When the coronavirus ravaged Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis defiantly bucked mask mandates. He later cracked down on protesters advocating racial justice, blasted President Joe Biden on immigration, jumped into the fight over transgender athletes and signed sweeping legislation to toughen voting rules. But after a deadly building collapse, the Republican governor is largely hitting pause on the culture wars.
In the two weeks since a 12-story condo tower in this coastal community suddenly crumbled, killing at least 64, DeSantis has stood somberly with local officials, including Democrats, as they assessed the damage. He nodded in agreement when Biden visited and hailed their joint appearance as a sign that those with opposing political views can work together in a crisis. And he even skipped a rally in Sarasota headlined by former President Donald Trump, whose early endorsement was crucial in helping DeSantis win the governor’s race in 2018.
Since that victory, DeSantis has often taken his cues from Trump. But as he prepares for a reelection bid next year that could propel him into a presidential campaign, the tragedy in Surfside is exposing voters to a different side of the governor. He’s still the conservative populist who rarely parts with Trump.