Republicans everywhere are running for the hills in the wake of the president’s bizarre, reprehensible tweets this morning describing generally accepted estimates of the death toll in Puerto Rico attributable to last year’s Hurricane Maria as a conspiracy hatched by Democrats. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s reaction was pretty typical:
Ryan didn’t answer a question about whether Trump’s claim disturbed him or whether Trump should apologize to the victims’ families. He reiterated that there’s no reason to dispute the numbers.
“It’s a function of, this was a devastating storm that hit an isolated island,” he said. “And that’s really no one’s fault. That is just what happened.”
In other words, the president is lying again, but the real issue is that the Sun King should not fear that those 3,000 deaths dim the dazzling brilliance of his reign.
But while Republicans everywhere are probably rolling their eyes and wondering why on earth Trump would bring up his weird claims about Maria with both the midterms and another potential hurricane approaching, Trump’s tweets hit Florida politics like a stink bomb. The state’s large (an estimated 1.1 million) and politically pivotal Puerto Rican community — enhanced by post-Maria refugees, aside from the many Florida residents with family and friends on the island — is going to be enraged by Trump’s dismissive claims about the disaster and the suffering it caused. And already Florida Republicans are distancing themselves from their Maximum Leader with varying degrees of intensity, as Politico reports:
“Mr. President. SHUT UP,” Alan Levine, a Republican appointed by Gov. Rick Scott — a top Trump ally — to Florida’s university governing board, replied on Twitter.
“Any death, whether one or 3,000 is a tragedy. That doesn’t mean you caused it, and its not about you. Show compassion for the families,” Levine wrote. “Learn what we can so future response can improve. Honestly….”
Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott took a few beats to react, and did so firmly if calmly:
Scott has invested heavily in outreach to the normally Democratic-leaning Puerto Rican community. So he can be expected to defend that investment against offensive comments from Trump. A more interesting case is that of the Republican nominee to succeed him as governor, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis:
“Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life,” his spokesman Stephen Lawson said in an email. “He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated. Ron is focused on continuing to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover and create opportunities for those who have moved to Florida succeed.”
There is no way Ron DeSantis would be the GOP nominee for governor without the early and avid support he received from Trump. Yet he’s basically calling his supreme benefactor a liar here. That’s how explosive this issue could be in Florida.
Here’s the closest any prominent Florida Republican has come to offering an defense of Trump among early reactions:
So the president abruptly denies 3,000 deaths, but everybody makes mistakes, and “we all” need to stop the “blame game.” As Trump himself might put it, that’s sad.
Republicans in Florida and elsewhere can only hope this particular storm blows over quickly.