Good Friday Morning! Except for the state of Florida. I’m glad everyone is recovering and survived that hurricane better than expected. But that was followed by the stink show that is the Florida Gators losing to Utah. As a Tennessee fan, this game obviously delighted me. And I hope Florida plays like this in a few weeks. But that’s quite an egg to lay on national television while everyone thinks about your state.
This week, I’m covering how Ron DeSantis’s response to a hurricane kicked the White House in the rear in responding to a backlog of natural disasters. It’s funny how when competent people show up, it forces everyone else to operate by a higher standard — links to follow.
- Hurricane Idalia officially made landfall “along the coast of the Florida Big Bend near Keaton Beach around 745 AM EDT” on Wednesday. It was a category three storm with maximum sustained winds at landfall of 125 mph. After peaking with more than 325,000 people without electricity, as of Thursday evening, under 90,000 people are still without power, with another 36,000 without electricity in Georgia. The rapid recovery efforts in Florida and Georiga are commendable and show strong leadership in both states. The death toll currently stands at five across Florida and Georgia. Idalia isn’t over, though. The now tropical storm is headed for Bermuda, and tropical storm watches and warnings are up for that. Some models show it is curving back north/northwest and potentially impacting the New England area. It’s still early to tell with that track, as that would be 7-10 days away.
- I have a column at the Conservative Institute saying that Senator Mitch McConnell should step aside after his recent “freeze” episode. If that happened, the three most likely candidates to replace him are the “Three Johns” of Senate GOP leadership: John Thune (SD), John Barrasso (WY), and John Cornyn (TX). The WSJ reports, “Texts between members are being exchanged” regarding McConnell potentially getting replaced. And Politico adds that a “special meeting” may be held next week, when Senators report back to the capital, between Republicans on the issue. McConnell will get considerable deference on this, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he continues to stay on. He’s the longest-serving Senate Party Leader in US History for a reason. There’s no clear read on his thinking or who leads the race to replace him. The only obvious fact is that FL Senator Rick Scott burned all his bridges in a McConnell challenge. He’ll run again, but I doubt he has the votes.
Where you can find me this week
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Prigozhin’s End and Putin’s Continued Iron Grip – Conservative Institute
UNC Shooting Raises More Questions Than Answers – Conservative Institute
Time for McConnell to Step Aside, & Senate Republicans Elect New Leadership – Conservative Institute
The President Who Isn’t There Doesn’t Show Up, Again.
Natural disasters and responding to them are politics 101 stuff. During Hurricane Idalia’s landfall, I watched a live stream of various storm chasers, one of which was Ryan Hall Y’all. While taking an on-air break, Ryan pulled up a live press conference of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, answering various press questions. Ryan joked while the stream played, “Who are these guys talking to? It’s always the same. I mean, I know who they’re talking to, but still.”
It was a mild jab at the political nature of the hurricane and natural disaster response. He’s right. It can get political. But that’s because it’s one of the main times that political leaders have an explicit job: muster the forces of state, local, or federal government to save lives, repair damage, and restore communities. It’s basic stuff that everyone understands, but people appreciate it when competence is displayed.
Ron DeSantis is a master at this, as the Florida response has been exemplary from beginning to end. Brian Kemp in Georgia has had a solid response, too. On some level, we expect this. These states experience a steady barrage of things like hurricanes and harsh storms. It’s part of the deal when you live near the Gulf Coast or the southern Atlantic coastline.
But just because it’s politics 101 doesn’t mean everyone passes the course. Some politicians fail miserably at the task. And the failure can be pretty bizarre.
Note the date of this newsletter. It’s Sept. 1, 2023. On Aug. 7, 2023, Hawaiian history’s largest and worst wildfires broke out. I can’t tell you how destructive this wildfire was because we don’t have an accurate count of the missing or dead. CBS News reported on Aug. 29:
Crews in Hawaii have all but finished searching for victims of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, authorities said Tuesday, and it is unclear how many people perished.
Three weeks after the fire devastated Maui’s historic seaside community of Lahaina, the count of the dead stands at 115. But an unknown number of people are still missing.
Maui County officials on Aug. 24 released the names of 388 people who were unaccounted for, part of a larger group of roughly 1,000-1,100 people that had been estimated missing by the FBI.
However, within a day of its release, more than 100 of those on the list or their relatives came forward to say they were safe, the FBI said the following day.
Officials told CBS News that it doesn’t necessarily mean those 100-plus have been removed from the list, because that new information still needed to be vetted and confirmed.
These people could be safe, or they could be dead. We simply don’t know after nearly a month.
But suddenly, there was movement this week from the White House on reacting to the wildfires in Hawaii. The Washington Post reports, “The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will spend $95 million to help strengthen Hawaii’s electrical grid in the wake of deadly wildfires that swept through parts of Maui earlier this month. The fast-moving fires were the deadliest in modern U.S. history, killing more than 100 people on the island, forcing thousands to evacuate and destroying the historic town of Lahaina.”
The White House did a full-court press on all media and social media accounts to announce their response. This, coming from President “No comment” when asked about Hawaii earlier in the month. What changed?
Evidently, Ron DeSantis looks so responsive and on top of things with Hurricane Idalia that it’s triggered the White House to say they need to do something about Hawaii. I think Noah Rothman nails it in his description of events:
This flurry of highly visible activity marks a departure from the administration’s initial reaction to the fires, which began on Aug. 8. When a reporter asked Biden for a boilerplate response to the events in Hawaii nearly a week after the fires broke out, he inexplicably offered a “no comment.” The tone-deafness of his reply and the indolence of his conduct were matched only by the White House’s lethargy in responding to criticism of his callousness (“He didn’t hear the question,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton unconvincingly claimed in an Aug. 25 statement). By mid-August, the administration was on the backfoot. Defending its seemingly apathetic and halting response to the disaster, administration spokespeople insisted that FEMA was on the case. After all, the president could walk and chew gum — or, more specifically, deliver a speech promoting “Bidenomics” in Milwaukee — at the same time.
The radical change in the tone from the Biden administration in relation to events in Hawaii corresponds with another disaster unfolding this week in Florida. Only if you believe the White House and its staff are utterly insensitive to political narratives is it possible to convince yourself that the administration is unaware of the implicit and unfavorable contrast with Ron DeSantis that their handling of Hawaii’s wildfires invites. If that is their concern, it’s a valid one. By all accounts, good fortune and exemplary preparedness have combined to spare Florida the worst that Hurricane Idalia might have wrought.
From the top of the chain of command all the way down the ranks, Florida officials have been receiving strong marks from the press for their handling of this disaster. Compare that with Hawaii, which has seen resignations over the state’s poor handling of Maui’s fires and their aftermath, and where municipalities and utility providers are at one another’s throats in the scramble to assign blame for the blaze to someone. The lackadaisical conduct of Hawaii’s Democratic leaders was mirrored by the president’s similarly languid approach, and all of it is cast in stark relief by how Florida has routinized its coordinated disaster-response efforts.
If this response seems familiar, it should. This was Biden’s response to the Afghanistan withdrawal, his own CDC and FDA destroying the vaccine rollout, and several other news cycles.
In the past, I’ve called Biden the “President who isn’t there” because he’s bizarrely absent in situations where any other politician shows up. Take Hurricane Sandy from 2012 as an example. I was living in Virginia Beach at the time. I watched that one go past me, up the coast towards a wholly unprepared northeastern seaboard.
Barack Obama dropped his campaign plans and practically ran to New Jersey, giving an infamous hug to Chris Christie, to respond to that hurricane. Mitt Romney also canceled campaign plans to react to that storm, getting in photo-op lines to hand out water, food, and other supplies.
George W. Bush was castigated for his Katrina response – where he was responding and getting nothing from local officials. I can point to other storms and natural disasters and go through the political response.
And then I look at the Biden White House. It took a totally separate natural disaster – that the states involved are handling – to get the Biden administration off its collective backend to respond to a month-old wildfire disaster in Hawaii. To say nothing of the Democratic officials running Hawaii, who did nothing for decades to build up the state’s infrastructure to avoid such a calamity.
If Biden was President of the United States during Pearl Harbor, there’s no evidence from his current track record we’d have even responded to that within a week. This administration is consistently caught flat-footed by the most simple politician tasks: natural disasters.
You can cover this from a lot of angles, too. Imagine a Republican President had this response to Hawaii. How would the press cover it? Not to mention the race angle if we switched Presidents, talking about a white President unconcerned about the plight of native Hawaiians. The attacks would write themselves. Instead, we get Biden responding a month later and the press issuing “fact checks” claiming Biden didn’t actually fall asleep at a memorial for those who died in the wildfires.
I’m glad the people in Hawaii are getting federal help and notice from the President a month later. They need it. But they also need new leadership serious about running the state well, like Ron DeSantis.
If you watch the press and national Democrats, one point is abundantly clear. The sheer competence, leadership, and skill set of Ron DeSantis terrifies them. He has a track record. That’s why they’re desperate for Trump to win this primary – they fully understand the incompetence there. That’s not a statement on who should win the Republican primary, but don’t think for a second the press and Democrats aren’t actively rooting for one single outcome.
Until then, we get a part-time President who will wait a month before lifting a finger on the worst wildfire in Hawaii’s history and growing into one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Biden’s campaign promised that the “adults would be in charge.” Yet, everyone spends their time asking, “Where are they?”
Links of the week
Families crossing U.S. border illegally reached all-time high in August – Washington Post
Feinstein is a silent character in her sad and messy final chapter: Feinstein’s daughter battles her stepsisters over the senator’s share of a fortune that exceeds an estimated $1 billion. Daughter’s role scrutinized by trustees in new legal motion. – Politico
A Sperm Donor Chases a Role in the Lives of the 96 Children He Fathered: It’s become easier to find the identities of sperm donors. The loss of anonymity can open up complicated questions about boundaries, responsibilities and sometimes ambivalent relationships. – WSJ
Gannett halts AI-written sports recaps after readers mocked the stories – Washington Post
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Banning Of ‘Critical Brit Theory’ Gaining Momentum In Some Irish Schools – Waterford Whispers News
Thanks for reading!