The DeSantis “Freedom Over Fauci” ad

“This is just so stupid,” said Joe Scarborough of this spot. “I guess stupid people will like the ad.”

I wouldn’t say I “like” it but I do think it’s effective.

Dishonest, but effective.

It’s not totally dishonest. Fauci really has flip-flopped for indefensible reasons during the pandemic, more than once. His most infamous switch was his early change of heart on masks, when he told Americans they were ineffective against the virus because he wanted to protect the available supply for medical workers and then changed his mind once cloth masks became readily available.

Although that wasn’t really a “flip-flop.” It was an outright lie, one told for what Fauci believed was a good cause. In that sense, the ad went too easy on him.

But it’s too hard on him too, for reasons Scarborough articulates:

“The stupidity in this one is very strong,” Scarborough said of the ad.

He continued, “I thought his ads four years ago were the dumbest ads I’ve ever seen — where he’s reading Donald Trump bedtime stories to his baby. Boy, I bet he’s sorry he did that now, but this is just so stupid. I guess stupid people will like the ad. I don’t know. Maybe P.T. Barnum was right — a sucker is born every day, but to attack a guy because, well, the realities of a virus change, as the virus changes, as the virus moves, as the virus, you know, mutates, it just, again, the height of stupidity. It got him elected last time. I suppose it will get him elected again this time, but just, again, so stupid it should make your teeth hurt.”

It’s not the height of stupidity but it might be the height of cynicism. Some of the soundbites in the ad, with Fauci telling the vaccinated at one point that they can unmask and later that they should keep masking, are from different stages of the pandemic. Last May, when Alpha was the dominant variant and much of the public was freshly vaccinated, it made sense that the vaxxed didn’t need to mask up. They weren’t getting infected much and weren’t transmitting the virus much when they did.

Then immunity began to wane and Delta came along. The vaccinated started getting infected and infecting others. So Fauci’s advice changed. Shouldn’t it have? Should he be telling people now to avoid masks for the sake of consistency with his position in May of last year after everyone’s become a potential carrier of Omicron?

The ad is a microcosm of DeSantis’s evolving approach to the pandemic, straining to frame all COVID policies as a choice between “freedom” and “Faucism.” The origins of that lie in the excellent decision he made in the summer of 2020 to keep schools open because the data showed kids were at little risk of serious illness if infected, probably the single best policy choice made by a governor during the pandemic. Righties applauded him for that, as they should have. But he faltered with some of them in mid-2021 when he endorsed vaccination a little too effusively to suit some anti-vax populists. So he corrected course and tried to atone to them with a “freedom, not Fauci” agenda. Schools open, no state mandates of any sort, no local mandates allowed by order of the governor, no demands for proof of vaccination allowed even by private entities, lots of heavy breathing about a “Faucian biomedical security state.”

He’s backed so far away from touting vaccination now that he won’t answer questions about his own booster status.

It didn’t have to be that way. He could have taken the same “no state or local mandates” approach while letting private employers do what they like. And he could have kept encouraging — without requiring — people to get vaxxed and wear an N95 in the name of reducing community spread. But that would have confounded the simplistic “freedom, not Fauci” pitch aimed at winning him populist votes in case he decides to primary Trump in 2024 after all. Which is what this is fundamentally about.

But like I said, the ad is effective. Especially when there are officials out there still spouting insanity like this:

“I have not been thinking about a maskless classroom,” Prince George’s County Public Schools’ CEO Monica Goldson said in Capitol Heights, WTOP reported. “The only classroom I’ve been thinking about is one where teaching and learning takes places from the time the kids walk in until the time they leave.”

“The only off-ramp I want is the one where COVID no longer exists,” Goldson said. “I don’t think that that off-ramp will exist. I think this is how our life will be … and we’re showing that we’re adaptable and we can make whatever necessary changes so that we can keep our students learning and safe.”

Fauci himself gave up long ago on the dream of eradicating COVID, but not all liberals have. Which is why I’d guess the “freedom, not Faucism” pitch appeals even to independents and some Democrats in Florida. Remember this poll from Trafalgar a few days ago?

Close to 60 percent of independents nationally are ready to see Fauci off into retirement. That being so, it’s smart of DeSantis to frame the choice for Floridians this fall as between him and Fauci instead of between him and some random Democrat. If he can turn the gubernatorial race into a referendum on whether Americans want to move on from COVID or not, he’ll win by double digits.

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