Andrew Gillum could be the next Donald Trump of Florida politics, albeit a more polite, well-mannered version. He’s Trump’s political parallel: Florida Democrat’s answer to an unlikely candidate who can upset the balance and change the political playbook.
In 2016 political experts thought Trump would never make the GOP nomination. He was too vulgar, too much of a bully, too hot-headed, too shady in his business deals, too inconsistent in his positions (and even party support). He was a demagogue. A fraudster. A snake oil salesman. There was no way he’d win the primary… Until there was.
“Well,” pundits thought, “Now people will stop messing around. The reality of Donald Trump as president is not a joke anymore. It’s a threat. People will realize that and they won’t elect him. Did you see the way he made fun of the special needs reporter? Did you hear that recording with Billy Bush?”
There was no way America would elect him… Until we did.
Personality wise, Andrew Gillum is nothing like Donald Trump. He’s not a demagogue, snake oil salesman, or fraudster. But as far as political realities go, I see a lot of similarities.
Nobody thought Gillum would win against Gwen Graham, the daughter of a former Florida governor. A U.S. Congresswoman in her own right, a household name in Florida, and frontrunner throughout the primaries, she was the Jeb Bush of the Florida Democratic Primary. The anointed one. The biggest difference, of course, is that unlike Bush, nobody saw her loss coming.
Looking ahead to the November election, GOP consultants and politicos like their odds with DeSantis against Gillum. “Better than going against Graham,” they say. To me, that sounds a lot like those who thought Hillary would be better off facing Trump.
During the Florida Chamber’s results broadcast late Tuesday evening, Brian Burgess, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Capitolist, said Andrew Gillum won because he was ignored.
He won’t be ignored now.
Over the next three months he’ll be one of the most talked about candidates in the country. Local and national media will converge on Tallahassee and follow him across the state of Florida. He’s already made history by becoming the first black gubernatorial nominee of a major party in Florida. And you can count on the national Democratic party putting a lot of money and star power behind him to put a key state like Florida in the blue column.
Don’t be surprised when Barack Obama, Eric Holder and other big names start stumping for him in the Sunshine State.
Gillum will drive turnout among those excited at the prospect of seeing Florida’s first black governor take office, the same way Obama drove turnout at the prospect of electing the nation’s first black president. It won’t just be a greater number of black voters who show up at the polls, but other minorities and white millenials who are more focused on social justice and equity than their predecessors.
Gillum in 2018 is easily more qualified to be governor than Obama was to be president in 2008. When Obama ran against John McCain, his most significant experience was his service as a community organizer and a partial term in the Senate. By contrast, Gillam touts his service as an elected city commissioner and experience running an executive office as Mayor of Tallahassee.
DeSantis will have plenty of money too. He also got plenty of sterling credentials. He’s a graduate of Harvard and Yale. He served as a JAG officer in the US Navy. And he’s been a U.S. congressman since 2013. He seems like the natural choice. A traditionally strong candidate.
But Republicans might be a little too confident if they think a GOP win November is a foregone conclusion.
DeSantis’s campaign and their allies will try to hammer Gillum for his ongoing FBI probe, and for his mishandling of Tallahassee’s emergency response during Hurricane Hermine. They’ll play up his socialist views and ties to Bernie Sanders. The party faithful and ideologically committed won’t be phased, but the GOP will try to make him unpalatable to the undecided voters.
But unless Gillum actually gets indicted (or convicted), none of it will matter. Just like Donald Trump’s flaws and political missteps didn’t matter.
If the GOP expects to win against Gillum, they’ll have to put the fear of God into conservative voters and drive turnout. They’ll have to acknowledge the new political reality ushered in by Donald Trump, and try to combat it in a world that no longer follows by the old political playbook.
Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe Gillum versus DeSantis isn’t like Obama versus McCain, or Trump versus Clinton. Given DeSantis’s alignment with the President, perhaps it’s Trump versus Trump. Anything could happen.