A Tale of Two Governors: DeSantis Was Vindicated and Cuomo Lied | Opinion

Last spring and summer, two governors supposedly epitomized everything that was both right and wrong in American politics. But the contrast between the prevailing narratives about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis then and now tells us more than a simple story about the declining circumstances of one and the rising star of the other.

Cuomo is fighting for his political life while beset by serious charges of responsibility for several thousand deaths of senior citizens because of his coronavirus pandemic decisions, as well as accusations of sexual harassment by three former female staffers. Meanwhile, DeSantis' much-criticized COVID response record is now looking good, by comparison, with that of Cuomo and other lockdown-happy Democratic governors. He's also assumed a position as the Republican most likely to inherit the mantle of Donald Trump as his party's 2024 standard-bearer, should the former president choose not to run again.

But this reversal of fortune is also a commentary on the bias of a partisan press that did its best to besmirch DeSantis' record while also choosing to look away from the evidence in plain sight of Cuomo's deadly COVID mistakes.

Though critics of his pandemic record, such as Fox News meteorologist Janice Dean, had been trying to call attention to the link between Cuomo's fatal decision to order recovering COVID patients to be sent into nursing homes and the resulting mass deaths that followed, the New York governor spent most of 2020 as a mainstream media idol. His supposedly strong yet compassionate leadership of the state that was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic was widely cheered at the time, while his press conferences were treated as must-see TV for a country reeling at the pandemic's outset.

Cuomo won a special Emmy for his pressers, as well as a book contract from a major publisher to discuss his "leadership lessons"—all while in the middle of the crisis. Throw in frequent appearances on his brother Chris's primetime CNN show in which his reputation was further lauded and, at the very least, all of this set him up for an easy run in 2022 to pursue the goal that had eluded his famous father Mario: a fourth consecutive term as governor.

DeSantis, by contrast, was put down as a mindless follower of President Donald Trump and an antagonist of national COVID icon Dr. Anthony Fauci. DeSantis' decision to make Florida one of the first states to lift sprawling lockdowns was denounced as a fatal mistake that would lead to many unnecessary deaths.

Like most Democrats, Cuomo embraced the lockdowns and the vast power grabs that the lockdowns enabled. DeSantis, whether following Trump's lead or just his own instincts, was slower than most governors to order a lockdown and then proceeded to lift it as soon as possible. That left the Florida governor vulnerable to Fauci's charges that his eagerness to open up his state's economy would lead to a disproportionate number of deaths from the virus.

But a year later, even publications like The New York Times are grudgingly admitting that the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the difference between Cuomo's adherence to more stringent lockdowns and DeSantis' impulse to open up as quickly as possible do not support the conclusion that the former yielded better results. To the contrary, Florida's death rate per thousand is 50 percent lower than that of New York despite having a population that is, on average, much older and therefore more vulnerable to contagion.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida did not emerge unscathed from the ordeal. But the point about the statistics is that DeSantis' record was not worse than those of the Democratic governors who ordered far more drastic lockdowns and stuck with them long after it was clear they weren't sparing their states from the pandemic's vicissitudes. By opening up his state as quickly as possible and keeping it open despite the urgings of Fauci and others to re-impose lockdowns last fall, Florida's economy has emerged from the nightmare in better shape than other large states and, according to DeSantis, has also led to a population ingress from fleeing Californians and New Yorkers.

The GOP base likes DeSantis for being an unwavering Trump loyalist, but his pandemic record wasn't flawless. Still, the fact that the toll of the disease in the state with the country's second-oldest population was no worse than those governed by Democratic lockdown extremists like Cuomo, New Jersey's Phil Murphy, Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer and California's Gavin Newsom makes DeSantis appear as something of a hero to Republicans.

Just as important, DeSantis' decision not to force recovering COVID patients back into nursing homes produced far fewer deaths than in New York, where Cuomo's infamous March 25, 2020 order forcing them back into those facilities led to slaughter.

Although Cuomo's blunder was already being debated and criticized last spring, it remained largely a non-story in most of the mainstream media while the Cuomo brothers joked on CNN. The New York governor was still basking in the glow of being acclaimed the "gold standard" of pandemic leadership by then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. While Dean never let up in her campaign to hold Cuomo accountable for his mistake, most of the media ignored her accusations.

It was not until New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a report last month that Cuomo might have underestimated the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent that he began to feel any real heat. His problems soon worsened when an aide admitted that his staff had deliberately altered a report about the nursing home deaths to undercount the total in order to shield Cuomo from scrutiny.

Cuomo's deceptions about the nursing home deaths puts the lie to the claim that his pandemic record was a contrast to Trump's incompetence. But it's also an indictment of all those media outlets that refused to listen to Dean and other Cuomo critics. Rather than investigating the issue with the same scrutiny they gave to every Trump scandal, real or imagined, outlets like the Times treated the question of Cuomo's responsibility for several thousand unnecessary deaths with not much more than the same lack of curiosity they showed when evidence of Hunter Biden's influence-peddling was revealed during the fall campaign.

While James' report and the subsequent admissions of lying by Cuomo's staff are finally being covered, they were quickly overshadowed by the stories about the governor's apparent pattern of sleazy behavior toward young female employees. While those accusations are serious, that pile-on can't make up for the media's failure to question Cuomo's coronavirus record in a more timely fashion. Nor can the subsequent calls for Cuomo's resignation from some of his fellow Democrats excuse their willingness to play along with the myths about his competence and virtue so long as it served their partisan interests. With Trump out of the picture, Cuomo's reputation ceased being a cudgel to wield against Republicans, leaving him to face credible charges of fatal blunders and sexual misconduct without the media bodyguards that previously protected him from too much scrutiny.

What this tale of two governors teaches us is not so much a lesson about cover-ups and #MeToo charges. It's that a highly partisan press demonized DeSantis regardless of the truth about his deeds and treated Cuomo as largely untouchable until the shifting political landscape rendered expendable his pose as an iconic anti-Trump foil.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.