Campaign silly season has officially started, and we’re already witnessing shenanigans being pulled by political operatives trying to fleece donors, or in some cases, fleece a naive candidate who doesn’t realize what he or she is getting into.
Case in point: imagine testing the waters for a potential campaign for Florida agriculture commissioner and getting so caught up in the media attention and politics that you forget that Florida agriculture is an important part of the job.
That’s what happened to poor Chuck Nadd in a late breaking story published by Politico Thursday night (and again in this morning’s Politico Playbook), in which Nadd announced he is considering a run for agriculture commissioner. Nadd got so caught up in the politics of attacking his potential opponent, Wilton Simpson, over Simpson’s steadfast support for Florida’s sugar farmers, that Nadd seemed not to know that sugar farming is one of the many important agricultural producers operating in Florida.
The last time a would-be Florida candidate launched such a head scratching trial balloon was back in 2013, when the Democrats floated thrice-bankrupt Allie Braswell as a potential candidate for Chief Financial Officer, a position that requires at least some talent in the field of money management. Perhaps Nadd didn’t know that ag commissioner requires some talent or knowledge of agriculture.
Judging from the tone of Nadd’s comments about the race to Politico, he appears to be staking his entire political future on financial support from left-leaning environmental activist groups and other anti-agriculture interests, and in any other year, he might actually fare better as a Democrat with those views. But not in 2022, where recent polls have shown that Democrats badly trail Republicans on a generic ballot.
And anyway, Nadd isn’t exactly a Democrat. He’s considering a run as a Republican. So the more likely explanation for Nadd’s awkward introduction is that he’s just getting bad political advice from out-in-the-cold Republican consultants looking to turn a quick buck on some GOP fratricide. After all, there’s always a market for Republicans willing to tap into the financial resources of liberal groups who are all too happy to create a civil war within a Republican primary. Especially in years where Democrats have no shot at winning big races.
The problem that Nadd’s consultants still need to solve is that Simpson is already in the race. And he’s an actual farmer. He’s got a proven, conservative track record, and as his website attests, he’s been endorsed by Donald Trump himself. Not just any endorsement, mind you. “Complete. Total. Endorsement.”
The case in favor of Simpson doesn’t end there. He’s already amassed a campaign war chest of $6 million, thanks in large part to the overwhelming support of 59 of Florida’s 67 county sheriffs, the National Rifle Association, and the Florida Farm Bureau. Should the floundering Democrat Nikki Fried ultimately realize there’s no chance she’s going to be governor, she may drop her challenge to DeSantis and try to keep her ag commissioner seat. Simpson is already well prepared for that scenario.
By contrast, the 32 year-old Nadd merely looks okay on paper. He has a respectable resume, not unlike many of the men and women currently serving in our state legislature. Politico described him as “a former Black Hawk pilot and an Afghanistan veteran whose homecoming was detailed in a well-known Budweiser Super Bowl commercial,” and that he’d “attended Harvard business school,” though it wasn’t clear from the story if he’d actually ever graduated.
Yet Politico made no mention of Nadd’s agriculture experience (if any), nor what Nadd might do for the state’s agriculture industry, even though the story was published on the same day the President of the United States told Americans to expect “real food shortages” in the coming months due to the conflict with Ukraine.
If ever there was an opportunity to put petty politics aside and make sure the media reported a candidate’s stance on serious issues, Nadd’s introduction to Florida voters would have been the perfect time. Instead, Nadd unleashed baseless mudslinging against Simpson – the sort of trite bilge political consultants churn out on a daily basis – and in the process put Nadd at odds with the industry he claims to want to represent.
In trying to justify his case, any case, against Simpson, Nadd’s insults rang hollow. He called Simpson “corrupt,” “a shill” for the state’s sugar farmers, and in perhaps the most absurd of claims, an opponent to the governor’s conservative agenda.
None of the comments can be taken seriously.
But to Florida’s legacy media outlets, now augmented by Politico, Nadd’s words are like catnip, and they can’t get enough. If Nadd actually did talk about policy with Politico, his petty attacks served as such a distraction that Politico failed to include any of the man’s policy substance. But that’s not Politico’s fault. Nadd’s advisors, if they were remotely professional, would have known Politico would do that.
In recent months, the legacy media has proven all too happy to give weight to the idea that some rift exists between DeSantis and Simpson, which somehow is supposed to make the upstart Nadd a legitimate contender to Simpson. That also explains Nadd’s ham-handed attempt to curry favor from DeSantis by claiming that Simpson has “done nothing except stand in [DeSantis’s] way.”
Apparently Nadd is so new to politics (or his consultants so outside the loop) that he had no idea Simpson would be standing directly behind Governor Ron DeSantis the very next day at a press conference in which DeSantis praised and thanked Simpson for helping to push the governor’s parental rights in education bill through the state legislature.
“I want to recognize a lot of the great folks who are with us here today,” said DeSantis during the press conference. “We have the president of the Florida Senate who helped shepherd this bill through, Wilton Simpson.”
It was a small, but important rebuttal to the chattering class that loves to exaggerate the slightest rumor and parlay it into political capital to be traded with other insiders, including reporters. Obviously, DeSantis’s words carry a lot of weight. Just as Donald Trump helped kickstart DeSantis’s bid for governor ahead of the 2018 elections, an endorsement from DeSantis this year would go a long way toward boosting the prospects of any Floridian seeking the Republican nomination.
Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings, the fact of the matter is that Simpson has been a valuable ally to DeSantis throughout the governor’s first term in office, and proved instrumental in making sure DeSantis’s priorities became state law.
While the media loves to play up any disagreements as if they represent extreme fissures within the Republican leadership, the truth is usually much less exciting: both DeSantis and Simpson are fellow conservatives, each with a unique role to play in our state government. Together, they’ve been wildly successful – so much so that Florida has emerged from the coronavirus pandemic in much better economic shape than many predicted – and thanks to the DeSantis agenda that Simpson helped pass, DeSantis is now a leader on the national stage.
Anyone attacking Simpson’s strong track record as a conservative leader needs to be able to articulate a legitimate set of reasons for doing so, not the ill-advised, progressively-funded political bilge that Chuck Nadd spewed last night.