The rapidly diverging political fortunes of Florida’s GOP “Big Four”

by | Nov 13, 2022

 


As promised last week, we’re working on a meticulous salvage operation as we pick through the wreckage of what remains of the Florida Democratic Party. Insiders and veteran Democrat operatives and candidates are still weighing in on how to put the pieces back together again.

But in the meantime, it turns out that there’s significantly more Republican wreckage on the 2022 Electoral Battlefield than expected, so that’s where we’ll start.

Florida is the Current Epicenter of National Republican Politics

Texas Governor Greg Abbott may not like it, but Florida is the new Texas when it comes to Republican dominance in America. The Lone Star State used to be, hands-down, the alpha dog state of the GOP, with its cowboy-like swagger and “Don’t mess with Texas!” attitude. But voter migration, and a gradual but impossible-to-ignore blueing of Texas’s formerly deep-red demographics has usurped the once-prideful attitude that produced the Bush Family Dynasty and empowered cocky personalities embodied by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

Those days are over. At least for now.

Florida has assumed the mantle thanks to an obvious red-shift in political fortunes that have produced one president, two more presidential contenders, and a former governor-turned-senator who controls the purse strings on the United States Senate’s campaign apparatus, with lots of overlap between each of those descriptions.

Florida’s “Big Four”

Former President Donald Trump is a Floridian, and his looming announcement for a third (fourth?) run at the White House is already dominating the hive-minds of American newsrooms across the country. His protege, current Governor Ron DeSantis, just pulled off the most lopsided Florida gubernatorial victory in fifty years, and the most lopsided win by a Republican in 155 years. By all accounts, DeSantis undoubtedly is prepping a run for the White House, putting him on a collision course with Trump.

But Marco Rubio‘s already been there, done that. He went toe-to-toe with The Donald in 2016 and though he came up short, he still proceeded to rattle off a pair of impressive, successive U.S. Senate victories – his latest in spite of the fact that he was outraised by his opponent, Val Demings, yet still managed to win in a walk. Might Rubio consider another presidential run of his own, giving Florida three contenders for the White House?

Then there is Rubio’s U.S. Senate colleague, Rick Scott. The former governor is now in charge of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee, responsible for raising and doling out tens of millions in campaign cash to help flip the U.S. into Republican control.

All four, at one point or another in the last two years, have undoubtedly pondered the idea of a White House run. But fortunes shifted dramatically after Tuesday’s election in which the Florida GOP’s outlier performance sticks out like a sore thumb compared with national Republicans who fared much more poorly.

The election aftermath: political stock rises and falls

Tuesday’s results shocked the nation, but the outcome had a wildly divergent impact on each of Florida’s “Big Four” political powerhouses. In a nutshell, DeSantis’s political stock skyrocketed, Rubio’s held steady, while both Scott and Trump dipped slightly.

DeSantis reaped the benefits of being Tuesday’s biggest winner on the national stage, during prime-time TV broadcasts on every news channel in which Florida was the brightest of only a few bright spots for the GOP. On top of the impressive wins in Florida, causing Republicans in other states to admire us with no small amount of jealousy, those same Republicans experience yet more envy as they scratch their heads wondering how we can count over 7 million votes in a few hours time, while Nevada is taking the better part of a week to tally up a few more than 700,000 votes. Yes, you and I know that Florida hasn’t technically finished counting its votes, either, we’re just getting the credit because even if there were tens of thousands of outstanding ballots at this point, they’d be irrelevant when the statewide margin of victory is over 1.5 million.

But facts are boring, and they don’t matter as much as they should in American politics. That’s why the growing frustration of Republicans in those purpley states has them clamoring for solutions, at just the time DeSantis and Florida appear to be the most obvious one available. More on that in a moment though.

Unfortunately for Rubio, even though his margin of victory was almost as impressive as DeSantis’s, he’s not getting any real credit for it. The general consensus is that the DeSantis coat tails helped lift Rubio to victory, and he did so in a much lower-profile manner than did DeSantis.

That brings us to Rubio’s colleague, Scott, who boldly predicted that the GOP would hold a 52 seat majority in the U.S. Senate after the election dust settled. But as we learned late Saturday, that isn’t gonna happen. Slow-counting Nevada’s results guaranteed that Democrats will hold the Senate, no matter what happens in Georgia or anywhere else. And that means Scott’s political stock took a major hit. With fewer of his newly recruited allies coming into the Senate than he expected, and plenty of sniping from the GOP sidelines, Scott’s gone from hunter to hunted in less than a week.

Finally, there’s the former president, who played aggressively on the national stage, but posted a less-than-impressive record when it came to the win-loss record of endorsed candidates on Tuesday night. Overall, Trump endorsed 39 candidates: nine gubernatorial, 11 U.S. Senate candidates, 17 U.S. House candidates, and two in secretary of state races. Only 13 have won so far, while 10 have lost, and the rest are all still pending the outcome of ballot counting in states that, for some strange reason, can’t seem to do it very fast.

While the outcome of Trump’s endorsed candidates triggered the national media to proclaim that Election Night was a major fail for Trump – and it was – the disappointing results provide fuel for the kind of fire Trump is masterful at stoking.

It’s true Trump took some lumps, particularly in comparison with DeSantis’s stellar night, which in turn triggered more than a few ill-advised anti-DeSantis outbursts from Trump. But once the former president works through those emotions, his formidable political instincts will undoubtedly help him focus more fully on the political opportunity that exists before him: tapping into the rapidly escalating GOP frustration around the nation with slow and sketchy ballot tabulation processes that are crying out for reform.

That’s where Florida’s election counting success – that DeSantis is currently reveling in – comes into play. Trump isn’t likely to let that continue indefinitely. The GOP’s national failures, contrasted with Florida’s successes, virtually guarantee that Trump will recalibrate, retrench, and reinvent himself.

The Next Two Years

It’s still rather early, and we’re still waiting to learn which party controls the U.S. House. Whatever the final score, Trump has already made it clear he’s prepping another White House run, and the final outcome of the mid-term cycle will only be a small speedbump in his path.

DeSantis will almost certainly continue his strategy of ignoring Trump’s barbs until the former president either grows tired of trying to trigger a reaction and turns his ire elsewhere, or he goes bananas like three year-old throwing a tantrum in the candy aisle at Publix.

Rubio’s previous White House ambitions cannot be discounted, but 2024 does not seem like his year. Still, he may have a role to play as the process plays itself out. As such, he’ll be worth keeping a sharp eye on in the coming months.

Scott’s fortunes depend largely on who gets the most blame for the failure to win: Mitch McConnell or him. While coming up short has tarnished his near-perfect political record of wins, Scott has a knack for learning from mistakes and coming back stronger than ever. Still, with his own re-election looming in 2024, his first priority has shifted from Washington D.C. power plays to ensuring his own re-election is in Florida remains secure.

Sneak Peek: The Future of Florida’s Democratic Party

Florida’s Democrats aren’t just lying down in defeat. Tuesday’s results have them equal parts disappointed, angry, and motivated. We’ve spoken to many of them across the state, including current and former leaders and operatives, to get a better understanding of how Democrats will rebuild and keep Republicans on their toes.  Here’s a sneak peek:

After the drubbing of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) on Tuesday night, it might be tempting for Democrat leaders, operatives and activists to wallow in the misery of a historic drubbing that resulted in the complete loss of power across all statewide offices for the first time in 155 years, and in the failure to prevent GOP supermajorities in both the Florida House and Senate.

But as diminished in power as the FDP appears to be, Democrats in Florida still have a role to play: voicing opposition to the Republican agenda, offering policy alternatives, and playing spoiler when it inevitably emerges that Republicans in the state legislature aren’t a single, monolithic force. And they won’t be out of power forever. The American political system provides regular opportunities for a rebound, and no state provides a more target rich environment for Democrats than Florida: disrupting the political machinations of each of Florida’s Big Four. Plenty of national Democrats have a vested interest in weakening these GOP juggernauts, and a potent FDP could prove a critical tool in doing so.

With nowhere to go but up, Florida’s Democratic Party has a unique opportunity to transform itself from an empty husk into a revitalized platform for GOP disruption, alternative policy ideas, and a launching pad and support mechanism for the next generation of Democrat leaders…

More later this week…

6 Comments

  1. Deborah Coffey

    Florida seems “obvious” and you trot out these four? Okay, this time we Dems smacked the GOP on its behind with a wooden spoon. In 2024, if you keep promoting “Trumpism,” we’re going to smack you with a shovel until you can’t get up anymore. The country has spoken. You are offering hate, division, tax cuts for the rich while you threaten Social Security and Medicare, taking away women’s rights and those of our LGBTQ community, and last but not least, AUTHORITARIANISM instead of democracy. The country said, “NO!!!!” What part of NO don’t you all understand?

    Reply
    • 370H55V I/me/mine

      Hardly. Still won the House, even if by less than expected, and if 85 out of 120 Florida House seats isn’t enough proof for you, I guess we’ll need something stronger.

      We are not going to let you decide what we can say based on your concept of “hate speech”. We are not going to let you groom our kids, and we are not going to let you run fraudulent elections. If it comes down to it, we have a lot more guns than you do.

      Reply
  2. dmmorrison

    Florida has replaced Texas as the laughingstock of America.

    Reply
    • Indiana Blotto

      That’s what your mom said.

      Reply
  3. Joseph W Montgomery

    Although I am a DeSantis fan, I personally think everyone is making way too much of the DeSantis victory. The Democrats would have to look long and hard to find a weaker candidate than Charlie Crist.

    Reply
  4. 370H55V I/me/mine

    “With nowhere to go but up, Florida’s Democratic Party has a unique opportunity to transform itself from an empty husk into a revitalized platform for GOP disruption, alternative policy ideas, and a launching pad and support mechanism for the next generation of Democrat leaders…”

    The GOP has now won seven straight gubernatorial elections in Florida, the first six of which involved a majority Dem electorate. This year, for the first time ever, Republicans outnumber Dems in Florida by over 300,000, and that looks likely to grow. That transformation you hope for is a long way off–especially as newcomers to the state are refugees fleeing oppressive taxation, high housing costs, and crime in their blue state homes.

    Reply

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