on voters, as demonstrated by the image of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie embracing former President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy. While this moment of bipartisanship initially benefited Christie, it later became a point of criticism during his campaign.
DeSantis' ability to empathize with those affected by Idalia's devastation could significantly impact his public image. His interactions with President Joe Biden, who he has spoken to multiple times in recent days, demonstrate his willingness to collaborate and prioritize the needs of Floridians. DeSantis and Biden's conversations have focused on providing support and resources to those in harm's way, with both leaders emphasizing that their discussions are not driven by political calculations.
The governor's mansion in Tallahassee did not escape the storm unscathed, as an old oak tree split and collapsed on the grounds. DeSantis' wife, Casey DeSantis, shared an image of the fallen tree on social media, expressing gratitude that no one was injured. The full extent of the damage caused by Idalia is yet to be determined, as storm surges and heavy flooding have made assessment challenging.
Ultimately, DeSantis' handling of the recovery process will determine the long-term impact on his political prospects. The mismanagement of the recovery process following Hurricane Katrina contributed to significant losses for Republicans in the 2008 congressional and presidential elections. Conversely, successful management of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Irma, helped Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott in his bid for the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, Democratic President Barack Obama's response to Superstorm Sandy boosted his 2012 re-election campaign.
As DeSantis continues to navigate the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, he faces the possibility of further controversies. His previous conflicts with the state's Black residents and criticisms over a new history curriculum have already drawn widespread criticism. Nevertheless, if DeSantis continues to handle the recovery process effectively, it may improve his chances in the Republican primary against frontrunner Donald Trump.
themes: Joe Biden Barack Obama Donald Trump Florida New Jersey