By every measure, Ron DeSantis’ newest Covid gambit is a tragedy

Imagine Covid-19, eager to infect as many people as possible, was able to hire its own lobbying team. Then imagine the dangerous contagion’s lobbyists, eager to help their client infect as many people as possible, began pressing politicians on what to say and do with regard to public health policy.

In this fanciful hypothetical, we could probably imagine what the politicians would be told to say and do by Covid’s lobbyists. Officials would be encouraged to, among other things, question the efficacy of vaccines, while rejecting the findings of public health authorities.

Or put another way, if Covid-19 could hire its own lobbying team, it’d be delighted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his latest announcement. NBC News reported:

At a roundtable he convened of Covid vaccine skeptics and opponents — including his own surgeon general — he formally called on the state Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to investigate whether pharmaceutical companies criminally misled Floridians about the side effects of vaccines, a position at odds with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A Miami Herald report added that the Republican governor is also creating a new Public Health Integrity Committee, which will apparently include fringe figures who’ll be responsible for challenging the CDC’s and FDA’s policy recommendations.

If Covid were capable of feeling emotion, it’d likely be delighted.

In the not-too-distant past, the line from DeSantis and his allies was that he simply opposed government mandates. He wasn’t anti-science or anti-vaccine, the argument went, the governor simply wants people to make their own choices without heavy handed requirements from Uncle Sam.

That argument has obviously run its course. The Florida Republican’s event yesterday appeared designed to undermine public confidence, not only in public health experts, but in vaccines themselves.

The result is a public health disaster: As the holidays approach, it’s important for those in positions of authority to encourage Americans to do the responsible thing. Yesterday morning, new research found that Covid vaccines have saved more than 3 million lives in the United States, and common sense suggests governors would take this opportunity to remind their constituents about the importance of Americans protecting themselves and those around them.

And yet, a few hours after that research was released, DeSantis held his dangerously misguided event.

It’s difficult to predict how many Floridians will suffer as a result of the governor’s gambit, but it’s safe to say the total will be too many.

Adding insult to injury — in this instance, in a rather literal sense — there’s an obvious political dimension to all of this.

DeSantis’ far-right line on Covid — including the appointment of a radical state surgeon general who’s been derided as a “Covid crank,” his condemnations of Dr. Anthony Fauci, his campaigns against educators and businesses, his rejection of CDC recommendations for protecting children, etc. — has made him a hero to much of the right. Indeed, while Donald Trump is afraid to even use the word “vaccine” around his own followers, Florida’s far-right governor has positioned himself well to the right of the former president.

The public health toll will be indefensible, but DeSantis’ national ambitions are likely to get a boost — and that’s a tradeoff the Republican is pleased to embrace.