(CNN)On Sunday night, as part of a broader piece about the vaccination efforts in Florida, “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi noted that Publix, a grocery store that had partnered with the state to distribute vaccines, had also donated $100,000 to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2022 reelection campaign.
It was a passing mention, without any other facts or context to back it up. Just that Publix was working with the state to administer vaccines and that the company’s PAC had made this donation to the governor.The insinuation here, however, was pretty clear. Publix got this state contract because of the donation. Pay to play. Favoritism. All that good stuff.
THE POINT — NOW ON YOUTUBE!
In each episode of his weekly YouTube show, Chris Cillizza will delve a little deeper into the surreal world of politics. Click to subscribe!
The problem is that, in the wake of the “60 Minutes” report, multiple Democratic elected officials have come out to debunk the tie between the donation and Publix distributing the vaccine. Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, a Democrat, said that the news program had run “intentionally false” information because, he insisted, the producers knew that the county, not the governor, had been the one to request the Publix partnership.Read MoreThe report — and the backlash — amount to a massive gift to DeSantis as he looks to his reelection race next year and, he hopes, a 2024 run for the Republican presidential nomination.The mainstream media trying to suggest he was involved in a pay-for-play scheme involving the Covid-19 vaccine? With Democrats on the record saying not only that “60 Minutes” got it wrong but did so purposely? Manna from heaven for DeSantis, who has already benefited greatly from his laissez-faire approach to the pandemic in his state — placing second behind only former President Donald Trump in a 2024 straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year. For their part, a CBS spokesperson said “60 Minutes” had requested an interview with DeSantis but he declined, and added, “The idea we ignored their perspective is untrue. … Our story Sunday night speaks for itself.”Like any ambitious national politician, DeSantis sought to quickly move to take advantage of the situation. He appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show Monday night — denouncing the “60 Minutes” report as a “smear” with “malicious intent.”Trump-aligned commentators rushed to DeSantis’ defense, casting this episode as evidence of just how scared the media is of the Florida governor’s 2024 prospects.”You cannot even imagine the ways The System is gonna try to destroy Ron DeSantis in the next few years,” tweeted Jesse Kelly, a host on “The Right,” a conservative TV network. “He scares them. This 60 Minutes thing was the soft warm up to what’s coming.”DeSantis couldn’t have written this script any better. He gets oodles more national attention and love from Trump conservatives, all the while being able to bash away at the media. Win, win, win.The Point: Becoming a major contender for a presidential nomination requires skill, yes. But it also requires being in the right place at the right time — not to mention some lucky breaks. And this is a major one for DeSantis.