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The Florida media loves Republican lobbyist / strategist Mac Stipanovich. He’s a colorful character with an impressive resume and a reputation for bold, pithy quotes to enhance many a reporter’s political news story.

This week, the Tampa Bay Times published an opinion-editorial Stipanovich penned in which he opposes the allegation that Florida Democrat gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum is a socialist. In it, Stipanovich argues that if Gillum is indeed a socialist, then so is his political opponent, Republican nominee Ron DeSantis.

His argument is absurd.

The Times is a notoriously liberal newspaper, and they’re all-too-happy to quote, cite, or publish the opinions of prominent Republicans who help advance their editorial views. That’s exactly what the famously #NeverTrump Stipanovich offered with his pontification, in which he presents the choice of being either a “demagogue” or a “dimwit” to anyone who courts the notion that Gillum might actually be a socialist. In Stipanovich’s own words:

The early narrative by U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and his supporters in the governor’s race is that if Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is elected governor, Florida will become another Venezuela. That argument is so preposterous that it is promoted only by demagogues and believed only by dimwits, of which there are, unfortunately, a gracious plenty of both these days.

It’s true that Ron DeSantis told a New York radio station that Andrew Gillum “…wants to turn Florida in to Venezuela.” DeSantis offered that rhetorical line because Venezuela represents the perfect example of failed Democrat / socialist policies, and because, despite Stipanovich’s claims, there is strong evidence that Andrew Gillum harbors socialist views.

The most undercutting counterpoint to Stipanovich is the fact he omitted from his column two of Gillum’s most eyebrow-raising endorsements: one from avowed socialist Bernie Sanders, and one from avowed socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

Undoubtedly, both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez support Gillum because Gillum’s extreme progressive views are closest to their own. 

But to mount his defense of Gillum, Stipanovich is forced to retreat to the dictionary definition of “socialism,” which in Stipanovich’s words, requires Gillum to be an advocate for “community control” over the economy. The term “community control” is just a convenient, pie-in-the-sky term for “socialist government officials” who would actually rule over everything from production to exchange to distribution in what was once a vibrant and formerly free marketplace. Obviously, regardless of how extreme Gillum’s views might be, there’s little chance he’d succeed in implementing them in Florida without a popular revolt.

But that’s not the point.

After setting this extreme bar for anyone labeling Gillum a socialist, Stipanovich then weaves his way through several paragraphs to arrive at the unsupported conclusion that true difference between Gillum and DeSantis is the degree to which they support the laundry list of existing social programs such as Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment insurance benefits.

Indeed, by the letter of Mac Stipanovich’s dictionary, that’s like arguing there is little difference between a jaywalker and arsonist since both are criminals.  Stipanovich fails to make the distinction between two important concepts: intent and consequences.

Just as an arsonist may not have intended to burn down an entire city block or hurt people, Andrew Gillum almost certainly doesn’t intend to burn down Florida’s economy with his embrace of socialist policies. Still, regardless of intent, there are significant consequences for embracing such a radical departure from the economic policies Florida has pursued for the past eight years (and with great results).  

Ron DeSantis is right to point out that if Andrew Gillum becomes Florida’s next governor, he will embrace policies that will reverse the relentless focus on rebuilding Florida as an economic powerhouse.

But it’s no surprise that not even the most extreme socialists, never mind Andrew Gillum, would ever embrace the economic disaster that Venezuela has become. That nation’s collapse is more complex than simply blaming socialism, but socialism damaged the economy by adding significant market inefficiencies which inevitably dragged Venezuela to economic oblivion. As DeSantis points out, Florida would do well to avoid such problems by rejecting Gillum in November.

Gillum is now running from the extreme political views he openly championed during the primary. He won the Democratic nomination in part because he courted socialist support. In so doing, he was embraced by two well-known socialist leaders who agree with his extreme economic and social views. 

Of course, Democrats know that in Florida, openly embracing the socialist label isn’t a winning strategy in a general election. So Gillum will cloak his far left-wing ideology in more palatable rhetoric by embracing the term “progressive,” while relying on people like Stipanovich to help him wriggle away from the utterly disastrous “socialist” label.

But just as Ron DeSantis will now reap whatever he has coming due to his open embrace of support from Donald Trump, Gillum must now reap the penalties commensurate with his courting of socialist voters and their champions.

Sorry, Mac Stipanovich, but both Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum must now reckon with the company they keep. This November, that means a referendum on capitalism vs. socialism, like it or not.

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