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Opinion Republicans like Ron DeSantis keep kowtowing to the MAGA cult — even if it threatens lives

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in Brandon, Fla., on Nov. 18. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
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Republican politicians beholden to the MAGA base spent much of 2020 downplaying the risk of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, they turned to throwing sand in the gears of the administration’s lifesaving vaccination program, casting vaccines as an issue of “freedom.” This year, they seem to be gearing up for a campaign to prevent an early victory over the omicron variant.

Consider Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who refused to heed public health experts’ advice in the pre-vaccination era and then hobbled vaccine and mask mandates by penalizing local officials who implemented them. Now, he is sounding nearly as nutty as the defeated former president, who hawked crackpot cures for covid-19 such as “light inside the body” or injections of disinfectant.

The Food and Drug Administration determined on Monday that two monoclonal antibody treatments were ineffective in treating the omicron variant. The makers of the treatments, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, agreed. Moreover, as CNN reported: “The Biden administration has pushed for states to pivot to other treatments that have demonstrated greater effectiveness against the Omicron variant, including the Merck and Pfizer antiviral pills, GlaxoSmithKline’s monoclonal antibody, AstraZeneca’s pre-exposure prophylaxis, and commercially available remdesivir.”

But DeSantis, never one to miss an opportunity to scare and misinform Floridians, accused the administration of depriving Americans of lifesaving treatments. (This, from someone who won’t say whether he received a booster shot.) For some bizarre reason, DeSantis and other MAGA politicians have denigrated vaccines and booster shots, instead favoring antibody treatments administered after someone gets sick. Don’t ask why we should have faith in the latter but not the former.

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In a flatly dishonest statement, DeSantis claimed: “Without a shred of clinical data to support this action, Biden has forced trained medical professionals to choose between treating their patients or breaking the law.” He continued with another falsehood: “This indefensible edict takes treatment out of the hands of medical professionals and will cost some Americans their lives.” So, yes, he apparently wants to keep administering ineffective treatments to Floridians.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki weighed in on Tuesday: “Let’s just take a step back here just to realize how crazy this is.” She explained, “What the FDA is making clear is that these treatments . . . do not work against omicron and they have side effects.” She emphasized that the federal government has sent tens of thousands of doses of treatments that do work:

DeSantis, it seems, would rather mislead and endanger people who are already sick than facilitate treatments that could save their lives. This is grossly irresponsible and anything but “pro-life.”

As Kurt Andersen recently wrote for the Atlantic: “For a long time now the right’s ongoing propaganda campaign against and organized political resistance to vaccination, among other public health protocols, has been killing many, many Americans for no reasonable, ethically justifiable social purpose.”

And DeSantis is by no means alone. Whether it is coming from the disinformation purveyors in right-wing media or from other Republican governors, the organized effort to needlessly put more people at risk is as unprecedented as it is shocking.

The Post reports, for example, that “Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Monday invoked the biblical call to ‘love your neighbor’ as school systems around the state struggled with strong reactions to his ban on local mask mandates, but the Republican also fanned the flames of partisan division in the face of court challenges and protests.” Seven school districts are suing Youngkin over his decision to supersede districts’ directives on masks, which they contend violates the state constitution.

This is plainly pandering to the right-wing base at the expense of students, teachers and other school employees. The Post reports: “Youngkin’s recent position on masks takes a harder line than he did shortly before and after November’s election, when he said he would leave it up to localities whether to impose mask mandates.”

Republicans’ behavior is far worse than “fanning culture wars” or “creating wedge issues”; it is prioritizing their desire to assuage the delusional MAGA cult over their responsibility to protect the lives of their fellow Americans. President Biden should not shy away from denouncing these Republicans’ conduct as nothing short of monstrous.