WASHINGTON – The lethal Florida hurricane of 2022 also generated storm warnings about the presidential race of 2024.
As President Joe Biden visited Florida on Wednesday to survey damage caused by Hurricane Ian, he found himself in the cross-winds of two potential 2024 re-election opponents: Former President Donald Trump and current Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Biden and DeSantis kept it cordial; Trump did not.
"We are a nation in decline – so sad to say it, we are a failing nation," Trump told a group of Hispanic conservatives in Miami, laying all of the blame on the Biden administration.
Before blasting the visiting president over issues that will animate the 2024 campaign, from immigration policy to the many investigations of him, Trump offered sympathy for the victims of the "monster hurricane" and praised rescue workers.
"God bless our governor," Trump said at one point, though he did not cite DeSantis by name.
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Earlier in the day, Biden and DeSantis were together. stressing the bipartisan nature of disaster relief during public statements after a tour of damaged areas in southwest Florida. The record-breaking storm reportedly claimed more than 100 lives in the state and wreaked millions of dollars in property damage.
"We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove," Biden told reporters. He said DeSantis has "done a good job" in handling the hurricane response.
For his part, DeSantis said Florida was "fortunate to have good coordination" with the Biden administration, and told the president: "Welcome to Florida, we appreciate working together."
Some tensions? Maybe.
At one point, DeSantis said you need to see things from the ground to truly appreciate the depth of the damage. "You can go over it in a helicopter and you see damage, but it does not do it justice until you are actually on the ground," DeSantis said – this right after Biden toured the area by helicopter.
After he took the microphone, Biden said: "I'm sure it's much worse on the ground, but you can see a whole hell of a lot of the damage from the air."
The trio of Biden, Trump, and DeSantis has been trading barbs all year, previewing a presidential race that could be unmatched in vitriol. Biden has said Trump and his political movement are "a threat to our very democracy," while Trump branded his 2020 vanquisher as an "enemy of the state."
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People couldn't help but think about 2024 with Biden, Trump and DeSantis in the same state on the same day, in a pivotal swing state no less.
"As some people would say, the stars are aligned," said Susan MacManus, political science professor emerita at the University of South Florida.
MacManus said she was not surprised that Biden and DeSantis played nice because that's what voters expect. "People are so down on politics right how," she said. "We're beyond people accepting boorish behavior in situations like this."
Trump's attacks were also not a surprise, but MacManus questioned how many people noticed. "A lot of people are not focused on him today," she said. "They're focused on the hurricane, on the crisis."
All politics are local
Local political winds also swirled around DeSantis as he hosted the Democratic president.
The Florida Democratic Party criticized the Republican governor for an interview he gave to a conservative news outlet in which he claimed some reporters had wanted an even bigger storm to hit Florida.
The "national regime media," DeSantis said, had wanted to see the hurricane hit the bigger city of Tampa, wreak more damage, and be worse for Florida. "They want to use storms, and destruction from storms, as a way to advance their agenda," DeSantis said, though he did not specify what that agenda was.
While many Republicans see DeSantis as a potential presidential candidate in 2024, he must first win re-election as governor against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist in November.
"Despite pledging to put politics aside, DeSantis has remained in campaign mode throughout the entirety of the disaster," the Florida Democratic Party said in a statement.
DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said the governor stands by his assertion regarding the media, citing stories about climate change and how the hurricane would challenge DeSantis’ leadership skills.
In months past, Biden and DeSantis have mixed it up over COVID regulations and immigration policy. But they have been more cordial since Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida. The two have spoken on the phone and exchanged pleasantries over federal and state assistance to hurricane victims.
This wasn't the first face-to-face meeting between the U.S. president and the Florida governor, nor their first meeting over disaster relief. Biden flew to Florida in 2021 after the collapse of the Surfside condo building.
In that meeting, DeSantis told Biden "you’ve been very supportive," while Biden praised "the way we’re cooperating."
Things were not so pleasant last month, after DeSantis authorized flights of migrants to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
"Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props," Biden said at the time. "What they’re doing is simply wrong: it’s un-American."
DeSantis responded that the federal government also flies migrants to places across the country, saying at one point: "So, when Biden is flying these people all over the fruited plain in the middle of the night, I didn't hear a peep out of those people."
While some Democrats have questioned whether Biden should run again – he turns 82 just weeks after the 2024 election – he has signaled he plans to do so. MSNBC host Al Sharpton said Biden told him during a conversation at the White House that “I’m going to do it again,” according to a report by NBC News.
Biden has said he would love to run again against Trump, who faces storms of legal troubles. A multiplicity of investigations include Trump's handling of classified documents, his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden, and the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
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Whoever runs, Florida will be a key part of their campaign strategy.
Republicans cannot win a presidential election without Florida. Democrats usually make a big push in the state, however, and Trump won it over Biden in 2020 with only 51% of the vote.
Florida hurricanes and politics
Hurricanes have also had roles in Florida politics.
During the 1992 presidential election, Democratic candidate Bill Clinton visited southern Florida to tour the wreckage wrought by Hurricane Andrew, as he and others criticized the response to the disaster by the President George H.W. Bush administration.
Bush still wound up winning Florida, but lost the national election to Clinton – who carried the state in his 1996 reelection bid. The Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden carried Florida in both 2008 and 2012.
George W. Bush, whose court-contested narrow win in Florida gave him the presidency in 2000, repeatedly toured hurricane damage in Florida after a series of storms blew through the state during his 2004 reelection bid. He was often accompanied by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Bush won Florida in 2004 by 5 percentage points over John Kerry on his way to a second term.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden, Trump, DeSantis: 2022's Hurricane Ian previews 2024 election