As Covid cases rise in Florida, Governor DeSantis digs at Fauci with merchandise

Republican governor is hoping to ride Trump’s coattails to the White House and generate cash to fund 2022 re-election campaign

For $12, you can buy a red beverage cooler imprinted with the words: “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”

Those with deeper pockets can be the proud owner of a $21 T-shirt stamped with the map of Florida and the logo “Love My Gov” and “Keep Florida Free”.

But perhaps the merchandise with the best sales potential are the drink koozies and T-shirts that say “Don’t Fauci My Florida”.

The slogan , first reported by the Washington Post, is the brainchild of the team around Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida who is hoping he can ride Donald Trump’s coattails all the way to the White House in 2024.

The phrase is a dig at Anthony Fauci, the chief White House medical adviser who because of his cautionary approach to the deadly coronavirus and mask-wearing has become a popular punch-bag for Republicans. There is no road that leads to conservative supremacy, it seems, that doesn’t run over America’s top infectious diseases expert.

The pattern was set by Trump himself who, while in the White House presiding over a disastrous federal Covid response, chose Fauci to be his scapegoat. Trump called the doctor who has now served seven presidents since 1984 an “idiot” and ridiculed his careful approach to the virus by implying he was 500 years old. Fauci is now 80. Trump is 75.

Since Trump’s defeat by Biden, the Fauci-bashing baton has been passed to the Fox News star Tucker Carlson. The prime time host has taken a more menacing approach, accusing Fauci of lying about the origins of the coronavirus in a series of unsubstantiated rants.

Now it’s DeSantis’s turn to jump on the bandwagon – and generate some cash to fund his 2022 re-election campaign. Since the start of the pandemic the Republican governor has positioned himself as the champion of freedom, standing up against no-fun health experts who insist on masks and social distancing.

Even as Covid was sweeping the US in early 2020, DeSantis refused to close Florida’s beaches. He shunned mask ordinances and removed all restrictions on businesses in May.

The timing of his new Fauci-bashing merchandise launch is unfortunate, given the state of his state. Though vaccination levels have risen in Florida, and infection rates fallen, Florida is grappling with a marked increase in new cases and hospitalisations as the highly contagious Delta variant kicks in.

Almost 3,000 Floridians are being treated in hospital, according to the New York Times, the highest number in the nation and the fourth-highest per capita. New cases increased by 429% over the past 14 days, a dramatic surge only superseded by that in Tennessee.

DeSantis might think twice about what he puts on his beer coolers. Politically, Fauci has a way of outliving his detractors.

• This article was amended on 16 July 2021. A previous version incorrectly said that almost 3,000 Floridians were “being hospitalised each day”. This figure actually represents the 7-day average of the number of people currently being treated in hospital, and the text has been changed to reflect this.


Ed Pilkington in New York

The GuardianTramp

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