Now, DeSantis made a bet earlier this year that the pandemic was on its way out. It seemed like a good bet in May, with cases plunging and vaccinations increasing. With 2024 looming, he wanted to position himself as the laissez-faire governor, the guy who let his state do its thing during the pandemic without consequence. (He was being challenged for this title by South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), whose legitimate indifference to taking steps to containing the virus led to her state being one of the hardest-hit in the country.) So he took a tough stance against any sort of vaccine or mask mandate, even using the country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, as an explicit foil (as had Trump). He encouraged vaccinations, yes, but encouraged “freedom” more.