Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist praised Gov. Ron DeSantis’ initial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic despite slamming the Republican governor as the “shutdown guy” during Monday’s debate.
Crist sparked a social media firestorm during his debate with DeSantis after he said to the governor, “You’re the only Governor in the history of Florida that’s ever shutdown our schools. You’re the only governor in the history of Florida that’s shutdown our businesses. I never did that as governor.”
“You’re the one who’s the shutdown guy,” Crist continued. “We need to have somebody who’s at the helm that understands it’s important to listen to science. To do what’s right, to utilize common sense. You don’t just shutdown at the outset and then when it’s politically convenient for you, you want to open back up to score political points.”
Crist’s comments Monday drew a stark contrast to what he said at the start of the pandemic. In April 2020, after DeSantis issued his first and only statewide stay-at-home order, Crist praised the move but said it happened too slowly.
He told the Tallahassee Democrat that DeSantis’ response was “maybe a little bit of a slow start at the outset by the administration here, but I’m encouraged and I want to emphasize that.”
“I’ve been in those shoes and people like to Monday-morning quarterback these things a lot,” Crist said. “I don’t think this is a time for criticism.”
Crist also said at the time that DeSantis’ requirement that travelers from New York self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Florida “was a good, positive step to protect our fellow Floridians.”
“And then he went further — a little later than I would have liked, but he did it — and he said, y’know, issued a stay-at-home order,” Crist told the paper. “It was a little bit unclear, a little bit, about whether locals would have as much impact as the state level would. But I think that’s going to get hashed out.”
Like all governors across the country, DeSantis shut down businesses and schools at the beginning of the pandemic in Spring 2020, but he quickly pivoted to becoming the first governor to reopen the state, sparking the nickname “DeathSantis” among his detractors.
And yet even when cases spiked in Florida, along with the rest of the country due to the spread of the Delta variant in 2021, the death rate remained on par with lockdown states like California and New York. Today, Florida’s death rate is similar to New York’s and still lower than lockdown-heavy states like Michigan and New Jersey despite the Sunshine State’s large elderly population.
But Crist’s admiration for DeSantis’s handling of the pandemic was short-lived. When DeSantis reopened the state and banned mask and vaccine mandates in schools, Crist slammed DeSantis as putting kids in danger to score political points.
In July 2020, the former congressman was among several Democrats who signed a letter calling on DeSantis to institute another stay-at-home order due to a rise in cases.
“There is no doubt that issuing a stay-at-home order is a difficult decision,” the letter read. “Closing the economy again would be painful, but that pain pales in comparison to the tragedy of losing thousands more Floridians, of watching our loved ones suffer through debilitating illness and possibly life-long health issues, or worse, watching over a phone screen as they die alone in a strained hospital system.”
That letter, which was originally posted on Rep. Donna Shalala’s website, did not prompt more lockdowns and has since been deleted.
Crist’s campaign did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.