This is quite a feather in his political cap, and I don’t just mean economically by dint of the tourism revenue. The fact that Florida’s appeal as a vacation destination increased during the pandemic is a testament to DeSantis’s retail skill in advertising his state as a haven from COVID restrictions. His policies banning mask and vaccine mandates are no different from Texas’s, really, but ask the average pandemic-weary American where they want to visit for a taste of 2019-era normalcy and most will say without hesitation, “Florida.”
That’s a good political brand to have, and not just in a Republican primary.
In 2021, nearly 118 million Americans visited Florida, the highest number of domestic travelers in the history of our state.
Our fellow Americans know that, in Florida, they can expect sunshine, great hospitality, and freedom.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) February 15, 2022
In fact, as you’ll see in the clip below, according to DeSantis Florida is now the top U.S. destination for international travelers as well, finally surpassing New York. That’s not due entirely to COVID rules, I’d imagine: If you’re visiting from abroad and desperate for a taste of escapism from a global plague, lying on the beach and touring DisneyWorld instinctively holds more appeal than, say, walking through Times Square. But give DeSantis his due. Unquestionably, the lure of a week or two without masks and vaccine passports is luring people in, particularly non-Floridians who object to having to follow those rules in their hometowns. There are few places that can compare right now in promising an opportunity to cut loose — maybe only Vegas, and Vegas was both under an indoor mask mandate until last week and isn’t much fun for kids even in normal times. For a vacationing family, Florida’s the obvious destination.
And per DeSantis’s numbers, it’s showing up in the tourism data.
If he’s distinguished himself among Republican governors for his insistence on normalcy, Jared Polis of Colorado has distinguished himself among Democrats for the same reason. Polis is more restrictive than DeSantis is, of course: For instance, local governments in Colorado are still permitted to set their own mandates. But Polis’s approach since last summer has been that the COVID emergency ended once the vaccines became widely available. And there’s no way to justify state mandates in a situation that’s not an emergency.
Entering the third year of the virus’s spread, Polis has put forth a simple formulation. He believes that every governor will have to adapt to endemic circumstances eventually, that there’s only so much he can do for the persistently unvaxxed, and that COVID lifestyle restrictions have been costlier than other Democrats have acknowledged. “It’s a 23-year-old who can’t go out at night. It’s a senior who can’t go to bridge club. Those things don’t have economic costs, but they have very real costs to peoples’ lives. That’s what we sought to minimize,” Polis told me in his brightly decorated, wood-paneled office in the state capitol the day after Murphy made his announcement on masks. “How can people live their lives, be empowered with information, make the best decisions for themselves? That’s really what we’ve focused on. People can’t live in an emergency state for years on end. I mean, it’s just not how we are.”…
In Polis’s calculus, the advent of vaccination changed everything, including citizens’ moral responsibilities to one another, and he has been unwilling to let his state’s unvaccinated minority keep the rest of the population on an indefinite emergency footing. “It’s really just about how different people, just like in our own lives, manage risks and have trade-offs,” Polis said. “I ski. It’s not a great risk, but it’s more risky than if I stayed on my sofa.” He tended not to wear a helmet until a few years ago.
Colorado has actually outperformed Florida in several key COVID metrics, ranking far lower in cases per capita (Florida is eighth while Colorado is 38th) and deaths per capita (Florida 17th, Colorado 39th). Florida has an outsized share of senior citizens living there, though, which will make it more prone to coronavirus deaths. And Colorado has the lowest rate of obesity of any U.S. state, helping it hold down severe outcomes.
Anyway. Watch the first six minutes of DeSantis touting his state’s tourism numbers today, as he was on a roll. I’m not sure how much to trust this poll, conducted by an outfit I’ve never heard of, but allegedly DeSantis leads Texas Gov. Greg Abbott 46/13 in a hypothetical 2024 match-up — among Texas Republicans. If DeSantis’s brand really does outshine Abbott’s to that extent on Abbott’s home turf then he’s a lock for the 2024 nomination. Assuming you-know-who doesn’t run, of course.
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