MATTHEWS: In the battle of pandemic governors, DeSantis rises as Cuomo takes dramatic fall

In this Jan. 4, 2021 file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions during a press conference on the expanded rollout of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

It’s amazing what a difference a year can make.

Last March as the coronavirus began wreaking havoc on the U.S., another battle was brewing. It was a media-driven one between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.


DeSantis, a Republican, was second only to President Trump as a public enemy according to the media. On the other hand, Cuomo, a Democrat, was treated like a rock star even after it became evident that there were serious problems with how he was managing the crisis.

Because DeSantis took a much less autocratic approach than Democratic governors, he was regarded as a “grandma killer” by his critics. DeSantis had the audacity to not mandate lockdowns statewide, leaving it instead to local entities to make the call. For that, he was treated with extreme disdain, with frequent comparisons being made between his approach and Cuomo’s.

It was an odd comparison to make, considering Cuomo’s state was faring much worse on case numbers and death tolls despite Cuomo’s insistence on mandatory lockdowns. Nevertheless, the favorable coverage for Cuomo continued on while DeSantis was continuously pilloried as someone who’d rather sacrifice the state’s senior citizens if it meant people could go back to the beach and to work.

A year out, however, and in terms of the PR wars, both governors have seen reversals of fortune.

Cuomo is under fire after a wave of scandals hit his administration over the last six weeks.

It started in late January when the state’s Democratic Attorney General Letitia James detailed how nursing home COVID death numbers were higher than the state originally reported. The undercounting was due in part to the deceptive way New York changed how nursing home deaths were calculated. Originally, they were calculated by including nursing home patient deaths that occurred after the resident was transferred to the hospital. But they made a change in the spring that obscured the actual numbers by counting nursing home deaths that happened in a hospital setting as hospital death.

Just a couple of weeks after the state attorney general issued her report, the governor’s office admitted they deliberately withheld data on nursing home COVID-patient deaths from state lawmakers last year to head off a potential investigation by Trump’s DOJ. Another bombshell report revealed the actual number of COVID-positive patients who were let back into nursing home facilities: 9,056, over 40% higher than what the state health department had initially reported.

Cuomo has also been hit with five sexual harassment allegations, with four of them being from women who used to work for him.

On top of that was the report last week from the Wall Street Journal on how senior advisors to Cuomo “successfully pushed state health officials [last summer] to strip a public report of data showing that more nursing-home residents had died of Covid-19 than the administration had acknowledged.”

Cuomo has also been hit with five sexual harassment allegations, with four of them being from women who used to work for him.

Many in his own party in the state legislature and beyond are turning against him, and calls for him to resign or face censure or impeachment are growing. His approval ratings are starting to fall as a result.

In contrast, DeSantis’ approval numbers are rising. Florida Politics reported last week that “DeSantis’ job approval ratings have rebounded significantly since last summer.” They noted that though he was “underwater with job approval in July,” DeSantis had “largely recovered, with 53% of registered voters now approving of his performance and 42% disapproving.”

The biggest “scandal” DeSantis is facing is in how his state prioritized senior citizens over everyone else on vaccinations.

There is a lesson to be relearned here. As it turns out, you don’t have to be pulled by the currents of the news cycle to keep your head above water in politics. Sometimes — oftentimes, really — what it takes is standing firm on the dry ground of common sense.

Media analyst Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.