ORLANDO, Fla. — High-profile speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday and Saturday railed against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top U.S. epidemiologist Anthony Fauci, sharply criticizing their handling of the pandemic.
They contrasted how Cuomo and Fauci have approached the pandemic to how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did. DeSantis has been one of the governors most suspicious of pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions while Cuomo and Fauci have advocated for more restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the virus that’s killed more than 500,000 Americans.
“You know, governor, some of your colleagues get Emmies for acting,” American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp said while introducing DeSantis, who opened the conference. He was referencing Cuomo, who got an Emmy last year for his coronavirus briefings.
“We’re happy to be in a state that has a governor who deserves the People’s Choice Award,” Schlapp added.
DeSantis didn’t mention either Fauci or Cuomo, but he did characterize Florida as an “oasis of freedom.”
Other major speakers hammered Cuomo more explicitly, including Donald Trump Jr., who delivered the most high-profile address of Friday.
“Imagine if Ron DeSantis did what Cuomo has done over the last couple of years. He wouldn’t be getting an Emmy, he’d be in jail,” Trump Jr. said. “Credible accusations of harassment swept under the rug, verbal harassment swept under the rug, hiding evidence from the DOJ swept under the rug, no problem. Give him an Emmy! Remember Fredo when he was talking about it for months? Where’s Fredo? He’s so quiet these days! Why isn’t Fredo talking about these things right now?”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., also hammered Cuomo. The firebrand congressman has become one of the most vocal advocates of ousting Republicans who are seen as disloyal to former President Donald Trump. Gaetz received a standing ovation that lasted over four minutes after his Friday speech.
“The fake news media and their allies in Silicon Valley made Governor Cuomo out to be an iconic cross between King David and Tom Brady,” Gaetz said. “What a big lie that turned out to be. According to former aides, Governor Cuomo was offering to replace staff meetings with strip poker.”
“Meanwhile, they were stripping granny out of the COVID ward at the hospital and tossing her in the nursing home, just enough time to infect everybody, and then go back to the hospital so that deaths could be recategorized for politics,” he added. “How about we ditch the lockdown governors like Cuomo and Newsom ad Murphy and never ditch the American way of life and the American spirit.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, meanwhile, attacked both Fauci and Cuomo. She’s seen her profile rise within the GOP for similar reasons to DeSantis. She’s refused to lock down her state, keeping schools open and the economy running.
“We never focused on case numbers. Instead, we kept our eye on hospital capacity,” Noem said. “Dr. Fauci told me that I would have 10,000 COVID patients in the hospital on our worst day. On our worst day, we had a little over 600. I don’t know if you agree but, Fauci is wrong a lot!”
She added, on Cuomo: “At one point, I appeared on George Stephanopoulos’s Sunday show. He had just wrapped up a segment with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo here he asked Cuomo to give me advice on how to deal with COVID.”
“That’s the media’s COVID hero,” Noem added, referring to the scandal-ridden governor. “So, who really needed the advice?”
Cuomo denies the sexual assault allegations against him. He’s also claimed his administration was following federal guidance when it put coronavirus patients in nursing homes, although it did not stop sending elderly patients back to their group homes until well after the federal guidance changed.
Fauci and his defenders have said their recommendations on the virus, which did not exist before 2019, have evolved as Americans’ understanding of the virus has evolved. They also say the strict recommendations reflect the vast number of deaths the virus is capable of causing and has caused.
Many at CPAC have complained about masking rules in the venue, which are not in place because of DeSantis but because of Orange County, Fla., and the Hyatt where the conference is being held. Some are wearing mesh masks or simply openly flouting the masking rules. Gatherings outside of the CPAC conference include large crowds with very few people wearing masks.
CPAC is set to wrap up on Sunday when Trump will give the keynote speech. He’ll aim to emphasize that he’s still the leader of the party, as many of his allies have said in previous addresses and interviews.
But DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic has improved his profile so much that many people at CPAC are predicting that it will be him and not Trump will be the 2024 GOP nominee.
Fox Nation is a sponsor of CPAC.
Fox News Alexandra Rego, Joseph A. Wulfsohn and Charles Creitz contributed to this report.