Harvard and Yale graduate Ron DeSantis has tripled down on assisting COVID ravage my adopted state of Florida. It is no wonder that liberals often see him as a villainous buffoon and a mini-Trump. This view does have some appeal. Floridians are being infected and dying at ever increasing rates at a time in which effective vaccines are readily available and modest precautions can make a meaningful difference while DeSantis is pitching anti-vax and anti-mask merchandise. While this is certainly villainous, DeSantis need not be a buffoon. He could, aided by his advisers, be engaged in a cold calculation to hold onto power.
While Trump won Florida and the Republicans dominate the state, their grip on power grows ever more precarious. As such, DeSantis must keep his base energized for the upcoming election or he could be dethroned. A key part of his base consists of people who oppose wearing masks and who oppose vaccine mandates. Many of these people remain unvaccinated. They tend to feel very strongly about these matters and DeSantis can easily get cheers and praise for coming out against organized efforts to fight the pandemic. People in this group vary in terms of the cause of their believes, but there is a feedback system in operation: these beliefs are both appealed to and strengthened by people like DeSantis. While this energizes the base it is not without risk: COVID is like a wildfire in Florida and the unvaccinated are very vulnerable. This creates two problems for DeSantis. The first is that COVID will kill some of his voters, thus costing him votes. The second is that he will lose votes because of voters taking a negative view of his handling of COVID. While I cannot provide an exact calculation, DeSantis is banking on things working out in his favor. This can be presented in simple gain and loss terms. If the DeSantis Death calculus yields a gain for him, then his position makes excellent political sense.
On the plus side are the votes he will gain from his position and the votes he will keep for this position. A voter who votes for DeSantis because of this view who would otherwise vote for the Democrat is a double plus for DeSantis: he gets a vote and takes one away from his opponent. Gaining or keeping a voter who would not otherwise vote for the Democrat is only a single plus. Each voter who dies who would have voted for the Democrat is also a plus for DeSantis.
On the minus side are the votes he will lose due to individual DeSantis voters dying from COVID. Also on the minus side are DeSantis votes lost because of the negative view of his COVID policies; these are voters who would have otherwise voted for him but for these polices and their impact. For example, a voter who loses their husband to COVID and does not vote for DeSantis because of this would be a lost vote. DeSantis suffers a double loss if the voter who would have voted for him votes for the Democrat instead.
While DeSantis might change his position at some point, as of this writing he is staying the course. He presumably believes that the death calculation still favors him. DeSantis and his fellow Republicans are also doing their best to suppress votes—this will help with his chance of winning if it suppresses those who would have voted for the Democrat more than those who would have voted for DeSantis if voting had not intentionally been made more difficult. This is also a calculation on DeSantis’ part: just as he believes that enabling COVID is his best bet, he is also confident that his party’s voter suppression will contribute to his chances of winning.