7 min read

Hurricane trip puts Biden, DeSantis relationship in the spotlight

A new set of political rivals meet in the wake of disaster.
Hurricane trip puts Biden, DeSantis relationship in the spotlight

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, October 5, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 34 days away. Election Day 2024 is 762 days away.

Hurricane trip puts Biden, DeSantis relationship in the spotlight

Two years from now, it’s not out of the question that President Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be sharing a debate stage.

Today, we’ll see a preview of how the duo interacts — but don’t expect many political fireworks.

Biden is headed to Florida to survey the damage from Hurricane Ian, which killed more than 100 people and caused as much as $47 billion in damages when it slammed into the state last week.

DeSantis will be one of the state and federal officials who briefs Biden on the ongoing response efforts, the White House said yesterday. Asked if Biden planned to bring up their recent back-and-forth about DeSantis’ migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, the president’s spokeswoman forecasted a more conciliatory visit.

“There will be plenty of time to discuss differences between the president and the governor,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “But now is not the time.”

There is no shortage of differences between the two men, who are about as opposite as a pair of politicians can be. DeSantis, 44, is a smooth-talking, Harvard- and Yale-educated governor who delights in political bombast but is known to be somewhat stiff in private interactions.

Biden, 79, prides himself on his bipartisan bona fides and his lack of an Ivy League diploma; glad-handing is his favorite part of politics, even if he often trips over his words.

As DeSantis’ profile has risen — he is now arguably the second-most prominent Republican in the country, behind former President Donald Trump — he and Biden have increasingly butted heads with each other, whether on Covid policy, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, or most recently on the Martha’s Vineyard flights.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden are set to meet today. (Gage Skidmore)

But crises have a way of scrambling partisan politics. Just ask former New Jersey Gov. Chris Chris Christie, who put aside his surrogacy for Mitt Romney in the closing days of the 2012 election to warmly welcome President Barack Obama to his state after Hurricane Sandy.

Christie’s embrace of Obama — metaphorically, their supposed “hug” never really happened — came back to haunt him in his 2016 Republican presidential primary bid.

Christie’s successor, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, similarly built a surprisingly strong relationship with President Donald Trump during Covid-19, forged over repeated phone calls and even a dinner party.

“For all the things I disagree with him on, I will forever and always be grateful for that, that he and his team were great partners in our most dire moments,” Murphy told me in an interview last month.

And then, right in Florida, there’s the other notorious hug of the Obama era: between the former president and Charlie Crist, then the state’s Republican governor.

The two shared an embrace when Obama came to visit amid the economic crisis in 2009; the hug ended Crist’s career in Republican politics. But not his career overall: Crist is now a Democratic congressman and the party’s nominee running against DeSantis himself.

Barack Obama and Chris Christie after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (Chuck Kennedy)

DeSantis’ response to Hurricane Ian — and his ability to put politics aside during today’s visit — will likely figure prominently into his race with Crist.

Past Florida governors have both risen (see: Bush, Jeb) and fallen (see: Chiles, Lawton) based on their handling of hurricanes, as have U.S. presidents (see Bush, George W.)

“If he comes through this thing, he can pretty much bank his re-election,” Florida pollster Brad Coker told Bloomberg of DeSantis. “But if he wobbles and there are problems in the aftermath, of course, politically it can be a problem for him.” Polls are already showing a post-Ian bump for DeSantis.

Democrats also hope the hurricane response will provide a political lift for the president: “Biden always excels when you need a leader who is empathetic to people’s situation and rises above partisan politics,” Democratic strategist Celinda Lake told Politico.

That’s why these possible future rivals will likely keep the partisan knife-fighting far away from today’s visit. It’s something they’ve actually done before in an emergency: when Biden visited Florida in July 2021 after the Surfside condo collapse, the two politicians had nothing but praise for the other’s response.

Although it took the president a noticeably long time to place the first call, Biden and DeSantis have spoken on the phone multiple times since Hurricane Ian struck.

With DeSantis’ profile even higher than during the Surfside visit, political observers will be watching closely to see if their mutual praise is as flowery this time. Anything DeSantis says today is liable to end up in a Trump-produced attack ad, after all.

So with the governor’s eyes firmly planted on his political future, a conciliatory tone is likely — but I wouldn’t hold out for a hug. That generally hasn’t ended well for Republican presidential aspirants.

What else you should know

➞ Republicans are standing by Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker after reports that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2012, despite his pro-life stance. Former President Trump, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, and the party’s top super PAC all issued statements of support for Walker yesterday.

Walker’s campaign also says that his fundraising is surging amid the controversy, likening it to Trump after the “Access Hollywood” video. However, top Republicans in Georgia are “despondent about Walker’s chances” in private, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as the candidate’s own son begins to speak out against him on social media.

➞ In another key Senate race, political experts are upgrading Republican Mehmet Oz’s chances against Democrat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania. The Cook Political Report shifted its rating for the contest back to “Toss Up” yesterday after previously moving it to “Lean Democrat” in August.

Since then, Republicans have poured tens of millions of dollars into the race, running ads accusing Fetterman of being “dangerously liberal on crime” and pointing to his recent stroke, which has had lingering effects on the Democrat’s campaign trail performance.

Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign is facing new controversy. (Michael Kaplan)

➞ The Supreme Court’s conservatives appeared open during oral arguments yesterday to revisiting a decades-old precedent on racial gerrymandering in order to make the requirements for states to draw majority-minority districts less stringent.

However, several conservative justices expressed skepticism towards a broader argument by Alabama — whose congressional map was at issue in the case at hand — that redistricting should be done using an entirely “race-neutral” approach. For the second day in a row, newly minted Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson stole the spotlight with her pointed questioning.

More news to know:

  • New York Times: “U.S. National Debt Tops $31 Trillion for First Time”
  • Politico: “Musk to buy Twitter after all, in reversal that will reshape 2024
  • NBC News: “Trump asks Supreme Court to intervene in Mar-a-Lago case”
  • Pluribus News: “Marijuana legalization heads to red states”

Today at a glance

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.

AT THE WHITE HOUSE: President Biden and First Lady Biden will travel to Fort Myers, Florida this morning to visit the storm-ravaged city. Once there, they will survey the damage from Hurricane Ian via helicopter (1 pm), receive a briefing on the recovery efforts (2 pm), and meet with small business owners and residents impacted by the hurricane (2:35 pm). Finally, the president will deliver remarks (3:15 pm) before the couple returns to Washington.

  • Vice President Harris will travel to New Britain, Connecticut this morning. She will participate in a conversation on reproductive rights with Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson at Central Connecticut State University (1:15 pm) and then return to Washington.
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Florida.

ON THE HILL: The House and Senate are not scheduled to hold votes until after the midterm elections.  

IN THE COURTS: The Supreme Court is not meeting today.


In Tuesday’s newsletter, I mistakenly wrote that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with the Parma, Ohio police department in Novak v. City of Parma, the case that drew an amicus brief from The Onion. It was the Sixth Circuit. My apologies for the error.

Before I go...

It’s Yom Kippur, so I hope anyone marking the holiday has an easy fast.

One related piece that stuck with me: “What My Favorite Anti-Semite Taught Me About Forgiveness,” by Yair Rosenberg in The Atlantic.

Yom Kippur is all about atoning for what you’ve done wrong — and also forgiving others for how they’ve wronged you. Rosenberg’s piece is in that spirit. He talks about Abdullah Antepli, who was a “proud, card-carrying anti-Semite” growing up but now works to bring Jews and Muslims together.

“If he had been born just a few decades later,” Rosenberg writes, “he wouldn’t exist,” since his past views would have been recorded on the Internet.

“How many other people are out there who might otherwise have learned from their mistakes, but are no longer allowed to?” he continues. “How much future good have we denied ourselves in the name of ostracizing past evil?”

Some food for thought, for sure. Speaking of Yom Kippur: if I’ve made any mistakes in this newsletter or in my interactions with any of you in the past year, I apologize.

I try to answer as many emails as I can and be transparent about my errors (see above!), but there are surely many of both that slip by or that I’ve mishandled. I’m truly sorry, and I’ll try my best to do better in the year ahead.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe