Trump's conspiracy theory on Puerto Rico death toll makes even Florida Republicans squirm

President Trump’s assertion Thursday that Puerto Rico’s death toll from Hurricane Maria amounted to a conspiracy by Democrats to make him look bad proved too much for even his staunchest Republican supporters in Florida.

With the midterms less than two months away, and with Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas, Trump disputed an independent study that Puerto Rico’s government cited when, in August, it raised its official death toll from the storm to 2,975.

Trump’s remarks even proved too much for Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, a man who has advertised himself as being in lockstep with the president. “Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life,” a statement from the candidate’s campaign read. “He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated.”

The timing of Trump’s tweet could not be worse for Republicans locked in tight races in Florida. Thousands of Puerto Ricans have relocated to the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and candidates in the state have worked hard to court their votes.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP (3), Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP (3), Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

In a House race in South Florida that Democrats have targeted, incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo retweeted Gov. Rick Scott’s rebuke of Trump on Thursday, a further sign of the anxiety the president’s latest conspiracy is causing.

Democrats like gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum also knew that Trump’s tweets could come back to haunt their party and quickly responded.

Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson sent out tweets in English and Spanish to seize on Trump’s latest conspiracy theory.

The disgust over Trump’s remarks extended beyond those Republicans seeking office in the midterms. Alan Levine, who was appointed to the Board of Governors by Scott, had a clear message for the president.

The closest that any Florida Republican politician came to defending Trump’s explanation for the official Puerto Rican death toll came from Sen. Marco Rubio, and even that was at odds with the president’s telling of events.


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