Governor Ron DeSantis’s political fortunes are facing a force majeure event. Hurricane Ian, billed as a “catastrophic” natural disaster, is set to make landfall in the Tampa Bay area today. Ian, a Category 4 hurricane with Category 5 potential, is expected to knock out power to the region – and could well be one of the deadliest storms in US history. How DeSantis reacts to the storm will be suggestive of his abilities as a larger-platform leader (i.e. President of the United States).
Here Comes Hurricane Ian
“Florida’s top officials said that bridges are now closed in some of the areas facing the greatest threat: Collier, Charlotte and Sarasota counties on the west coast,” POLITICO reported. “Scores of Floridians evacuated ahead of the massive storm, but for those that didn’t, they are now being directed to stay indoors at the risk of facing maximum winds clocking in at 155 miles per hour.”
“If you are in any of those counties, it’s no longer possible to safely evacuate,” DeSantis said. “It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm.”
What DeSantis Has In Mind to Battle Hurricane Ian
With landfall imminent, DeSantis’s preparations are underway.
Two million residents have been ordered to evacuate while 90 nursing homes have had their populations relocated.
Efforts to restore power after the storm has passed are being coordinated. Search and rescue operations are being planned for, too. DeSantis has activated over 5,000 national guard troops.
40,000 electrical workers are on standby. And, there are 19,000 “restoration personnel ” (linemen, arborists, etc.), assembled from over 30 states, stationed in north central Florida, waiting to help once Ian has passed.
DeSantis and Biden Working Together on Hurricane Ian
DeSantis is even coordinating with President Biden. “President Biden spoke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Tuesday evening, shortly after the governor said during a press conference that Biden had not yet called to discuss Hurricane Ian,” The Hill reported. And in a rare move, DeSantis thanked Biden for approving Florida’s emergency declaration. But mostly, DeSantis’s statements were tinged with disapproval. “I’m happy to brief the president if he’s interested in hearing what we’re doing in Florida,” DeSantis said. “My view on all this is like, you’ve got people’s lives at stake, you’ve got their property at stake and we don’t have time for pettiness. We gotta work together to make sure we’re doing the best job for them, so my phone line is open.” That DeSantis was able to pressure Biden into a phone call so quickly demonstrates DeSantis’s political dexterity, as well as his increasing relevance.
“President Biden spoke this evening with Governor DeSantis of Florida to discuss the steps the Federal government is taking to help Florida prepare for Hurricane Ian,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted. “The President and the Governor committed to continued close coordination.”
Biden himself said that had spoken with DeSantis “for some time” on Tuesday.
“Biden said members of his team have been in constant contact with the governor “since the beginning,”” ABC reported. Biden “also called three Florida mayors – from Clearwater, Tampa and St. Petersburg – on Tuesday about the impending storm.”
Biden emphasized that his administration has been proactively addressing Ian’s landfall. “Message has been absolutely clear, is that we are on the alert, and in action,” Biden said Wednesday. “We’ve approved every request Florida has made for temporary assistance, emergency assistance, and long-term assistance that I’ve received.”
Biden and DeSantis Will Be Tested by Ian
Ian poses a political test for both DeSantis and Biden – DeSantis especially as he is an ascendant figure, angling for the top job.
Disaster-level events, like hurricanes, can make or break politicians. Then-President Bush’s botched handling of Hurricane Katrina endures as a low-point of his tenure (which is significant given Bush’s tenure included the launch of two unsuccessful foreign wars). Presidential aspirant Chris Christie, then-Governor of New Jersey, got a boost from seemingly successful handling of Hurricane Sandy. Then, months later, when Bridgegate surfaced, Christie’s political fortunes cratered.
Hopefully, DeSantis and Biden can put aside partisanship and political posturing to coordinate a joint federal-state response that saves lives. Hurricane Ian represents an opportunity for the government-at-large to demonstrate it is capable of getting something done. The alternative, wide-scale death, and destruction, is of course unacceptable.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.