Discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Republican presidential race has largely been confined to sniping between former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — but the rest of the GOP field may take some swings if the topic is breached at Wednesday night’s debate.
A DeSantis campaign official suggested to The Post that the 45-year-old would stake out a contrast between how he handled COVID and how other candidates responded to the pandemic, a topic which has not been brought up at the three previous debates.
Of the four candidates confirmed to be appearing in Tuscaloosa, Ala. — including former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, biotech mogul Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — DeSantis was the only one in office at the time of the outbreak, and his hands-off reaction to the crisis propelled him to national prominence.
The Republican campaign arguments over COVID have focused on who had the least strict response to the virus. Trump’s main criticisms of DeSantis have focused on him issuing lockdown orders and closing bars and beaches at the very beginning of the pandemic — although the governor still had some of the least restrictive policies in the country.
DeSantis could draw contrast with him and the other candidates over COVID-19. Getty Images
DeSantis, meanwhile, has criticized the former president for not firing infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was recommending masking and longer stay-at-home orders.
“I’m the only candidate running who will bring a reckoning to these agencies. The only one,” Desantis said in Iowa on Saturday, alluding to the CDC, NIH and FDA.
Haley, who the DeSantis campaign has increasingly targeted in recent weeks, did not have the ability to directly impact legislation during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
However, she did post several tweets about the lockdowns, ranging from praising disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences at the beginning of the pandemic, to pressing the US to punish China for the spread of the virus and questioning where the COVID relief funds were ending up.
“Confession: I look forward to watching Gov. Cuomo’s press conference every day. I get a kick how he talks about govt issues and then goes into a therapy session. #MyDailyConfessionDuringCorona,” Haley tweeted in the first days of the pandemic in 2020.
She followed up, “I’m not being sarcastic. I’m serious. I enjoy watching his press conferences.”
Haley, DeSantis and Ramaswamy debate at the Nov. 8 Miami showdown. Getty Images
That same day Haley tweeted a quote from the press conference, admitting that Cuomo was her “daily addiction”: “I live alone and I am even getting annoyed with my dog.” #CuomoTherapySession #MyDailyAddiction”
Later on in the pandemic, the former UN ambassador zeroed in on China and directly attacking President Biden.
“Joe Biden keeps talking about the ‘next pandemic’ but what about the source of the current one? China unleashed COVID-19 on the world, and by not holding them accountable or having a credible investigation, you’re only putting the world at risk once again,” she tweeted in September of 2021.
“Remember Biden’s $1.9 trillion ‘covid relief’ bill? Well, it turns out millions were wasted on golf courses and baseball stadiums. Taxpayers should be furious,” Haley said in March of 2022.
“Nikki Haley used her voice to denounce China and call on the UN, the World Health Organization, Joe Biden, and Democrats to hold China accountable. She opposed the lockdowns that devastated our cities and left so many children behind. As president, she’ll demand answers from China, protect our individual liberty, and fight for our children,” spokesperson Ken Farnaso told The Post.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, US entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott pose on stage prior to the GOP debate in Miami. CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Ramaswamy’s debate comments about COVID could focus on the vaccine, as he’s said he regretted taking two doses.
“Had I had the facts that I do now, as a young, thankfully healthy male, I would not have chosen to get vaccinated,” Ramaswamy said in July in an interview with the All-In podcast.
The biotech entrepreneur also served on Ohio’s COVID-19 response team, evidence of which was reportedly initially deleted off of his Wikipedia page.
Christie — who has defined himself as the anti-Trump candidate — has claimed the former commander-in-chief gave him the virus in 2020.
In May of 2020, the former New Jersey governor argued lockdown restrictions should be lifted for economic reasons.
“Of course, everybody wants to save every life they can — but the question is, towards what end, ultimately?” Christie told CNN’s Dana Bash. “Are there ways that we can… thread the middle here to allow that there are going to be deaths, and there are going to be deaths no matter what?”