Hurricane Matthew didn’t become the national disaster many Americans feared (although the country of Haiti is once again reeling from hundreds of deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced Haitians after the storm blew through). While strong winds and flooding has plagued the coast from Florida to North Carolina, the death toll in the US remains low and the storm has weakened as it missed its initial target.
The political effects, however? Well, those are still to be determined.
Despite warnings against travel and repeated advice to stay inside and avoid the storm, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced early that — natural disaster or not — there was no need to extend voter registration in Florida to make up for the days people may be unable to get out and get on the voter rolls. This decision came despite the fact that the administration itself was warning people days ahead to evacuate or risk death.
“Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday night said the state’s deadline next Tuesday to register to vote is staying put,” Florida Politics reported. “‘I’m not going to extend it,’ Scott told reporters at a Hurricane Matthew briefing in the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. ‘Everybody has had a lot of time to register,’ he said. “On top of that, we’ve got lots of opportunities to vote: Early voting, absentee voting and Election Day. So I don’t intend to make any changes.'”
One Florida political scientist noted that for the last presidential election, 50,000 voters registered in just the last five days of the registration window closing.
Of course, the GOP has never met a voter suppression tactic they didn’t love, so seeing Gov. Scott politicize the storm is sadly unsurprising (although luckily the deadline was extended at the last minute despite his stance).
Nor was it surprising to see the conservative media try to claim that President Obama somehow engineered the pending meteorological crisis as a way to sway the presidential race. According to Mediaite, a right-wing outlet called “Heat Street” ran an online poll asking, “Do you think President Obama ordered the US military to engineer a hurricane for the sole purpose of destroying Donald Trump’s Mar-a-lago estate?”
“That poll comes at the bottom of an article called, ‘SHAMELESS: Obama Refuses to Act as Hurricane Matthew Heads Straight for Trump’s Estate in Mar-A-Lago.’ That article includes the line, “‘As it turns out, Hurricane Matthew is heading straight for Mar-a-Lago, and President [Barack Obama] isn’t doing anything to stop it,'” Mediaite reports. “It is unclear how they would like Obama to ‘stop’ the hurricane, but for what it’s worth, the president has declared a state of emergency in Florida as Hurricane Matthew approaches. It is unlikely that the military engineered a dangerous natural disaster at his request, but that could be why ‘It’s possible, but I’d need to see more evidence’ is listed as a poll option.”
While that poll may seem ridiculously over the top when it comes to far right conspiracy theories, even the more “mainstream” of conservative news sites were also stirring up the political pot over Hurricane Matthew. Conservative media superstar Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report announced that he believed the Obama administration was lying about the severity of the storm in an effort to bolster claims that man-made climate change is real.
“The deplorables are starting to wonder if govt has been lying to them about Hurricane Matthew intensity to make exaggerated point on climate,” he tweeted Thursday, likely before the Haitian death toll started to reach to almost 1000. The Daily Caller continued the theme, arguing, “Matthew has already broken records for Caribbean hurricanes, according to the Weather Channel. It was the longest living Category 4 or 5 storm in the Atlantic and Eastern Caribbean on record, and has generated more accumulated energy than the entire Atlantic hurricane season in 2013. That’s terrifying, but is it global warming?”
Or course, any impact Matthew might have made on the presidential race this weekend is wiped out anyway, after the Trump tape revelations and the GOP schism over the head of their ticket. It looks like the GOP was focusing on the wrong bag of wind once again.