Trump Reverses Course on Cuomo Amid DeSantis Battle

Ron DeSantis' COVID-19 pandemic policies were worse than those implemented by former Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to Donald Trump against his new GOP presidential foe.

DeSantis officially joined the 2024 GOP presidential candidate race Wednesday evening during a highly touted Twitter Spaces appearance with Elon Musk that led to praise and criticism as the number of viewers who flooded the platform's servers led to technical failures and jokes of it being a #DeSaster.

The Florida governor was already 25 or more percentage points behind the former president in various polls, with U.K.-based betting company Betfair lengthening DeSantis' odds of becoming president from 5/1 to 11/2 following the Twitter announcement.

"When the Ron DeSanctimonious facts come out, you will see that he is better than most Democrat governors, but very average, at best, compared to Republican governors who have done a fantastic job, Trump said in a video tweeted by the Trump War Room, associated with his 2024 campaign. "How about the fact that he had the third-most deaths of any state having to do with the China virus, or COVID? Even [Andrew] Cuomo did better, he was No. 4.

"[DeSantis] shut down everything, including beaches. Other Republican governors didn't do that, they kept it open. It was their choice; I gave them all their choice."

Trump never specifically mentions a data source, though a list compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of COVID mortality by state in the year 2021 shows that Florida ranked third in most deaths with 34,557, followed by New York with 21,675. California (44,540) and Texas (44,516) were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

Andrew Cuomo
Then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at the Eastside Heliport in Midtown on August 10, 2021, in New York City. Former President Donald Trump is now praising Cuomo, saying he handled the COVID-19 pandemic better than Governor Ron DeSantis did in Florida. Gotham/GC Images/Getty

For 2020, New York was listed at the top with 35,736 deaths, while Florida was fourth with 19,231.

In April 2020, Trump criticized Cuomo on Twitter by saying the ex-governor "should spend more time 'doing' and less time 'complaining,'" urging him to stop talking and to utilize the money and supplies provided by the federal government.

Cuomo, who resigned in August 2021 amid allegations of sexual harassment made by several women, was initially viewed by Americans as an upfront political official in the infancy of the pandemic—even receiving an Emmy Award for his nationally televised press conferences.

But his commended transparency ultimately reversed because of allegations that he covered up the number and scale of New York-based nursing home deaths. In March 2022, an audit conducted by the New York Comptroller's Office found that the New York Department of Health underreported the number of nursing home deaths by "at least 4,100."

"One of the swarm of New Yorkers who moved to Florida now claims Cuomo did better on Covid," tweeted Christina Pushaw, a top aide for DeSantis' 2022 reelection campaign, in response to Trump's new attack. "So... why did so many of your neighbors flee NY for FL during Covid? Didn't see that happening the other way around."

DeSantis, who was against mask mandates, encouraged in-person education during the pandemic, leading to higher reported test scores for students compared to those in other states—in addition to lower rates of depression and obesity.

His state also experienced large population booms as other large states, including New York and California, saw residents leave.

The governor dramatically shifted his tone about COVID vaccines. At the beginning of the pandemic, he touted the positive effects of monoclonal antibody treatments on statewide cases. By late 2022, he requested a grand jury to investigate whether Floridians were misled by COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers—calling out the "public health establishment" and CDC, the latter of which he said was releasing information nobody could trust.

Lisa Parshall, a political science professor at Daemen University, told Newsweek that Trump and DeSantis are jockeying for position, with DeSantis running in the same lane as Trump as well as to the right.

"The idea seems to be that [DeSantis] can deliver the same conservative policy results with more mainstream persona," Parshall said. "He's presenting himself as an alternative to conservatives who desire a return of Trump-era policies but think DeSantis has better general election chances than Trump.

"There is a logic behind the strategy, but I'm far from convinced it's a viable pathway if Trump remains a candidate. First, the MAGA base is persistently loyal around a cult of personality that may be unique to Trump. Second, positioning himself to out-Trump in the primary makes pivoting to ramp up general election appeal difficult."

DeSantis also faces the risk of "claiming" the MAGA base at the behest of attracting new voters, further disenchanting female and suburban voters because of his views on abortion and culture war issues, she added.

Newsweek reached out to the DeSantis and Trump campaigns via email for comment.

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