Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for Florida governor, has embraced Donald Trump as forcefully as possible during the campaign. But there is one way down where DeSantis will not follow the president: the count of death in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
The president drew doubt on the official census of the death of last year's hurricane in a series of tweets. Although the estimate of 3,000 deaths comes from official government sources, Trump suggested that the Democrats had produced the figures to make him look bad because the initial death toll of the hurricane was much lower. But experts and independent analysis had long ago said that the death toll was much higher than the original official estimate of 16.
DeSantis, who runs to be governor of a state where many Puerto Ricans have moved to Maria, said in a statement Thursday that he "does not believe that any loss of life is blown up."
It was a remarkable reprimand, as it goes, of one of the most pro-Trump candidates in the country. In the Republican Primary, DeSantis sent out advertisements showing how he built Trump's wall with his daughter and son, dressed in a make-America Great Again onesie. DeSantis even called Trump for his approval.
Trump's decision to politicize and evade the deaths of 3,000 Americans was apparently a bridge too far for DeSantis. The current Governor of Florida and the Republican candidate for the US Senate, Rick Scott, felt the same way.
I do not agree with @POTUS– an independent study showed that thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed to this. I have been to Puerto Rico 7 times and have seen devastation from the first hand. The loss of every life is tragic; the amount of lost lives as a result of Mary is heartbreaking. I will continue to help PR
– Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) September 13, 2018
The Spanish vote will be crucial in the November elections in Florida, including DeSantis's match against Democrat Andrew Gillum. And Puerto Rican voters especially in Florida have been the focus of much interest and speculation: will the estimated 135,000 Puerto Ricans who have moved to Florida register and vote for Democrats? Would these votes be enough to put democratic candidates over the top in a swing state that would otherwise lean towards Trump?
The decision of DeSantis to speak out against the president suggests that he is not willing to take risks.