On Tuesday, President Joe Biden blasted a bill moving through the Florida Legislature that would ban some conversations about sexuality and gender issues from the classroom, calling it “hateful” and telling those affected that “you are loved and accepted just as you are.”
It was a striking response from the White House to a hot-button issue playing out in a single state. But it also wasn’t the first time that Biden and his allies have gone after Florida and its Republican governor, Ron DeSantis – though it’s often been on the issue of how best to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
In August, Biden publicly called out DeSantis for refusing to take mitigation measures while cases soared in the Sunshine State.
“If some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” Biden said. “I say to these governors, please help. If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of people who are trying to do the right thing.”
That provoked a lengthy response from DeSantis that included the governor telling the President that he didn’t want to “hear a blip about COVID from you, thank you,” and adding, “Why don’t you do your job?”
To which Biden responded: “Governor who? That’s my response.”
As Politico wrote of the back-and-forth at the time:
“For the past two weeks, Biden and his allies have publicly escalated a war of words and with DeSantis on Twitter, in speeches by the president and in White House press briefings. … Amid the Covid explosion, DeSantis’ constant criticisms as well as his controversial policies and a barrage of media questions about the governor, White House advisers say Biden and the team had no choice but to take on the Republican. But the president has seldom gone to such lengths to train so much fire on a critic other than Trump.”
No other governor in the country has continually drawn Biden’s ire and attention like DeSantis. And that is a very, very good thing for the Florida governor.
DeSantis has done little to quiet talk that he is interested in running for president – either in 2024 or beyond. (Unlike many of his potential rivals, DeSantis has so far refused to say he wouldn’t run in 2024 if Donald Trump was in the race.)
And one of the best ways to convince base voters that you have the stuff to be president is to fight it out with the current occupant of the White House, who is deeply unpopular within the GOP. The more headlines that include both Biden and DeSantis, the better news it is for DeSantis’ presidential hopes.
He’s already distinguished himself as the most popular Republican in the country not named Donald Trump. At a straw poll conducted at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last summer, DeSantis took 68% of the vote on a ballot that did not include Trump. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in second with 5%, followed by Donald Trump Jr. and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 4% each, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem with 3%. (In the straw poll vote that included Trump, the former President took 70%. DeSantis came in second with 21%, the ONLY candidate not named Trump who got more than 1%.)
Every time Biden goes after either DeSantis or something that Republicans in Florida are doing, the governor only gets that much more popular among the party’s base. It’s the whole enemy-of-my-enemy thing.
So, look for DeSantis to continue to pick every fight he can with Biden in hopes he can coax the president to attack him. In an interview with Fox conducted earlier this week, DeSantis said that Biden had the “worst first year of any president since the 1800s,” adding: “People compare him to Jimmy Carter. Carter was much more successful his first year than Biden has been.”
Remember this: Every time Biden says DeSantis’ name, it’s a win for the Florida governor. And at least on that front, he’s had a lot of wins over the past year.